Uncovering history: Midlands man searches for loved one

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Danny Beasley wants to find someone he never even met. The Lexington man has been trying to locate his great-grandfather's remains for years and recently got word he was buried on Geiger Avenue, off North Main Street, in Columbia.

"All they could say was he's buried somewhere near the state mental hospital," said Beasley.

Beasley's great-grandfather, Baron, was a patient at the Department of Mental Health in the 1930's. At one point, Beasley's family thought he was buried on department grounds at the old state hospital along Bull Street. So when a blockbuster deal for the 165-acres of land went down last December, Beasley was alarmed. He worried Baron Beasley's final resting place would eventually be disturbed by development.

"I don't think i'd be alone because a lot of people have no idea what happened to their relatives that were deceased over the years," said Beasley. "We had no idea."

Department of Mental Health officials say they have no evidence any cemetery exists on the grounds along Bull Street. However, in the last decade they have done considerable work documenting patient cemeteries elsewhere that date back to the 1800's. According to DMH officials, South Carolina was the third state in the country to establish a state hospital.

"Not only are these records old by comparision in South Carolina but also some of the oldest in the country," said Department of Mental Health attorney Mark Binkley.

In the last 10 years, the department started restoring old burial grounds and set up a database detailing the roughly 9,000 people buried in DMH cemeteries between 1893 and 1986. There are five of those cemeteries in Columbia and one of them is here along Geiger Avenue.

"They need markers. Nobody knows," said Danny Beasley. "I didn't know this was here."

And as more and more people look to reconnect with history, especially going back generations, knowing where to look is key.

"There's a growing trend among just the general population in terms of their interest in history," said John Sherrer, director of cultural resources for the Historic Columbia Foundation

Sherrer knows how difficult restoring a cemetery like the one on Geiger Avenue can be. Over time, Sherrer says grounds can be overgrown, damaged by weather and natural disasters, and unfortunately, vandalized, eliminating markers that are the only link to a family looking for a loved one.

"There are some question marks," said Mark Binkley. "But, we know now which cemetery somebody was buried in, but, couldn't necessarily pinpoint the exact location."

But, searching for answers can get someone to the right place, and John Sherrer points out those looking to reconnect are doing a great service to their community.

"A lot of the preservation of our history rests on the shoulders of people who are here today," said Sherrer.

People like Danny Beasley, a self-described history buff, who wouldn't stop looking. Last week, he finally found his great-grandfather's final resting place on Geiger Avenue with help from mental health officials and his family. Baron Beasley's location is marked with his name on a headstone.

"They said they didn't know where he was buried. But, somebody knew something, which is good, he's right here," said Beasley pointing down at his great-grandfather's grave along Geiger Avenue. "People, to me, they ought to start taking more interest because they're the reason we're here, the people that's in these places."

If you have questions about the interment of a family member who was a former patient at the Department of Mental Health call (803) 898-8304. You can also clink on the links below if you have questions about preserving history or reconnecting with family history.