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The Grim History Hidden Under a Baltimore Parking Lot

In 1852, Laurel Cemetery opened on the outskirts of Baltimore as an African-American cemetery that offered "an undisturbed resting place for all time to come,” in an early advertisement. It became a fashionable place to be buried. The most prominent black Baltimore residents were interred there, along with thousands of others, including 240 Civil War veterans. But over time, the cemetery company couldn't maintain the graveyard's upkeep and eventually went bankrupt. Neighbors used it to dump trash. Baltimore grew, and the land became more valuable due to its location. A couple of local politicians maneuvered their way into buying the land for $100 and then sold it to commercial developers in the 1960s at a tremendous profit.    

Soon after the relatives of Laurel Cemetery’s occupants learned of the sale, bulldozers were knocking over gravestones. The graves, families were told, had been moved to a cemetery in Carroll County, miles away from the city and inaccessible to most of the families whose relatives were buried at Laurel. Families filed lawsuits to stop the development and the local NAACP took on the case. The city started an investigation into the officials involved in the sale. Ultimately, though, there was nothing in the law to protect the cemetery or the families of the people buried there. The development went forward, and soon the beautiful, tree-filled cemetery was replaced by a parking lot surrounded by discount stores.

The new cemetery held around 500 graves, but thousands of people were buried in Laurel Cemetery. An archeologist investigated the shopping center site and, along with his students, began digging in an unpaved portion in 2015. They found human bones and casket hardware indicating that most of the bodies had been left on site. Read the story of Laurel Cemetery at Atlas Obscura.  

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