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The Other Memorial Day

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She rakes dead grass off the grave with the three names and one inscription: Forever in Our Hearts. The woman in work gloves and white sun hat picks up the dead grass and stuffs her plastic bag full for another trip to the ravine down the hill.

She'll be back this week with her John Deere riding mower to navigate through the buttercupped rows at Brewer Hill Cemetery, Annapolis' historic African-American burial ground.

Linda Simms, one of the cemetery's volunteer caretakers, doesn't plan to be buried here. But until then, way until then, the retired postal worker patrols the tilted, crumbling gravestones, raking dead grass so her mowing will come easier.

This Memorial Day weekend, the cemetery will have been mowed, and American flags will have been posted at the graves of African-American veterans from the Spanish-American War, both world wars, and Vietnam and beyond.

Credit members of the Brewer Hill Association, a group working toward the preservation and restoration of the 4.5-acre site. And credit Annapolis native Linda Simms for the mowing. She feels at home here -- as much as anyone can in a cemetery.

She usually works alone, except when her trimming, raking or mowing is interrupted by deer or fox. "There's a family of foxes that come out from the ravine. They watch me, I watch them, then they watch me."

She usually works alone, except when she's interrupted by a reporter setting foot at Brewer Hill for the first time.

At first glance, the cemetery resembles a green mouth full of chipped teeth. Tombstones have fallen down; others list; still others have been seized by the soft earth. Many are homemade, with names written by hand in cement.

Cinder blocks are used to mark some graves. Here, slaves and their descendents were buried. Poor families and workers, too (cooks are buried here along with their frying pans). Not just the underclass, though. Black property and business owners are also entombed at Brewer Hill.

Notice the names: Mrs. Lottie McNeil, Florence Tongue, Hattie Jones, Adele Queen Isaacs, Crawford McPherson, Wiley H. Bates, and, more recently, civic activist Joseph "Zastrow" Simms.

Brewer Hill also honors the ugliest chapter in local race relations. "Annapolis and Anne Arundel County were given a black eye last night by the lynching of the Negro Davis," The Evening Capital wrote in 1906. Along the cemetery's fence, there's a plaque in the name of Henry Davis.

John Snowden, the last man hanged in Annapolis, is also buried at Brewer Hill.

It's only natural to compare the cemetery with its neighbors. Across West Street is well-kept St. Mary's Cemetery. Adjacent to Brewer Hill is the Annapolis National Cemetery, with its formations of uniform white tombstones.

"We're not regimented like that," says Simms, pulling a weed from off a marker. "We're more casual."

Many of the lot owners at Brewer Hill are long gone. Time (the cemetery was founded in 1863) and gravity (ageless) have conspired to unseat, bury and topple some of the markers.

"The ground is soft, which doesn't help matters," says Simms.

The association's work wasn't made easier after an Annapolis tour horse in 2006 broke free and spent 10 hours on the lam in the cemetery. Horse trainers tried apples and and carrots, but they didn't work.

Eventually, Princess walked into her trailer, but not before trampling the ground and damaging a tombstone. (The city's horse wrangling skills were called into question.)

There hasn't been a horse here since -- mainly just the foxes that watch Simms watch them.

When you meet a person weed-whacking around tombstones, questions occur to you.

"Are you walking on graves? Yes, more than likely you are," she says, picking off one.

How does she mow through these broken rows?

"Oh, I don't try."

Just mows around things the best she can.

Will she buried here?

Nope. Plans to be cremated.

Linda Simms walks back up the hill to the marker with the three names. The violet artificial flowers have been bleached of color.

"I got to bring them up some new flowers," the caretaker says.

Bring who new flowers?

"My father, grandfather and grandmother."

They're buried at her feet.