Montgomery Senior Raises the Dead

by Joyce Wang ’22

Gravestones at the Abraham Stryker Burying Ground are covered with moss and crowded by the fall foliage. Source: Keiran Dugan ’22

Published Oct. 20th, 2021

Montgomery High School senior Keiran Dugan is raising the dead with the flick of her fingertips. Though she isn’t Montgomery’s first necromantic witch, Dugan, a photography student, had embarked on a supernatural task. For many months during 2021, Dugan journeyed across Montgomery Township capturing forgotten graveyards and bringing them back into our living minds. She breathes an alluring sheen into stones and engravings that have long sunk out of plain view.

Intuitively, no student would jump at the opportunity to visit eerie graveyards on their own for hours at a time. When I asked Dugan about her decision to exclusively cover graveyards, she told me how the Montgomery Landmark Commission was requesting photoshoots of the cemeteries. They had needed to update the landmark book and possibly increase funding for cemetery restoration. Dugan filed a report along with her expert photos, strategically noting certain shortcomings such as broken fencing and uncontrolled plant growth. She felt honored to serve her community.

However, Dugan was most appreciative of the rich history of her subjects. She admitted the cemeteries themselves weren’t particularly extravagant but said with astonishment how “[s]ome of these cemeteries date as far back as the 1600s.” She embarked on 15 self-proclaimed “cemetery hunts” where she photographed grave markers frozen in time, overtaken by centuries of nature. She recalled how she met families who “enthusiastically told [her] about the cemeteries on their properties and the history behind them.” She visited generational family burial sites and slave burial sites, both of which evoked a strong sense of realization within her. She has lived in Montgomery for 14 years but confesses she has “never felt closer to this town or its history.” 

As Montgomery continues to urbanize, I asked Dugan why she thinks cemeteries should be a priority in continued preservation efforts. She thoughtfully responded how many of the graves she visited were unmarked, and if they aren’t preserved through her photos or another way, these people may be forgotten forever. Dugan wishes to commemorate lives that once composed Montgomery, paying respects to their existence and families. 

Finally, she told me that these efforts were opportune, recalling how one of the cemeteries from the 1600’s she visited was treated as a disposal site for dead trees; many Montgomery citizens are unaware of these monuments of history and are harming them indirectly. 

With her sharp and straightforward photography, Dugan illustrates visions of a Montgomery almost forgotten. Though the subject of her work is death, Dugan’s photos glimmer with life.