It appears that Tom Tosto was one of the fellows who looked after things at the old Lukens Cemetery on the eastern side of the South River, once the little village of Lukens was abandoned in the mid-1940s.
Tosto’s home was just across the river on the western banks in the small community of South River.
He had a barge that would carry friends and relatives over to the cemetery to pay their respects. There are at least 163 gravesites there. The gravedigger and the corpse could ride along, too.
Tosto was 90 when he died in 2015. The obituary notice stated that “he was instrumental in getting the deed to Lukens Cemetery and in getting Carteret County to take ownership of that property.”
The late Dollie C. Carraway, a South River historian, said in 1987, Weyerhaeuser Company deeded 2.5 acres, including the cemetery, to the county, so the cemetery could be maintained and preserved. Interestingly, Carraway said the original name of the graveyard was Buzzard’s Bay Cemetery. (She died in August 2021 at age 93.)
In 2010, at the annual Lukens Cemetery Picnic, organized by Tosto, he shared a story about a man from Pamlico County who once asked what he’d have to do to be buried there in the Lukens Cemetery? Tosto waited a beat and then said, “I told him...all you have to do is die.”
Tosto took his own advice. He was buried in the family plot at Lukens Cemetery next to his wife, Bertha Mae Pittman Tosto, who died in 1997 at age 70.
In compiling his “Listening to History” series for The (Raleigh) News & Observer in 2006, historian Dr. David S. Cecelski interviewed Lennis Ipock of Newport. Ipock was a famous gravedigger for a local funeral home. He dug graves for nearly 30 years, using a set of hand tools.
Ipock told all about going to Lukens Cemetery: “You’ve got to go there by boat (because there are no public roads). They had a big, open barge. They would put on my tent, shovels and everything and take me over there. They would leave me over there all day.”
“The first time I was there, they said, ‘Now, Mr. Ipock, you watch out for the bears.’ But it’s the prettiest place you’ve ever been.”
Carraway was the author of “South River: A Local History From Turnagain Bay to Adams Creek” (1994). She devoted an entire chapter to Lukens and documented all the tombstones in Lukens Cemetery. The oldest marker memorializes Bedee (Obedience) Pittman, who died in 1810 at age 23.
In 2013, a private hunting lodge in Lukens, the State of North Carolina, the U.S. Marine Corps and the N.C. Coastal Land Trust entered into a formal agreement that was deemed as “a monumental accord.”
The hunting club’s 678-acre tract, in a sense, wraps around the old cemetery. Basically, the club’s land faces the Neuse River and lies between South River and Brown’s Creek. Owners granted “development rights” to the land trust.
This arrangement benefits the Marine Corps in its efforts to control air space between Air Station Cherry Point at Havelock and the Piney Island Bombing Range at the northeastern tip of Carteret County.
Carteret County News-Times staff writer Brad Rich reported: “All are pleased because everybody wins.
“The landowners will get to keep hunting and fishing. Irises get to keep blooming, and the creatures, including alligators...bears and the turkeys...get to keep wandering,” Rich wrote.