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Norcross luminary event remembers relatives, residents

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Local Historian Gene Ramsay educates attendees about Norcross' history prior to the Celebration of Lights at Norcross Historic Cemetery Saturday. Ramsay gave a tour of the cemetery to about a dozen people mentioning the notable figures of Norcross and sharing memorable stories.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Local Historian Gene Ramsay educates attendees about Norcross' history prior to the Celebration of Lights at Norcross Historic Cemetery Saturday. Ramsay gave a tour of the cemetery to about a dozen people mentioning the notable figures of Norcross and sharing memorable stories.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan About 2,500 luminaries stayed lit during the Celebration of Lights honoring those who have passed and once called Norcross home, a luminary event tradition at Norcross Historic Cemetery Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Jenny Coker, 75, of Norcross lights the candle at the grave of her husband Jess William Coker during the Celebration of Lights at Norcross Historic Cemetery Saturday. Coker, her sister Shirley Hall and Clyde Hall have been lighting the luminaries for about 20 years during a tradition that honors those who have passed and once called Norcross their home.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan About 2,500 luminaries stayed lit during the Celebration of Lights honoring those who have passed and once called Norcross home, a luminary event tradition at Norcross Historic Cemetery Saturday.

NORCROSS -- The stories behind the head stones in the Norcross City Cemetery include relatives of President Calvin Coolidge, a baseball home run record holder, a man who went from rags-to-riches-to-rags and several war veterans.

An event that dates back about 20 years had another installment on Saturday evening, and had its largest turnout, about 20 people, in several years, said Tixie Fowler, the city's public relations manager. Residents gathered to hear stories of notable residents from local historian Gene Ramsay, and light luminaries to honor their relatives and friends.

"It's recognition of those who have been here before us, and they've given so much to the city, not only in servitude and working in public office and helping different committees," said longtime former Mayor Lillian Webb. "But also in recognition of their efforts and letting them know that we still care, and want to recognize their efforts, no matter how large or how small. They're a token part of the development of Norcross."

Ramsay, who moved to Atlanta in 1975 to attend Georgia Tech, considers history a hobby and took an interest in Norcross when he moved to the city several years ago. He last led a tour two years ago of notable stories he's gathered from the cemetery.

"Seems like an appropriate time to remember people who lived here in years past," he said. "I enjoy telling people these stories; to me it's interesting."

One of those stories is about Edward Buchanan, an orphan born in 1871, who grew up to be a skilled telegraph operator, and moved across the country, then to New York where he was a successful stockbroker.

Ramsay said Buchanan became a millionaire and returned to the Norcross area to build a house for his adopted mother, which had running water and electricity before those were common.

But Buchanan lost his riches, and when he moved back to Norcross, he had $75 to his name, and his Sunday School class purchased his gravestone.

Another story featured Clark Jones, a 10-year-old who was killed during the Civil War, and originally buried in his family's yard.

A well-known baseball local, Norcross' Roy Carlyle, who is best-known for a 618-foot home run for the Oakland Oaks in 1929, is buried in the cemetery. It remains the longest tape-measured home run in baseball history.

Several of the people who attended the event own plots in the cemetery, and lit candles of their loved ones, mere feet from where they plan to be. One of those is Clyde Hall, who pointed to a section of the cemetery where his and his wife's families have a row of plots.

"Just about all of our family is buried in here, plus a lot of friends," Hall said. "We come out and pay respect. That's the main thing. Especially for me with my family being there, and one day I'll be there."