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Tour a graveyard? There’s an app for that
Plus the news of the week: 2 construction workers killed in SouthPark fire; New CMS maps and superintendent; Abortion restrictions to become law; Mecklenburg tax increase; Hornets to get No. 2 pick
Good morning! Today is Saturday, May 20, 2023. You’re reading The Charlotte Ledger’s Weekend Edition.
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An app by a local nonprofit unearths history lessons in Charlotte’s historic Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery; Virtual headstones pop up on your iPhone
The historic Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery (Elmwood pictured above) covers over 70 acres in uptown Charlotte. History buffs can now explore the cemetery and learn more about the histories of those laid to rest — both the marked and unmarked graves — with the Our Stories CLT app. (The image on the right shows the story of an unmarked grave being displayed in the app.)
by Lindsey Banks
At first glance, a large section of the city-owned Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery on West 6th Street in uptown Charlotte appears to be an open field.
But if you look closer — with the help of the new Our Stories CLT app — you’ll see thousands of virtual headstones pop up. They belong to Black Charlotteans who were laid to rest in unmarked graves of the once-segregated cemetery.
Our Stories CLT launched last month to allow users to explore the histories buried in the more than 70 acres of the Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery. After users enable location services and camera access on their phones, they can use the app to navigate through the cemetery and look through the camera lens to find hidden documents and evidence of the histories of Charlotte’s citizens.
The whole experience takes about an hour to complete, according to Michael Zytkow, founder and executive director of Potions and Pixels, which developed the app. Potions and Pixels is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Charlotte that creates games, art and technology for social impact. The nonprofit collaborated with Gökotta, City of Charlotte, Knight Foundation and Google Fiber to make the app.
Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery was established in 1853 (although some headstones date back to the 1830s) and for more than a century, a fence was used to separate Pinewood Cemetery from the white-only Elmwood Cemetery. The fence didn’t come down until 1969, after a crusade led by city council member Fred Alexander to have it removed — which is something people can learn through the Our Stories CLT app. Roads now connect the two cemeteries.
“I think it's incredibly crucial for folks in Charlotte to understand our history,” Zytkow said. “We’re seeing so many changes, left and right. It’s important to remember the people who helped make Charlotte what it is today.”
Over the past two years, about 20 middle and high school students in Charlotte’s North and West End communities worked on the app during a camp hosted by Potions and Pixels called The Charlotte AR Experience camp.
In 2020, the city of Charlotte reached out to Zytkow about creating an augmented reality experience for the Urban Arboretum Trail. Zytkow had already been looking into ways to engage youth in the North End community.
Rather than just creating the app, Potions and Pixels hosted a summer camp in 2021 and 2022 to involve students in the creation. Campers seemed to be most interested in the unmarked graves at Pinewood Cemetery, so they researched and worked with local historians like Tom Hanchett and the cemetery’s director, Bill Bibby, to identify the unmarked graves.
App users can learn more specifically about Thaddeus Tate, a prominent Black businessman in Charlotte; William W. Smith, Charlotte’s first Black architect; and Dr. J.T. Williams, Charlotte’s first Black doctor — who all are buried at the cemetery.
(When I tested out the app earlier this week, I had some difficulties getting it to pick up my location under a big tree. Zytkow said he hasn’t heard of anyone else having that issue, though.)
Lynn Weis, president of Historic Elmwood Pinewood Inc. told The Ledger that Our Stories CLT serves as a learning tool for young people.
“[The app] brings life to a cemetery,” Weis said. “For younger folks who may not be initially as interested, this is a great opportunity for them to learn about the past in a very futuristic way.”
Historic Elmwood Pinewood is a nonprofit that focuses on preserving the cemetery. The nonprofit hosts a recurring fundraising event called Voices From The Past as part of the Fourth Ward’s Secret Garden Tour. (There’s a Voices From the Past event today that begins at 2 p.m.) The last stop on the tour is at the Elmwood/Pinewood Cemetery, Weis said, so they plan to encourage tourists to download the app.
Zytkow said that since the app launched, other Charlotte neighborhoods have reached out to him to archive their local histories.
“There are so many people that recognize the importance of preserving histories, and looking to technology as a way to archive this for the long term and then looking at technology also as a way of being enticing and engaging to people of all ages,” Zytkow said.
Updates to the app will be coming soon, Zytkow said, including an option to see a virtual replication of the fence that used to separate Elmwood and Pinewood cemeteries.
