If you’re a regular reader you probably noticed Preserving York has a new look. Days ago, I shifted the entire blogging experience to WordPress, which I believe will allow me to better serve you, the reader. There are a few things still being worked on and others that need to be “touched up”, but overall Preserving York is back in business. Here we go…
Emmanuel Reformed Cemetery, Hanover, Pennsylvania
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There are people buried here from 1772 to 1881. The cemetery is in horrible condition. It’s considered a public park with benches etc. I don’t get it. It’s the saddest cemetery, with whole stones missing and most of them fallen face down on the ground. I attempted to look at most of them, but the stones are very heavy and the ones I did see are so eroded and just in such bad condition. If I were the city of Hanover, I’d be a bit embarrassed about this being a “park”.
Emmanuel Reformed Cemetery, commonly known as German Reformed Cemetery, rests quietly along School Avenue in the borough of Hanover. It was created in the 1700s by the Reformed congregation of Emmanuel United Church of Christ. They purchased the plot of land from Hanover’s founder, Richard McAllister, in 1763, and there were burials on that place until the 1880s.
During the Battle of Hanover, which took place on June 30, 1863, there were nineteen Union soldiers killed as a result of their action. Eleven of those men were laid to rest in a mass burial in the cemetery, but this was short-lived. Following the creation of “The Soldiers’ National Cemetery” in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, bodies of Union soldiers who participated in the Gettysburg Campaign were exhumed and reinterred at Getysburg, including those buried in the Hanover cemetery. The above photograph was taken during exhumation efforts in Hanover, and is the only one known to exist taken during the process.
Credit for the above photo goes to the book “Official Program – Hanover Bi-Centennial – 1763-1963″.
The German Reformed Cemetery was taken over by the borough of Hanover in the 1930s. The circumstances of this are unclear, but it was later turned into a borough park which included picnic tables, shuffleboard, and horseshoe pits. This was likely the beginning of a sad decline for the cemetery.
“Scouts honor dead, will undo vandal damage”
In 1999, Mike Renoll helped to restore German Reformed Cemetery:
At the time I was selecting my Eagle Scout project, my father, a lifetime Hanover Borough employee, recommended I talk to Borough Manager Bruce Rebert for ideas about projects that would benefit the community. Rebert referred me to Asst. Borough Manager Barb Krebs. She suggested several projects around town and the cemetery restoration immediately stood out for several reasons.
Like many other historic landmarks in the York County, Pennsylvania area, German Reformed Cemetery wasn’t well known as Mike mentioned below:
First, I was born in and grew up in Hanover yet had never known the cemetery existed. After talking with friends and family, I found out many people didn’t know the cemetery existed even though it was located near the center of town. I became interested in learning about the history of the cemetery and thought that my efforts to improve the conditions at the cemetery may help others learn about its history. Secondly, I was very saddened to see that these historic stones- each representing a person, a story, a family- were destroyed not by weather, but by the inconsiderate acts of humans. I really felt it was important to undertake this project because not only would it be a service for the community who visits the park/cemetery, but also for the families of the deceased.
Following the restoration project, which including the help of family, friends, and Hanover borough employees, the cemetery looked fantastic.
Some stones were too damaged for repair and were placed in a “tombstone garden”:
Before the 1999 restoration, there was a small stone garden already in existence with pieces of stones that were not able to be repaired. The number of stones that were either too damaged to be repaired OR could not be identified increased significantly between the time the stone garden was originally made and the 1999 project was completed. We tripled the size of the stone garden to accommodate the increase in number of stone fragments that could not be pieced together. I felt it was important that even though these stones were broken up, they remained in the cemetery.
Knowing the cemetery would likely be irresistible to vandals, Mike arranged for a large momument to be erected commemmoratong those buried there:
The sad truth is, I was not surprised at all when the cemetery was again destroyed by vandals within in months of the project’s completion. Even while we worked on the cemetery, small children would play football in the cemetery, climbing on and jumping over stones. I knew that stones would begin to be broken due to the use of the cemetery as a playground. Also, the location of the cemetery hides it away from public view and makes it an ideal target for those looking to vandalize for whatever reasons. Nonetheless, it was very disheartening to visit the cemetery the next year and see most of the stones broken up again. Even more saddening was the fact that someone had spray painted profanity on the new granite monument. Due to the fact that we knew the cemetery would be destroyed again at some point, the monument was created to be a permanent memorial that was not easily destroyed. I guess I hadn’t considered that someone would be disrespectful enough to spray paint a memorial that is paying tribute to the deceased. Fortunately, Alan Redding of Redding Memorials was able to sandblast the profanity off of the memorial.
The present and the future of German Reformed Cemetery
When you look at Emmanuel Reformed Cemetery from afar, its appearance is ordinary and plain as shown in the photograph above. It’s only when you take a closer look that you see its true beauty, as well as the damage incurred during years of senseless vandalism.
Click on the photograph above, and you get an up-close view of the damage inflicted to the tombstones in this cemetery. Some have been toppled while others were broken into pieces. It’s quite likely some have been carried off, never to be seen again.
I visited this cemetery twice in the past few weeks. During my first visit I saw discarded beer cans lying near some tombstones, which I picked up and took with me when I left. During my next visit there were more discarded beer cans laying at the same place. When I took some time to think about this, it dawned on me that they were likely tossed over a privacy fence separating the cemetery from a Locust Street residence. Once again, these cans came home with me and were properly discarded.
Another obvious problem is the unstable condition of a concrete wall that is leaning very badly. Boards have been placed against the wall to support it, but this offers little comfort as a long-term solution. The wall is resting on the corner of a tombstone, which would likely crumble if the wall were to completely fall.
Despite the problems found in the cemetery there are still signs of beauty. Some tombstones, including the ornate examples above and below, appear to have been spared during vandalism sprees. According to the website “Stones of Faith – Pennsylvania Germans & Their Gravestones“, the sun symbol shown above can mean various things, including the soul in heaven, Christ, the “son” of God, and Christ’s death and resurrection.
The skull symbol shown below signifies death and mortality, while the crown above it means “death triumphant”.
Next year, the Borough of Hanover will celebrate its 250th anniversary, but German Reformed Cemetery is by no means ready to join the festivities.
What else can we do do to help this piece of local history?
- Lay the tombstones face-up in concrete so they cannot be toppled?
- More the tombstones to a “safer” location such as Mount Olivet Cemetery on Baltimore Street in Hanover?
- Do we leave the cemetery in its current state since the damage has already been done?
There are no easy answers, but I for one am willing to work with the leadership of Hanover to find a solution. Remember, those resting in this cemetery are somebody’s family. Those resting in this cemetery could be YOUR family.
Opinions vary, and I love hearing from all sides. Your thoughts ?
- A beautiful ultra-high resolution GigaPan photograph of the cemetery is shown on the VisitPA website.
- Mike Renoll and I discovered we were cousins from a story I wrote about Renoll Burial Grounds in North Codorus Township.
- The project took three days with about 25 helpers working at some point during those three days. The materials were donated by the Hanover Borough. Mike was an Eagle Scout with Troop 103 of St. Joseph’s Church in Hanover and a Sophomore at South Western High School. He is now a Biology Teacher and Key Club advisor at South Western High School and lives in Spring Grove.