There are many old cemeteries dotting the region around Spokane County. Some of them have been there for about as long as Washington has been a state. Many have been forgotten. Many have been meticulously landscaped and cared for over the years.
They are an important piece of the history of the area, marking the lives of people who lived and died here, whether they were trailblazing pioneers or folks who lived quietly.
The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum is highlighting these monuments to the area’s history during its seventh annual Heritage Program Luncheon next week.
The luncheon is the museum’s fall fundraiser which provides about a quarter of its yearly operating budget.
“This is an important event for the museum,” said Executive Director Jayne Singleton.
The luncheon will include a presentation, “Historic Cemeteries of Spokane County,” by author John Caskey. There also will be music and raffles.
This year’s Heritage Preservation Award will be presented to Maggie Rail of Spokane.
Rail, 78, has compiled a website – mrail.net – which lists locations of the deceased in more than 400 cemeteries, not just in Spokane County, but in Washington state, Idaho, Canada, Arizona and even in Queensland, Australia.
“Maggie’s work is a wonderful resource for me, as a Valley historian,” Singleton said. She said Rail spends her own time and money to put together her website. “Maggie Rail definitely deserves the Historic Preservation Award.
Rail said she began compiling her database of cemeteries in 1998, after starting to look into her family tree.
She walks through each cemetery with her digital camera, taking pictures of each headstone. She also researches the cemetery records and library records as well.
“It’s something that you get stuck in your blood,” Rail said.
Along with the cemeteries everyone can visit, she has posted a section on her website called “Flooded Cemeteries,” which were lost when Grand Coulee Dam was built and the Columbia River flooded its banks to become Lake Roosevelt. There are cemeteries listed from Ferry, Lincoln and Stevens counties in this section. She said many of the graves were moved to other cemeteries and she often finds them again.
She remembers news stories about some of the people represented by the headstones as she “reads” each cemetery. She thinks about the families’ loss.
Rail considers reading cemeteries something between a volunteer project and a hobby. She never expected to get any notoriety for it.
“It’s a shock,” she said of the award from the museum.
But Singleton said the choice was natural, considering how much Rail’s website helps Singleton and her band of volunteers.
“Maggie’s work is important to the museum,” Singleton said.
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