In one of the back corners of the 14-acre Milton cemetery, a small, cordoned-off square of tiny graves is marked only by a cement stone dubbing it "Babyland."
Inside Babyland are 60 infant graves, containing the remains of days-old babies who died between the years 1966 and 1975.
Only a few of the graves have actual headstones, like one that reads "Melissa Ann Welch," who was born and died on April 26, 1968.
Forty-nine of the other graves, however, have sat unmarked for decades. The plot of land was created in the cemetery in the 1960s for babies whose parents didn't have enough money to buy them a plot of land in the Milton cemetery.
"The area was for families who could not afford a plot for their infant. The spot was donated to them," said Christie Haarmann, who has served as the Milton Cemetery director for the past four years. She noted that the city still offers free plots to deceased newborns, but she hasn't had a single one in her time as director.
"If the parents planned on being buried with their child, they would have had to pay for a burial site elsewhere on the cemetery grounds," she said.
If the parents couldn't afford a grave, they also often times couldn't afford a headstone, and so for decades their deceased babies laid underground, without a marker or headstone to prove to the outside world that they were born and had existed in the world, if only for a brief period of time.
Now, the city of Milton is paying $2,200 to buy individual tiny headstones for the 49 unmarked infant graves, and two individual donors have kicked in $250 each as well.
"The position of the city is that this is the right step for us to move forward with what we believe is the right course of action," said Stephen Prestesater, spokesman for the city. "They deserve to have something, and we feel that this marker will at least give them some identity."
When Haarmann started at the cemetery four years ago, she noticed that many of the infant graves had old, outdated temporary paper markers, while others had nothing at all. It was something that bothered her, so she made it her mission to identify the infants one by one.
Some of the babies who had temporary markers were able to be cross-referenced with their plots and cemetery records, and their names and birth/death dates confirmed. Others she had to do a bit more work on, and several she never was able to identify at all.
Two years ago, she was able to put up new green temporary markers, many of them finally telling the outside world what the infant's name was: J.C. Clement, who was born and died on Feb. 2, 1975; Ashlie K. Gilbert, who was born on Sept. 17, 1970 and died the next day; and Mary Gallani, whose dates simply read 1966-1966.
Others for whom she was unable to find a full name and exact birth and death date got markers as well: Infant Boy Nelson, 1966; Infant Girl, 1966.
Others, for whom there is no known information at all, are simply marked: "Unknown Infant, N/A."
It isn't known under what circumstances these babies were buried, and why some of them don't have names or birth/death dates. It could be because it was too painful for the parents to name them, or the plot records have been lost to time.
Haarmann said she helped a woman a few years ago who had come to the cemetery looking for her baby's grave.
"She was still in the hospital when her husband got the baby, took it to the cemetery and had it buried there," she said, adding that the woman found her baby's plot elsewhere in the cemetery, not unmarked in Babyland.
There are other infant burial plots scattered throughout the cemetery, and the city still does indigent burials, like any municipality. But 'Babyland' has been a passion project for Haarmann, and once the city council confirms the funding at its July executive committee meeting, she hopes to have all of the infant headstones completed and placed within a few months.
"They deserve to have a proper headstone like the rest of them. My heart really goes out to Babyland, and I want to show them the respect they deserve to have," she said. "They were infants and didn't get a life to lead."
Annie Blanks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8632.