Hensley Cemetery

Hensley Settlement
Snow blankets Hensley cemetery in this modern photo. Sherman and Nicey Ann’s modern stone can be seen in the foreground.

NPS Photo by Mary Ellen Ergle

Death in the Community
The small graveyard at Hensley Settlement serves as a poignant reminder of the realities of life and death in an isolated part of Appalachia. Nine of Sherman and Nicey Ann's children are buried there, six of whom died before their 5th birthdays. In fact, out of the 35 marked graves, 25 are children of the residents. The earliest burial date is 1907, although many have no dates on them.

Death came in different forms. According to Lige Gibbons, Sherman Hensley's wife and two children died of TB. Lige himself lost a child to measles: "I lost one of ours. He had the measles, and I thought he was getting well. He was struck one night, speechless, and died just . . . the next night, by dark."

Hensley Cemetery
Fog enshrouds the hand-carved stone of Mabel Hensley, Sherman and Nicey Ann’s grand-daughter.  The flowers suggest that this photo may have been taken soon after Decoration Day.

NPS Photo

Decoration Day at the cemetery was a homecoming and is still celebrated annually by Hensley and Gibbons descendants and friends. Traditional activities included whitewashing the gravestones, placing flowers at the graves, singing, eating, and listening to various visiting preachers. As Herbert Hensley describes: "Decoration Day. . .'bout the third Sunday in June of every year. . .people would come up—good crowds. . .come up and have all day's preachin', 'til way up in the evening, and decorate all the graves. We decorated them out of wild laurel that grows in these creeks; ivy that grows in these creeks, which is a different flower, and the honeysuckle that grows in the mountains, in the woods."

Linda, Bert and Hobert Hensley at cemetery
Linda, Bert, and Hobart Hensley at the cemetery before the establishment of the park

Photo courtesy of Nancy Gibbons

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Last updated: June 18, 2015

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91 Bartlett Park Road
Middlesboro , KY 40965


606 248-2817

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