Have you seen them?

Meghan Overdeep
March 16, 2018

 

Few of the millions of passengers who fly in and out of Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport each year notice two peculiar rectangles lying in the middle of the runway. What appear at first glance to be patches from repair work in the tarmac are actually the headstones of Richard and Catherine Dotson—the only known graves to be embedded in an airport runway in the world.

The story behind how the husband and wife came to rest in the middle of the bustling runway begins in 1877, long before Wilbur and Orville Wright first took flight in 1903. That’s the year Catherine died, after a lifetime spent farming her family’s land on the outskirts of Savannah, back when it was called Cherokee Hills. Richard, her husband of 50 years, died seven years later, and the couple was buried side-by-side in a family cemetery that had about 100 graves, The State reports.

They rested peacefully until the Savannah Airport began work on an extension to Runway 10 during WWII. The new runway would extend straight through the Dotsons’ plot. According to Atlas Obscura, their descendants allowed officials to relocate most of the graves, but insisted that the patriarch and matriarch should not be disturbed, claiming that they would have wanted to stay on the land they worked so hard to cultivate and purchase.

Since it’s illegal to transfer remains without consent from next of kin, the airport simply paved over them. Although they didn’t have to, the airport chose to honor the Dotsons by placing two headstones over their graves, laid flat with the runway.

The State reports that family members are still escorted to visit them safely, though they cannot leave flowers.