Park and Rec Is Well Aware That Pioneer Park Cemetery Needs Some New Life
Francis James, regarded as the city's cemetery expert, is appalled by the state of Pioneer Park, which is under the purview of the city's Park and Recreation Department. And Park and Rec's assistant director, Willis Winters, acknowledges that, yes, it's a mess. But with the city's budget in its own state of disrepair, well, there's just no money to clean up what he refers to as "a downtown dog park" that has the potential to serve as "a downtown tourist destination."
"The maintenance man rides a large riding mower, and he clips off the headstones from time to time," she says this morning. "So there's a chunk, and they just throw it away. One time I was following a Parks Department truck around Turtle Creek, and in the back was a whole lot of headstones. So I called the man who, at the time, was in charge of Pioneer Park. I said, 'The Downtown Improvement District has set aside money to repair the headstones, so if we can get them, now's the time.
"He said, 'We only have one -- for John Crockett.' And I said, 'He was Texas Secretary of State! And a mayor! Could you bring that one back, please?'"
Some of the graves do have Texas Historical Commission markers, but those are the fortunate ones. James says Pioneer Park's sad story is an all-too-familiar one when it comes to Dallas's treatment of its dead. After all, she reminds, when the convention center was being built in the '50s, the city dug up 22 bodies from the original city cemetery on the property and hauled then off to the dump. And there's another marker that reads, "In Memory of Fifteen Unknown Citizens of Dallas, Buried near this location, 1880-1910, Reinterred at this site 1999."
"There are so many wonderful stories buried there," she says. "We could write book about each one and what they did. These are the founders of Dallas."