Though the work is done and the funds are spent, some victims’ family members are not happy with the results.
The memorial site, located at Tennessee-Georgia Memorial Park Cemetery alongside the buried remains of the unclaimed Tri-State Crematory victims, was finalized by the 11th anniversary of the discovery of the victims’ remains on Feb. 15, 2002, just in time for Leatha Shropshire of LaFayette, whose mother was one of the bodies identified at the site, to visit the memorial and make her displeasure known.
As it stands, the memorial, which was paid for by $45,000 from the state of Georgia, includes the original donated monument stone, which commemorates the unidentified victims, as well as two new marble stones flanking it and a semi-circular landscaping design of trees, benches and engraved footstones. With the exception of a small amount held in reserve by Tennessee-Georgia for future potential footstones, the whole of the money went toward the memorial.
Walker County commissioner Bebe Heiskell says she kept a close eye on the expenditure breakdown spent by Tennessee-Georgia.
“For the $45,000, they had $35,000 for the monument and the benches,” she said, “$2,450 for labor, and I believe it was $7,550 for landscaping.”
As it stands in its finished form, the memorial consists of two Salisbury pink marble monuments surrounding the original engraved stone, which was donated to the site upon the burial of the unidentified remains. “They had to go to North Carolina to get the marble to match,” said Heiskell.
The area also features 11 flowering trees surrounded by landscaping blocks, including white and red dogwoods and weeping cherries, multiple shrubberies and flower beds and two benches for reflection.
Overall, Heiskell is mostly pleased with the installation, though she admits she wishes the memorial park had found trees at a slightly more advanced stage of growth.
“The trees are very small,” she said. “But they’ll grow.”
Furthermore, the land on which the memorial sits is not the best site in the park – perhaps the reason it was donated, as it is rather low-lying and had a tendency toward absorbing too much wet weather. Heiskell had anticipated that the land would be leveled a bit more, but understands that Tennessee-Georgia spent the majority of the funds elsewhere, and had little left for earth-moving.
“They spent the money on the marble and they didn’t spend a whole lot on the landscaping, but if they did it would have been to haul in dirt and level it,” she said.
Although the $45,000 in funds it took to finish the space were given by the state 11 years ago for the sole purpose of creating a memorial, the county held the money in trust for 10 of those years, as a consensus could not be reached between various affected families and involved parties as to how and where the memorial should be constructed. One of the main points of contention when deciding upon the memorial in early 2012 was the question of whether to include victims’ names upon the actual marker.
Shropshire was one of the main proponents hoping to have all the names of the Tri-State Crematory victims immortalized on the memorial stones.
Heiskell, however, cited numerous logistical and legal problems with that idea. To have all the names included, “we would have to look at all the obituaries for all the names and get permission from all of their families,” Heiskell said at the time. “And if one person said no, then we wouldn’t do it at all.”
A compromise was put in place by Vanessa McKeehan, manager and family services counselor at the Tennessee-Georgia Memorial Park and Monument Co.: the addition of engraved footstones for those families who wish to have a name remembered. Extra money to cover footstones was held in reserve from the $45,000 and thus the service was offered to victims’ family members at no cost. As of this writing, only three footstones have been installed. McKeehan is still taking requests for footstones, which are approximately the size of a landscaping paver, or an 8-by-10-inch photograph. (To request that an engraved footstone be installed at the memorial in honor of your loved one, contact Vanessa McKeehan at 706-866-5533.)
“I wanted all the names of everybody who was sent to Tri-State put on the monument. They said they couldn’t do that,” said Shropshire. “I said, well, if you can’t do that, you could let everybody know who was involved...(Heiskell) said the people will just have to contact Tennessee-Georgia if they want their loved one’s name on a stone.”
Shropshire is worried that many of the families whose loved ones were found at Tri-State Crematory, and may be spread far and wide across the region or country, may not know about the memorial or their option to have an engraved footstone.
“There’s so many of them that don’t know anything about this place,” she said.
Overall, Shropshire does not feel the completed memorial lives up to the memories of the victims or the funds given by the state.
“This is terrible to me,” she said. “This, to me, is not $45,000.”
One of the three engraved footstones bears the name of Shropshire’s mother. This, too, upsets her.
“I asked that when I got my marker, could I put it in my yard, because I’m not happy with this at all,” she said. “So they didn’t even let me know they’d put the markers down...I want it in my yard. I don’t want it here. I don’t want her stone here. She’s not here.
“What they’ve done here, to me it’s very little,” she said. “I’m disappointed with it, but there’s nothing else I can do. So I have my memorial at my house, for my mother, and I have a big banner for all of the people who were lost and found, that’s what it says, and I try to bring flowers up here. That’s all I can do.”
Despite Shropshire’s misgivings, the memorial stands as completed, and the county is confident that it will serve. “I’m comfortable that I’ve done everything that I can do,” said Heiskell.