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OLD FRIENDS COME TO LIFE IN THE CEMETERY

To be together, some married couples bowl, some join dance clubs or card groups.

Chester and Sheryl Milburn haunt cemeteries."When I was working through a disability, I had to walk a mile a day," says Chester, who does research at BYU. "I chose to walk the Spanish Fork cemetery. Soon I began noticing things - all the stillborn children, the detailed information on the older markers. It occurred to me more people were in the cemetery - 20,000 - than lived in town. I began to wonder if there might be a book in the place. That's when Sheryl and I decided to do a volume telling where people were buried. Then the mayor of Santaquin suggested we include a paragraph or two about each life."

Years ago, Edgar Lee Masters gave us "The Spoon River Anthology." The book is a series of poems - "short speeches," actually - written by the various souls who inhabit the Spoon River cemetery. After a page or two, readers begin seeing links and personal connections among former residents of the town.

"The Spoon River Anthology" was fiction, of course. But the Milburns hope to go Edgar Masters one better. They have in mind a "Spanish Fork Anthology," a collection of stories about the dead that deal with real lives and real people.

The Milburns also have a secret weapon that Masters didn't: acomputer.

"When we put the whole format on a computer, we can really move things around," says Sheryl. "We can get a printout of names in chronological order or alphabetical order. The computer also sets us up to do desktop publishing."

Everything you've always wanted to know about the Spanish Fork cemetery but were afraid to ask, you can now ask the Milburns.

Who's the oldest "resident" of the place? Lucy Buchanan, died 1853.

Toughest year to chronicle? 1890, because census records for that year were destroyed by fire.

"And I'm always finding old friends here," says Chester, "people I knew years ago."

Once the "Spanish Fork Anthology" is finished, however, the Milburns don't plan to rest in peace. They've already started to catalog the souls in the Salem cemetery.

And after that?

"Well," says Chester, "I guess we'll see how many cemeteries it's possible to do in a lifetime."

Author William Kennedy began his novel "Ironweed" with a paragraph that might interest the Milburns:Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods. The truck was suddenly surrounded by fields of monuments . . . all guarding the privileged dead.If cemeteries are neighborhoods, then the Milburns aren't writing a history book at all. They're putting out a newsletter - complete with news, views and, yes, even gossip about Spanish Fork's dear hearts and gentle people - all those "neighbors" in the city's quietest subdivision.If you have information about anyone buried in the Spanish Fork cemetery you'd like included in the volume, phone the Milburns at 1-798-9095 or write to them at 440 E. 100 North, Spanish Fork, UT 84660-1812.