harmony2.jpg (123950 bytes)June10 2000 Longview News & Journal Longview TX

Lifetimes of stories buried in historic plots

                      By Eduardo Vento

TATUM — Hundreds of people have probably passed by it without even knowing. The waters of Martin Creek Lake State Park overshadow its modest two-acre location off Texas 43. But sitting on that plot of land is a wealth of history.

The place is Harmony Hills Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Rusk County, and one of the few in Texas which has both a Texas Historical Marker and a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

"I could write a book with the amount of stories that are buried here," said Melton Turlington, who is on the grounds committee for the cemetery. Worlds of people are here. I personally knew so many of them."

Turlington is on a crusade to help generate interest in the historic cemetery again. The annual Harmony Hills Cemetery Association Homecoming will be held Saturday, and Turlington hopes people remember the history that lies on that little plot of land in Tatum.  "People who fought in the Civil War, Korean War, World War I, and World  War II are buried here," Turlington said Thursday as he looked over    tombstones with burial dates that go back to 1844. "This is a memorial,  that's what it is and that's why it's important." Three generations of Turlington's family members are buried at Harmony Hills, including his great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War. A prisoner of war, Turlington's grandfather had to walk from Pennsylvania to his home in Alabama when the war was over.

But that, Turlington said, is just one of the many stories that the cemetery           has to offer.  "People tend to forget that, though," Turlington said. "And today the  interest just isn't there anymore."

Turlington has seen the number of people who used to gather at Harmony Hills Cemetery for the homecoming dwindle over the years.

"I remember the time when you couldn't even find a place to park here," Turlington said. "Now we only get about 50 people, sometimes less. I just don't know why."

The concern for Turlington is the future of the cemetery. The association there has spent the last decade trying to keep the cemetery clean and free from crime.

In recent years, they've been able to put a fence around the cemetery and even plant grass. Turlington said their efforts might be wasted though if no one is in line to take their place.

"If the cemetery is going to be maintained, the young people have to be involved," he said. "They have to take an interest in this. It's too important for them not to."

Saturday's homecoming will begin at 10 a.m. and will feature a speech by Rusk County Judge Sandra Hodges. After the speech, the group will meet to discuss cemetery business. They will then hold a little picnic to reminisce about the past.

"That's inevitable," Turlington said. "When you come here you just start   thinking about people who lived 100 to 150 years ago. There are just so many stories."

Anyone interested in donating money to help the Harmony Hill Cemetery can send their donations to the association's treasurer, Larry Smith, P.O. Box 975, Tatum, TX 75691.