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More than hundred men, women and children converged upon the Whiskeytown Cemetery Sunday with rakes, shovels and a mission to clean up the eclectic, beloved cemetery after it was heavily damaged by the Carr Fire last month.
The cleanup was organized by 12-year-old Preston Sharp, a Redding boy famous for his dedication to veterans causes, especially when it comes to honoring deceased veterans and their burial sites.
Preston not only wanted to clean veterans’ graves and replace flags, but his vision was for a completely restored cemetery – as much as could be expected following the Carr Fire inferno that nearly destroyed the tiny community burial ground.
The Whiskeytown Cemetery, located west of Shasta, near the John F. Kennedy Memorial near Whiskeytown Lake, was covered in blackened ash following the intense wildfire. Several graves were completely consumed and destroyed by fire, left in ruin. Charcoal-colored ash covered the dry cemetery landscape. And, yet, there were a few graves that were barely touched.
The wooded areas that surround the cemetery were not spared. The heat from the blaze burned so hot that ground cover was wiped out, along with most of the nearby trees’ leaves.
The former lush forest outside the cemetery looked like stands of tall, blackened toothpicks.
I had signed up to be part of the Whiskeytown Cemetery clean-up crew, and got there thinking I’d be early. But when I arrived there was already a huge crowd working hard to restore dignity to the final resting place for generations of Shasta County residents.
Originally, the cemetery was located in the town of Whiskeytown, which is now deep beneath the lake. In 1963 the grave sites were moved to its present location. Before the fire, many of the graves had extremely creative decorations, such as handmade headstones, small sculptures, statues, chairs, toys and photos.
Big Daddy’s BBQ & Catering from Medford provided a free hot lunch to all volunteers. Everyone worked with reverence washing, raking, sweeping and doing general cleanup duties to bring back a respectful beauty to the cemetery. The Preston Sharp team made sure all known veteran graves received flags. Every grave – veteran or not – received a red carnation, and volunteers made sure every grave was honored.
I’ve taken a few before and after pictures. My dog Bodie helps illustrate in a few photos how the cemetery looked before, and how it looked after the fire before, the cleanup.
A handful of other photos show before-and-after cleanup of particular graves. In general, my photos show how the cemetery looked after being ravaged by fire.
As I drove away from Whiskeytown Cemetery, I marveled at the start contrast between the raked, charred cemetery and the bright red carnations. I felt joy that although the cemetery had been severely damaged by the Carr Fire, it was still here, and many community members cared enough about this special site to do what they could to help restore this unique resting place.
Preston Sharp, not yet even 13, can be proud of what was achieved Sunday. Through his dedication to departed veterans, the humble cemetery on a hill, ravaged by a monster fire, once again rests in peace.