AUBURN — Edward Little is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. So is Rachel Goff, who gave Auburn its name, and Jacob Roak, who provided shoe manufacturing jobs for returning Civil War veterans.

Auburn Middle School seventh-graders learned some history Wednesday when they photographed and documented graves at the cemetery at 7th Street and Riverside Drive.

Seventy-three students, members of Team Whitecap, spent the day at the graveyard learning about local history, death and disease, ecology and what symbols mean, teacher Diana Carson said.

Students also served the city by providing manpower. Armed with iPads, pen and paper, they collected names of those buried there, photographed and recorded the condition of the graves and provided digital data the city didn’t have.

“We did 300 graves today, or 25 percent of the cemetery. It’s a huge cemetery,” Carson said. “We’re all very tired. There was so much walking.”

Logan Whitley, 12, described it as a learning experience. “There were a lot of cool stones and monuments, a lot of information. Edward Little was there. That was really cool,” Whitley said.

The student was struck by children dying so young. “Some kids died at birth, some at 8 months. I’m lucky,” Whitley said. “If I was born back then, I’d have more of a chance of dying.”

Made

Students worked on the oldest part of the cemetery, finding lots with up to nine stones, others with no markers.

“Someone is probably buried there, but the marker is gone,” Carson said. The cemetery is off Route 136 near the Androscoggin River. The big flood in the 1930s could have washed away gravestones. “Those floodwaters went high.”

Wednesday was the start of a two-year project for students collecting information to build a digital database of city graves. It could lead to tours of locally famous people, help volunteers place flags on the graves of veterans or help people research their family histories.

The idea came about when Carson was thinking about how she’d teach geography. The textbooks were old and she wanted to use real-world technology.

“I went to the city website,” she said. “I saw we had a (geographical information systems) coordinator, Rosemary Mosher.”

Carson met with Mosher. “She told me more about GIS than I ever knew,” Carson said. “Hannaford has three GIS people on staff. It’s how they figure out where to put a store. They have to map out the population and all the information. GIS is huge in the business world.”

Mosher told Carson the city wanted to digitally map cemeteries but lacked the staffing. “We just don’t have the manpower to do what these kids are doing,” Mosher said.

While documenting graves with Carson and teacher Rhonda Young, students got lessons on a number of subjects. Health teacher Ronda Lecompte talked about diseases that plagued Auburn in the 1800s, childbirth for women and cholera epidemics.

Math teacher Debbie Hillman led a hunt using a compass and map to find the graves of five prominent citizens.

School librarian Liz Preble talked about symbols on headstones; science teacher Nicole Melcher taught about vegetation and invasive plant species.

Overall, students are excited about the project, Carson said. “They have said this is our way of giving back to the town. (Cemeteries) are a direct link with the past. They’re something to be protected and respected.”

Mosher plans to make the students’ work public on the Internet in the spring. The seventh-graders plan to document a different part of the cemetery in the spring, and return as eighth-graders, Carson said.


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