Lindsey Banks is a staff reporter for The Ledger. Reach her at email@example.com
Today’s supporting sponsor is the 2023 Novant Health Charlotte Marathon. You can do this! (Yes, YOU!) There’s an event for every goal and pace at the 2023 Novant Health Charlotte Marathon: Full marathon, half marathon, marathon relay or the Chick-fil-A 5k! It all happens Saturday, November 4. REGISTER NOW
Happy Meck Dec Day, to all who celebrate
Colonial re-enactors mark the 248th anniversary of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence at The Square uptown on Friday. The Mecklenburg Declaration, known as the “Meck Dec,” is said to have been produced by local leaders on May 20, 1775, and would have been the first statement of independence from England – more than a year before the more historically verifiable Declaration of Independence. The Meck Dec is believed to have been carried to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia on horseback by Capt. James Jack, who had no way of knowing at the time that his courageous trip would lead to a craft beer being named after him more than 200 years later. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Center City Partners)
This week in Charlotte: CMS releases final set of assignment maps and names superintendent; Big fire in SouthPark; Abortion veto overridden; County tax increase
On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.
New CMS assignment maps: After more than a year of discussions and draft plans, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools released a set of school assignment maps Monday for south Charlotte that will be recommended to the school board. Residents in some neighborhoods felt “blindsided,” The Ledger reported Friday. We also provided a school-by-school breakdown of the changes in plain English.
New superintendent named: (Ledger) Interim CMS Superintendent Crystal Hill will drop the “interim” and become the district’s next superintendent. The school board approved a contract for her Friday after a national search.
New abortion law for N.C.: (Associated Press) The Republican-controlled General Assembly voted Tuesday night to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of abortion legislation, making way for a new law that bans nearly all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Tax increase proposed: (Ledger 🔒) Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio is recommending a tax rate that’s above the revenue-neutral rate, which will result in the typical Mecklenburg homeowner paying more than $500 more a year in taxes this year compared with 2022. Most of the increase is from the recent revaluation, and Diorio says the tax hike is needed to pay for rising costs and commissioners’ priorities.
SouthPark fire kills 2: (Observer) A massive fire at a construction site off Fairview Road in SouthPark on Thursday killed two workers and required 90 firefighters to extinguish, with flames shooting 50 feet in the air. Charlotte’s fire chief said the city hasn’t had a fire that size “in decades, if ever.”
Shooting aboard CATS bus: (WBTV) Two people were taken to the hospital following a shooting aboard a Charlotte Area Transit System bus near the Charlotte Premium Outlets in Steele Creek on Thursday, and police have a suspect in custody.
Big development ready to start: (Ledger 🔒) Riverside Investment & Development is starting work on the Queensbridge Collective development on Morehead Street, and the Uptown Cabaret’s final day after nearly 30 years is expected to be in early June.
Wells Fargo settles for $1B: (Observer) Wells Fargo is settling a class-action lawsuit from shareholders for $1B. Shareholders claim the bank misled them and made “materially false and misleading statements” about its compliance with regulators after its fake sales scandal in 2016.
Hornets get No. 2 pick: (Sports Illustrated) The Charlotte Hornets will have the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, following Tuesday’s draft lottery.
Women’s pro soccer coming to Charlotte: (Axios Charlotte) A new professional women’s league is kicking off in August 2024, and one of the teams will call Charlotte home and play at Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth.
From the Ledger family of newsletters
Farewell to Brandy: Brandy the Marvelous Miniature Horse, who made hundreds of visits to local nursing homes and brightened many people’s days, died this month at the age of 13.
Tennis back-and-forth: The Cincinnati area says it thinks it has a good chance to hold onto the Western & Southern Open, a major tennis tournament that is exploring a move to Charlotte.
Fined for sloppy invoices: Plaza-Midwood bar Jackalope Jacks agreed to pay a $1,000 fine after an inspection by police showed that it didn’t keep its alcohol invoices separate and didn’t have a recycling bin as the law requires.
Atrium growth: A one-line provision tucked into the N.C. Senate budget proposal would make it easier for Atrium Health to merge with other N.C. hospitals and expand across the state.
Historic sign replaced: The longstanding and iconic sign in front of Bojangles Coliseum and Ovens Auditorium on Independence Boulevard was replaced this week by an electronic sign.
No more newspapers at CLT: Newspapers are no longer for sale at Charlotte’s airport, after The Charlotte Observer — which distributes its paper and national papers — told airport officials it would no longer deliver there, an airport spokesman said.
🎧 Business Toolbox podcast: This week’s episode of The Charlotte Ledger Podcast is the second of three aimed at helping small- and mid-sized businesses overcome common challenges. It’s an interview with Catapult’s Kendra Stewart on recruiting and retaining workers in a tight job market.
Ways of Life (🔒)
Mauro Messina’s family called him a “curmudgeon” and “grumps,” but under the gruff exterior, he would do anything for the ones he loved. He died of cancer this month at age 54.
Towed in South End: South End is the towing capital of Charlotte, with city government data showing that three of the top four addresses for towing are in the popular area.
Meram making a mark: Veteran soccer player Justin Meram has quickly become comfortable with Charlotte FC after arriving in a trade last month. He scored two crucial goals against Atlanta.
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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Staff writer: Lindsey Banks; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Contributing photographer/videographer: Kevin Young, The 5 and 2 Project