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How a Synagogue Caretaker Solved the Mystery of a Forgotten Graveyard

It took an anonymous complaint, Google Maps, and a box of 300 keys.

Not so long ago, in Plymouth, England, Jerry Sibley headed out to visit the old Jewish graveyard. As the custodian of the Plymouth Synagogue, he was investigating a called-in complaint about trees at the cemetery messing up the phone lines of a neighboring house. When he arrived, the Plymouth Herald reports, he was faced with a mystery: There were no houses or obviously troublesome trees anywhere nearby.

Apparently, the complaining neighbor, who did not leave an address or callback number, was referring to a different cemetery. Sibley soon learned that there was an even older Jewish cemetery in the city. The one he knew of was created in the 1850s. He was looking for one that dated back to the 1700s.

Sibley went to Google Maps, with a clue that placed the older cemetery on Lambhay Hill. After an initial effort failed to find it, he painstakingly over aerial images again until he found bright green spot. He zoomed in—and he could just make out some headstones.

The cemetery had gone unvisited for so long that no one at the synagogue knew how to open the door to the walled space. Sibley sorted through a box of 300 keys until he found the right one. When he opened the door he found a secret garden of trees, grass, flowers, and gravestones.

With help, he cleaned up the cemetery and created an audio tour of the gravestones that included the history of people buried there. The troublesome trees that steered him there were cut down, but the cemetery is still a little bit wild.