Sunday, April 27, 2014

Connecting with Landmarks:Creating a Tour of Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia (Part 1)

Entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery
by Dianne Dent Wilcox

(Guest Blogger Dianne Dent Wilcox is an expert on the history of Macon and Central Georgia.  She is currently the Humanities department Chair at Georgia Military College.  She and her family reside in Macon.)

Welcome to Rose Hill Cemetery, opened in 1840. I began doing tours here around 1995. Teaching high school in private schools, I had more flexibility with curriculum issues than many of my public school colleagues. Because I taught English, which includes research writing, I wanted my students to feel that their research had meaning – that completing the assignment was more important than just checking off a task that they had to complete for school. I decided to connect the students’ research to the area’s history, culture and heritage. In 1989, my eleventh grade American literature students began researching Macon’s War of 1812 Fort Hawkins. Later, in looking for a middle school research project, I learned that the Washington Memorial Library’s genealogy room had files on prominent Macon citizens. The files provided a narrowed research field accessible to middle school students. So, the project developed this way. On a planned field trip day, I brought seventh graders to Rose Hill Cemetery. Upon arrival, I divided the class into three member teams and had each team draw a card from my hand on which they found the name of someone buried at Rose Hill.  Then, carefully placing chaperones on the tops of the hills here, we released the students into the cemetery to gather as much information about their subject as possible. Because I matched the research subjects to the files in the Genealogy Room, I knew, in advance that each student would be able to locate the materials he needed to write the required 2,000 word MLA research paper.

Students loved exploring the cemetery and finding information about their subjects. Some found historic markers; others found only names, birth and death dates, and a select few found only the Woolfolk, etched in stone at a burial site. (Today that site has nice new markers with names and dates on them.) However, when each student went to the library, he found the remaining information to write his paper. We started with classes on twenty-five, and then as the school and the project grew, we began bringing fifty to seventy-five students at the time.

These students have now graduated from college, and when I see them, they still mention the Fort Hawkins and Rose Hill Cemetery projects and tell me how that real research experience increased the value they put on their education, their community and their heritage. I benefited greatly, too. In reading and grading twenty-five to seventy –five Rose Hill research papers per year, I learned a great deal about Rose Hill Cemetery and Macon history. I’m now the Humanities Division Chair for Georgia Military College.  Our largest Rose Hill tour was Spring 2007, when we had 114 people participate. 

We’ve now adopted Shiloh Cemetery, started in 1831 for reclamation, restoration, protection, and student research. My Facebook page, Dianne Dent-Wilcox, is all Georgia history and folklore, all the time.  I invite you to join in the adventures.

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