The Mysterious Part of Kalaupapa National Historical Park You're Not Allowed To See

The Mysterious Part Of This National Park You're Not Allowed To See

Most of us have seen wacky images of how trees seemingly eat objects over time -- everything from street signs and park benches to long-abandoned bicycles.

However, when we came across this unusual image on Unexplained Pictures' Twitter feed, we wondered if, perhaps, it was a Photoshop job. Did a tree really entomb this... tomb?

Using the location in the tweet as a starting point, we called Kalaupapa National Historical Park on the Hawaiian island of Molokai to get to the bottom of the mystery.

It turns out it's very real. The grave in the above photo is located in Papaloa Cemetery -- one of the 14 cemeteries in the park. And it's not the only one that's like that.

"Throughout the entire park we have approximately 1,200 known grave markers," the park's cultural resources program manager Carrie A. Mardorf told The Huffington Post. "As you can imagine, the preservation... in a marine environment, in addition to the maintenance of the cemetery grounds, is quite an undertaking."

Prior to the park's inception in 1980, general upkeep of the cemeteries varied greatly in the 20th century, and in some cases, was deferred for decades. There are also thousands of unmarked graves.

But this place is so significant, the park actually received government funds to begin its grave marker preservation program in 2008. In the past six years, park employees annually prioritize which markers need the most preservation. So far, about 140 grave markers have been preserved. Each repair is custom-tailored to the individual grave marker, according to Mardorf. "In some cases, trees are allowed to remain adjacent to graves, particularly if the tree is a threatened or endangered species. In those cases, the National Park Service takes a balanced approach to preserve both the grave marker and the threatened/endangered species."

You might not believe it from the looks of it, but the grave above is in better condition than others throughout the park. The banyan tree that engulfs it hasn't really grown much since the preservation program began and the tomb itself is essentially stable, Mardorf said. Plus, removing the tree would require extensive heavy machinery that could potentially damage surrounding graves. So, for now, it is staying just the way it is.

But the park isn't just made up of cemeteries and graves, there's a rich and storied history about the sacred place where they lie.

When Hansen's disease (commonly known as leprosy) was introduced to the Hawaiian islands in 1830s, native Hawaiians were particularly susceptible, having no immunities to foreign diseases, according to the park's website. In an effort to stop the spread of the disease, Hawaiian King Kamehameha V ordered all those diagnosed to the isolated Kalaupapa peninsula.

"Since 1866, more than 8,000 people, mostly Hawaiians, have died there," the park's website states. "Once a prison, Kalaupapa is now refuge for the few remaining residents who are now cured, but were forced to live their lives in isolation."

Today, there are approximately eight or nine patient-residents who live in the settlement, Mardorf told HuffPost. It is still very much a "living community," which is why public access is extremely limited.

The park's main goal is to provide a peaceful and comfortable environment for its small community, along with preserving the memories and experiences of the people who were banished there.

Thinking about visiting Kalaupapa National Historical Park? You won't be able to wander around to try and find that grave. Because Kalaupapa is such a sacred place and home to patient-residents, bus tours stop only at strategic locations. All visitors -- whether traveling by plane, foot or mule -- must make arrangements through Damien Tours in order to book a tour and obtain a permit required by the state of Hawaii.

The tour does drive by Papaloa Cemetery on the way to the airport. So if you keep out an eagle eye, you just might catch a glimpse of the tree on the tomb.

Before You Go

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