In today’s fast-paced world, it can be difficult to find people who are willing to put in hard work towards preserving history. Society is so used to “living in the moment” that we seem to let our own history slip to the wayside. But for one couple in Pueblo, Colorado, they are driven to make a difference in their community.
Joe and Mary Jane Talbott have been working for the past 20 years to maintain the Pueblo Pioneer Cemetery and it hasn’t been easy for either of them. They themselves even describe the cemetery as a “hard-luck cemetery” as its fortunes always seems to bounce back and forth between good and bad. But when asked why they continue to work on maintaining the cemetery, they provided two reasons. The first, “‘The cemetery is a piece of Pueblo history,’ Joe said. ‘It deserves more respect than it gets,’ (Dedicated, Spence).”
And the second reason they persist: “‘I’m just stubborn,’ Mary Jane said (Dedicated, Spence).”
The cemetery is the oldest in Pueblo, opening in 1870. It was originally an 80-acre space that was meant to be a Masonic Cemetery. The cemetery, however, eventually dwindled down to approximately 20-acres due to land sales of the unused portions of the property. The cemetery is basically inactive, though if you already have a burial plot there, you can bury a loved one.
In 1984, the late Eleanor Fry, an editor at The Pueblo Chieftain, did a bit of campaigning and was able to get a few local groups to band together to upgrade the cemetery. The group turned their attention to the city and get their buy-in to help with the project.
The initial portion of the project was pulling weeds and putting up a fence but even that turned into so much more. The late Dr. Bill Buckles, a professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo, began doing research on those people buried in the cemetery while Fry spent countless hours in The Chieftain’s morgue looking up the deaths in Pueblo and compiling a lengthy typewritten document for the cemetery. Former parks and rec director George Williams put in an absorbent amount of time doing research on the cemetery to find out who all was buried at Pueblo Pioneer Cemetery. Difficult work to say the least, hampered by a number of natural disasters that occurred when the city hall basement was flooded in 1921, destroying burial records, and later when the Masonic records (which were stored at the local Opera House) were destroyed in a fire.
All that research has since been passed on to the Talbotts, who joined their cemetery association in 1990 when their son was working on his Eagle Scout project to clean the cemetery. They were initially committee members and eventually Joe became the association’s president and Mary Jane its secretary. Joe typically spends three days a week on cemetery business, mainly inputting Fry’s old typewritten documents into the computer. Their main concern now is getting fresh blood in work in the cemetery association because they know they can’t do this forever.
In the meantime, the couple is committed to working on the cemetery and getting all the headstones upgraded. Just as they’ve always done for the past 20 years.
For the full story by Mike Spence of The Pueblo Chieftain, click here.