EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.
MANSFIELD — Pam Bautz is a very busy woman.
Since becoming administrator of the Mansfield Cemetery Association in 2015, she has buried at least 400 people per year. After 176 years in existence, Mansfield Cemetery is still quite active.
It's also the largest cemetery in Richland County — more than 65,000 people are buried across 100 mowable acres in Mansfield Cemetery.
But the question of where people are buried within Mansfield Cemetery recently struck one of our readers, who asked anonymously, "Was the Mansfield Cemetery segregated when it was first established?"
The answer, Bautz says, is yes...but not in the way you might think. While there are a couple areas in the cemetery that are separated, this was always due to a person's choices, not because of any established cemetery rule.
"We're not talking about segregation the way we as a society think when we hear that word," Bautz explained. "It's not imposed upon as society's outlook, and it hasn't been imposed by the cemetery as our own political or religious beliefs. We let them freely choose where they want to be."
The simple definition of the word "segregation" is, "setting someone or something apart from other people or things." Yet some may attribute the word to a bleak period in American history.
Racial segregation was essentially law in the late-1800s, where "separate but equal" was a way of life. Black Americans in many locations were separated from Whites in transportation, public accommodations, recreational facilities, prisons, armed forces, and schools.
But according to Bautz, such separation never occurred within the gates of Mansfield Cemetery. The proof lies in the very ground itself.
Buried in the middle of the grounds is Frances Ellen Bradford, affectionately known as "Auntie" on her tombstone. Bradford was a Black woman of "remarkable character" that was well-known in Mansfield; carved into her stone are the words, "The Children's Friend."
"She helped with the Underground Railroad, she was one of the most sought-after cooks for all the White people for their weddings and parties, and she was a mover and shaker for the common good, for freedom for everyone," Bautz said. "And she's right here in the middle of everyone."
According to Bautz, at the time Bradford was buried in 1887, she would have been interred next to a pond surrounded by weeping willow trees, known to be one of the prettiest areas in Richland County at the time.
She is also buried only a few strides away from Revolutionary War soldier Henry Nail, and within sight of Mansfield Hedges Gilkison — the first White male child born in Mansfield, who died only two years before her.
"If you want to talk about segregation in the way most people think about it, if we were truly as a cemetery trying to segregate people, we would have never, never in the 1800s put Mrs. Bradford here," Bautz said.
"So there's no way I'm going to say that in the afterlife, in my cemetery, people are segregated off society's beliefs. It was their choices."
These choices have led to a number of other ways Mansfield Cemetery is organized. Bautz said most commonly, people are separated within the grounds by religion, by money, or simply by preference.
"Most people today, they drive through the cemetery and find a place they fall in love with and want to be forever. So that's where they're going to go," Bautz said.
Money separates certain areas of the cemetery when you consider family lots versus single graves. Bautz explained typically, lots were purchased in groupings meant for several generations. In those days, before society dynamics changed and "single privileges" were more popular, a singular grave typically meant the person was a pauper or indigent.
A few ethnic groups are buried together in the cemetery, including the Albanians, Macedonians and Greeks. There is also a small section for those of the Jewish faith.
But the largest segregated part of the cemetery is by far the Catholic cemetery — an estimated 20,000 people are buried in just over six acres of Catholic land, stretching the entire length of the cemetery.
The first area established by Mansfield Cemetery was in 1845, including burials for the Hedges, Sherman and Newman families, all part of the first founders of Mansfield. Almost 20 years later, in 1861, a portion of the land was purchased by St. Peter's Catholic Church.
To be buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery, you had to show proof of your baptism. The rules have slackened since then, but many families were separated because of their religion due to this requirement.
"Some husbands and wives are separated because the Catholic person chose to be buried with their family and let their spouse be separated," Bautz said. "There are some single mothers who might have been Catholic, but because they were single mothers, they were not allowed on this side."
Bautz said this kind of segregation and separation happens every day in life, too. You choose who your friends are, what neighborhood you live in, what school district your children go to, what church you attend. When planning for death, she said, people do the same thing.
"If you had certain things about you that you held dear — your religion, your family, your friends — you would naturally separate and segregate to be near them. And it just grows and grows, like building a garden," she said.
Yet at the end of the day, Bautz said that everyone buried in Mansfield Cemetery finds themself under equal ground.
"As a cemetery, there's beauty in that it doesn't matter, when you come through our gates for the afterlife, we actually are all together," she said. "And I find that a really satisfying thought."