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There are 2 graves on a Savannah-Hilton Head airport runway. How did that happen?

Richard Dotson, along with his wife Catherine, gravesite markers are located at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport near the shoulder of a runway.
Richard Dotson, along with his wife Catherine, gravesite markers are located at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport near the shoulder of a runway. Courtesy of Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

It’s really pretty spooky: graves on an airport runway.

But it’s true. A man and his wife slumber by the screeching tires of passenger jets landing at the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport.

“At rest,” says his grave marker, a large slab lying flat in the pavement at the edge of runway 10 and 28.

“Gone home to rest,” says her marker.

Or have they?

“It’s said, that if you are coming in to land just after sundown, two figures will appear just along the north side of the runway,” writes regional airline captain Lisa Ruedy on the web site All Things Aero.

Oddly enough, this couple died long before the Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first flight in 1903.

Was it a trick that landed Richard and Catherine Dotson on the runway?

No, but there is a treat in store for anyone worried about their roaring slumber.

The story was laid bare years ago in the Savannah Morning News.

This was a couple who farmed the land on the brushy outskirts of Savannah, when it was called Cherokee Hills and Native Americans came to call.

Catherine’s earthly toil ended in 1877 and Richard followed her to the grave seven years later.

They were laid to rest in a family cemetery that had about 100 graves, including many slaves.

And there the couple that was married 50 years slumbered again together — until Uncle Sam needed a military airport on their farmland to ship B-24 “Liberators” and B-17 “Flying Fortresses” over there in World War II.

“Before the war, the bulk of air travel, civilian and military, came through Savannah Airport, now Hunter Army Airfield,” Ben Werner reported in his 2001 story. “Some planes tended to land at local golf courses and even Daffin Park during the earliest days of air travel.”

Descendants of the Dotsons got the army to move most of the graves, but they did not want the patriarch and matriarch disturbed.

That’s how those tombstones were laid to rest embedded in an airport runway. It happened as the site continued to expand and morphed into an international airport. For about 75 years now, the stones on the outer edge of the runway have been an oddity that people find hard to believe.

Family members are still escorted to visit them safely, though they cannot leave flowers. The gravesite is not in the middle of the runway where the planes land and take off, but on the edge.

The odd story is told and retold in the world of pilots.

Lisa Ruedy’s blog post from four years ago says that if business is slack air traffic controllers will allow pilots to taxi by to see the graves. They sometimes might switch them to a second frequency for an audio graveyard tour, she said.

But then there’s this mysterious treat:

“People shouldn’t be creeped out about this, though,” the Savannah Morning News was told by the airport director. “When the runway was extended, it was found that really only the markers were left of the graves.”

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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