It's a small piece of land, this Colonial-era cemetery nestled among the big elm trees in the rolling hills of southern Carroll County.
The final resting place for 75 members of some of Maryland's pioneering 18th century families, Old Trinity Cemetery languished in varying degrees of obscurity, disarray and outright neglect for much of the last three decades.
Two years ago, James Purman contacted two other people who were interested in rescuing the last of Maryland's state-built religious cemeteries. Together, they formed the core of a group -- now numbering about 70 -- that has chopped down grass, ripped out weeds and restored dozens of tombstones. They've held yard sales to raise money -- about $2,000 so far -- for the cemetery's maintenance fund.
Now, thanks to Mr. Purman, 66, and his group of helpers, the cemetery is in almost pristine shape.
His restoration of Old Trinity -- so called because it was affiliated with Holy Trinity Church, an Anglican church built in 1771 -- is his way of making sure those buried there are not forgotten. The church itself was torn down in the 1960s. The cemetery has been owned since then by St. Barnabas Episcopal Church of Sykesville.
Mr. Purman was rector of St. Barnabas from 1965 to 1973. He always intended to do something about the cemetery then; instead, he left the church and became an addictions counselor. He retired last year.
Besides Old Trinity, Mr. Purman has strong feelings for cemeteries in general. He has lost two children to death and they are buried in a local graveyard. He lives with his two dogs and a cat in a farmhouse outside Sykesville.
Q: What got you started at Old Trinity?
A: There was an advertisement in the church newsletter from a group of people who wanted to try and clean the cemetery up. There was a meeting with three of us, and we were all given little jobs. Mine was to go up there and check out this area. Once I got there, I thought the only way to do this is start. And so I did.
Q: Friends of Old Trinity Church, the group you started two years ago in your car, today has 70 members. With them, you've put hundreds of hours into the cemetery.
A: Yes, but I guess it's natural for me. I've spent my entire life restoring things. When I came out of the Army I worked as a refinisher of antiques. Then I became an Episcopal priest, trying to restore souls. And then I became an addictions counselor, trying to restore lives. So restoration is something that seems to be in my blood.
Q: It's been a satisfying two years, hasn't it?
A: Yes, kind of like marrying your childhood sweetheart. There's a lot of satisfaction to see something I dreamed of 25, 30 years ago coming to fruition.
Q: After seeing your cemetery renewed, are you at all concerned that what happened to St. Mary's Cemetery in Ellicott City recently could happen to Old Trinity? [Against the wishes of the surrounding community, St. Mary's Cemetery had been sold by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to a Howard County developer interested in building homes on the parcel. Development was halted in August when human remains were discovered].
A: I do have a fear that it could happen to Trinity because it is just yards away from a very busy intersection, near an area that could go commercial any time now. It was really horrifying to see what happened at St. Mary's. The thing that gets me about this destruction of old cemeteries is that they're all tiny. St. Mary's is only 3 acres, Old Trinity is a quarter-acre. Why developers feel that they have to squeeze these bucks out of tiny little pieces of ground is beyond me.
nTC Q: But they decided to halt development at St. Mary's.
A: It had to go to the point where they found some bones, though. They had an archaeologist working there with the developer, and at first they found some coffin hardware. The archaeologist's attitude [was] that it could have come from anywhere. I've never found any coffin hardware in my yard.
I have this sense of sacredness not only of cemeteries but of many things in life. I don't think that feeling is very pervasive in our society.
Q: Do you find a connection between the treatment of cemeteries and the treatment of people in general?
A: I guess I see the dead as underdogs. And I've always liked underdogs much more than overdogs.
My interest in cemeteries is historic and sentimental. Lots of the people I know say, "I don't ever want to be buried, I want to have my ashes scattered here or there." That's OK with me if people want to do that. But I can tell you that cemeteries are a real comfort. It's a great comfort to me to visit my children's graves.
Q: How about you? What do you want to happen when your time here is up?
A: I want to be buried in the sort of tradition we have in our family, which is we're cremated and family members dig the grave. Our ashes are buried in the cemetery. I'd like to be buried between my two children. I don't really know if it will make any difference to me then, but now it is a comforting, reassuring thought.