The Bizarre Reason 2 People Are Buried Under this Airport Runway

By: Savvy Dime Staff | Published: Feb 19, 2024

Nobody ever thinks about an airport’s tarmac. Why would they? Whenever you’re at an airport, you’re probably thinking about ensuring you get to your plane on time — and then getting comfortable once you’re on said plane.

Savannah Hilton Head Airport may get you to stop and think about their tarmac, though. That’s because there are two graves right on the runway, side by side!

Two Graves at Savannah Hilton Head Airport

These two graves are noticeable. If you were looking at the tarmac, you wouldn’t miss them, as this part of the ground is separated by two rectangular shapes. Both of these rectangles are right by each other, with clear inscriptions on them.

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Colorful parked passenger planes at an airport on the tarmac, with carts and cars around them

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These two graves are at the edge of runways 10 and 28. They belong to Catherine and Richard Dotson, two farmers who have a historical tie to the land the airport now lies on!

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The History of Cherokee Hills

Catherine and Richard Dotson used to own the land that now belongs to the Savannah Hilton Head Airport. The couple were both born in 1797. When they owned the land, they ran the original Dotson Family Farm. This land was also called Cherokee Hills in the 1800s.

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Green leaf trees over a walkway and gate in Savannah, Georgia.

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Catherine and Richard were married for 50 years. In 1877, Catherine passed away. Richard followed in 1884.

The Death of Richard and Catherine

When Richard and Catherine died, they were both buried on their farmland. During this time, Cherokee Hills had a family cemetery that held about 100 different graves. This cemetery also had many slave graves.

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Two rows of very old grave headstones against a red brick wall in Savannah, Georgia.

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For decades, Catherine, Richard, and 100 other graves rested on this land peacefully. However, everything began to change during World War II, when the government needed an airport in the area.

The Beginning of World War II

In 1942, at the beginning of World War II, the United States government needed to build more facilities. Specifically, they needed an area where they could land their B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses.

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A sun sets over an airport tarmac and runway

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They found the land they were looking for in Savannah. As a result, the U.S. government and the City of Savannah agreed to a deal that gave the War Department 1,100 acres. These acres now encompass the Savannah Hilton Head Airport.

U.S. Government’s Expansion in Savannah

At first, the federal government only owned part of what used to be called Cherokee Hills. However, they quickly realized they needed to enlarge some of their facilities — and they sought to acquire more land.

Green trees over a pathway of brown ground in the daytime in Savannah, Georgia.

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This eventually led to the government acquiring the family cemetery that belonged to the Dotson family. As the original family members had all passed, the government worked out a deal with Catherine and Richard’s great-grandchildren.

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Catherine and Richard Stay on Their Land

Catherine and Richard’s great-grandchildren didn’t want their ancestors to be forced off the land that they had so loved. For decades, the two put so much of their hearts and souls into their farming land.

A person takes a photo in an airport as they look out the window to see planes on the tarmac.

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So, their descendants had a hard time agreeing to allow the federal government to move their graves to another cemetery. This led to the government agreeing to keep Catherine and Richard on the land, forever.

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A Runway Over Graves

Once this agreement was struck between the U.S. government and the descendants of the Dotsons, the government began to expand into this area. Because this land needed to become a runway, they paved over the two graves.

A large jet flies over a busy airport in the daytime above other landed planes, green grass, and tarmac

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However, they did put marks on the graves of Catherine and Richard so that everybody knew they were there. In this way, they wanted to respect those who had owned the land before.

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The Other Graves

Meanwhile, the rest of the 100 graves that were located in this cemetery were moved. The government created new graves for these people in Bonaventure Cemetery, which is also located in Savannah.

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Many of the other graves at this family cemetery included those of the Dotson family from back in the day. However, the old cemetery also included the graves of slaves and farm workers.

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Two Other Graves at the Airport

While the Dotson descendants were adamant that Catherine and Richard stay forever on the land they cherished, they also wanted to allow two other relatives the right to stay buried in the area.

A gray airplane on the tarmac at an airport by people and cars as the sun sets behind it

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The federal government agreed. Therefore, Dotson relatives Daniel Hueston and John Dotson also remain buried in Savannah Hilton Head Airport. These two graves are not on the runway, though they lie near a brush near the airport’s busiest one.

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Savannah Residents Honor Past Land Owners

While many people may be surprised to hear that four people are buried at Savannah’s airport, residents in the city welcome it. “Somehow the fact that they are still there resting in peace says something about the people who have been caretakers of this city for a long time,” historian Stan Deaton said.

A pathway between green grass and colorful trees in Savannah, Georgia

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Others feel that Savannah has always been quite a spooky town. These graves just cement that fact.

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The Bewilderment of the Airport’s Graves

Many also bring up the fact that both Catherine and Richard Dotson died before the first plane ever landed in Savannah. Airplanes had not been invented yet before their deaths.

A view of Savannah Hilton Head airport from the top of a building, with parked cars seen closely and the airport’s land in the distance.

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Deaton brings up this fact in awe. “If those people could rise up from that grave, they would be bewildered by what they see around them,” Deaton explained.

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