McNeill Cemetery: Local delves into community’s past

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 28, 2015

reflective: Spiers stands over the grave of Millie Ann Spiers. She died in 1870 making her grave the oldest in the McNeill Cemetery.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

reflective: Spiers stands over the grave of Millie Ann Spiers. She died in 1870 making her grave the oldest in the McNeill Cemetery.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

“Every stone has a story, a life that was lived.” – Jack Spiers

Some of the first words that come to people’s minds when they hear the word cemetery may include death, eerie, tombstones and grief.
However, take a walk through the McNeill Cemetery with Jack Spiers and you will find out there’s more to a cemetery than stones and dirt.
Eighty-five-year-old Spiers was born and raised in McNeill.
He left the small town during his teenage years and began his career at Standard Brands in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Chase and Sanborn instant coffee and Tender Leaf tea was manufactured. Because of his love of chemistry and working with water, he also worked in St. Charles Parish where he participated in making potable water from the Mississippi River, which won Environmental Protection Agency awards, Spiers said.
In 1999, Spiers returned to Pearl River County.
“I’ve always been interested in cemeteries,” Spiers said. “They are representative of the community and its history.”
For the past ten years, Spiers has donated his time to the McNeill Cemetery.
Spiers is the former president of the McNeill Cemetery Association, which is a group of volunteers dedicated to the upkeep and record keeping of the cemetery. The current board members are Matty Jo Fox, Lance Spiers and Tammy Marshall.
According to Spiers, Fox began keeping records around 1993 or 1994.
The McNeill Cemetery is about 137 years old, Spiers said. Spiers’ great-great-grandfather, John Spiers, donated the original piece of land in the late 1800s. More land was later donated by Andy Livings.
“John Spiers is the predecessor of almost every Spiers in Pearl River County,” Spiers said.
He has also traced the ancestry of Lourana, his great-great-grandmother.
She lost a brother at the Alamo. They had nine sons and two daughters. All of their sons and sons-in-laws fought in the Civil War.”
The oldest known grave in the cemetery belongs to Millie Ann Spiers who died in 1870.
As you walk alongside Spiers and gaze down at the tombstones, he relays the story of almost every grave in the cemetery.
When the board was first created, there were almost 80 unknown gravesites. Through much detective work, Spiers said, there are now less than 40.
According to Spiers, the town of McNeill was named after a former postmaster, Daniel Alexander McNeill, who is buried in the cemetery.
The cemetery is also home to victims of a murder-suicide and the mother who was killed by her daughter, Spiers said. The daughter is said to have cut off her mother’s limbs, so only her legs are buried at the cemetery.
Spiers recalled attending the funeral of a mother and child, who were posed in an embrace within the coffin, which is buried in the cemetery.
Also interred at the cemetery are six Civil War veterans and nine World War I veterans. There are also eight Woodmen of the World headstones on graves.
The cemetery encompasses 2.4 acres. There are 820 gravesites, of which 727 are identified, Spiers said. A number of families are buried there including members from the clans of Spiers, Smith and Kennedy.
Board members used their own funds to purchase 35 stone markers for graves that would have been lost forever, Spiers said.
Spiers said volunteering at the cemetery is a special experience for him.
“I’m astounded at the number of people I meet here,” Spiers said. “It’s interesting to meet them coming and going. I find McNeill Cemetery to be a spiritual and sacred place. My ancestors sometimes speak to me through the splendor of a sunset or during the peaceful serenity of a full moon rising upon the cemetery. No, there are no oral voices but my heart hears them.”
Spiers said that not many people give thought to their epitaphs, however, he has already written his. “He is not here,” will be etched forever on Spiers’ final resting place. It is taken from the Bible.
“By honoring our lineage, we honor ourselves,” Spiers said. “We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Gain knowledge of your roots and you will learn about who you are. As we learn of the struggles of our forefathers, we learn about dealing with our own problems. The source of my genes and DNA is there in McNeill Cemetery. Dust to dust. When it becomes my turn to return my dust to the universe, I look forward to joining my ancestors in contributing to the Spiers family tree descendants.”
The McNeill Cemetery is located at 45 Alphabet Road. Anyone interested in donating to the McNeill Cemetery Association may contact Fox at 601-798-4347 and by mail at P.O. Box 27, McNeill, Miss., 39457.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox