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‘All right, Harold … Rest in peace’

FAIRMONT – Remember that guy back in high school?

You know: The guy who got good grades, starred in sports and was nice to everybody – even the kids who weren’t popular?

Every school has one.

And at the old Fairmont High School 108 years ago, that guy was Harold Chester Goodenough.

By all accounts, he was the most popular boy in school.

He was also a name in the community, owing to his exploits on the football field.

That’s why classmates kept vigil at his house on Walnut Avenue after he came down with typhoid fever.

And why people from Fairmont’s monied West Side sat shoulder-to-shoulder with their blue collar neighbors from the East Side for his funeral, following his death from the disease weeks later.

These days, Harold, forever 17, is a star of again, of sorts.

He’s part of a new marketing campaign for Woodlawn Cemetery – his final resting place, where, for years, his grave sat unmarked.

That’s no longer the case.

More on that.

First, though, some history, of a historical place.

The cemetery, which is punctuated by towering trees and rises that offer sweeping views of Fairmont, does have its bona fides in that category.  

City native and Abraham Lincoln confidante Francis Pierpont is buried here next to his wife, Julia.

From his house on Quincy Street, Pierpont during the Civil War kept the president informed with clandestine dispatches of the military campaign in the-then westernmost climes of the Commonwealth.

He also offered up strategies to keep footholds for the Northern cause.

Pierpont was elected governor of the Restored Virginia in 1862 as the Confederacy began to unravel.

Julia, meanwhile, was an abolitionist whose compassion after the war to soldiers who wore both the Blue and the Gray eventually led to the founding of Memorial Day.

Coal barons who supplied the North’s effort on the sly also rest here.

Their graves are in the same expanse with those of political players and others who made the Mountain State, well, the Mountain State.

That’s a lot of civic chronology in repose, said Raymond Alvarez, a Fairmont State University professor who is a member of Woodlawn’s board of directors.

The board met on a drizzly Saturday at the former superintendent’s residence, an ornate home at the cemetery’s gateway.

“Ornate,” wasn’t the adjective to describe that address when most members of the current board came on a few years back, Alvarez said.

By then, the place was definitely in need of rehabbing, he said.

Windows were broken out and boarded, the roof was leaking and garbage was piled high in corners.

Board president Nancy Bickerstaff picks up the history: “I said, ‘We’ve gotta clean this place up.’ It was that bad.”

The graves were an even sadder story, both board members said.

Weeds were everywhere and a number of headstones had toppled from the toll of time.

Grass had grown so unkempt that Alvarez actually discovered foot stones of graves he never knew existed after the mower made its rows.

Then, there were the unmarked graves, such as in Harold’s case.

Marking the unmarked, meant delving into forensic detective work, which meant endless poring over records and other documents to see who was who – and where they might be buried.

In recent months, the board and its volunteers have been able to provide headstones for four once-unmarked graves, including Harold’s.

His, is a simple marker, with an engraved football over his name and dates of his birth and death: Dec. 28, 1897-Nov. 13, 1915.

Bickerstaff, meanwhile, still can’t talk about him without tearing up.

“Here’s a child, in an unmarked grave for 100 years,” she said. “It grabbed by heart.”

And if it grabbed her heart, Alvarez said, it can also grab the collective of hearts of history buffs and Civil War enthusiasts who like their vacations to go beyond theme parks and jaunts to the beach.

“It’s cultural tourism,” he said. “The history of West Virginia starts here.”

And maybe its soul does, too, he said.

The morning’s drizzling of rain had let up, so after the meeting, Alvarez and other board members walked to the grave of a young man once lost to time.

A young man said to be courteous, respectful and friendly to everyone he encountered – save for the people in other uniform on the football field.

It was hardly formal, as the grave marker had already been in place for the past several months.

The Rev. Leo Riley, a local pastor who lives nearby and enjoys walking the cemetery for reflection, offered a brief prayer.

It looked like the rain was coming back, so people peeled off – but Alvarez, after placing a small wreath, lingered a bit.

Then, he offered a small goodbye as he walked to his car.

“All right, Harold,” he said. “Rest in peace.”