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After 60 years, gravestones return to a reborn island

By Jeremy Cox, Bay Journal, 8 July 2024

Sometimes, a final resting place is far from final.

When the Howarth family interred their loved ones in Poplar Island’s soil in the late 1800s, they probably had no idea that the ground, along with everything on it and in it, would disappear in a matter of decades.

A mixture of forces — sinking land, rising seas and erosion — chewed away at the Chesapeake Bay island just off Maryland’s Eastern Shore. By the 1920s, the last of the original 100 residents had been forced to flee. By the early 1990s, nothing of Poplar remained above water but a few small scrapes of marshland.

Water has claimed countless cemeteries and individual graves around the Chesapeake. As climate change accelerates the pace of sea level rise, much more hallowed ground is at risk of vanishing.

But the descendants of those buried at Poplar fought for a different outcome. More than 60 years ago, an aging family member led a mission that rescued the remaining five headstones from a watery grave. Then, fate intervened. A history-making project to rebuild Poplar Island gave them the opportunity to bring those stones back to where they had once stood.

At the center of this story are an aging father, Louis Howeth, and his son, Lee. (The family surname morphed its spelling after they left Poplar.) Lee, an IT specialist at the Shore’s Salisbury University, has raced against time over the past few years to fulfill his father’s dream while he was still alive to see it.

The Bay Journal reported this story over 15 months. What follows is the account of an unlikely reunion told by those who made it happen. Go to the online article.

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