Those who know me understand my passion for any aging cemetery in York County, Pennsylvania. Well, they might not “understand” it, but they can certainly appreciate it. I love walking down rows of old tombstones and admiring the artwork carved into them by early craftsmen.
Yes, it truly is art.
It saddens me when I come across a cemetery that has been forgotten, neglected, vandalized, or in a state of disrepair. Sometimes those who care for them do not have adequate funds to repair damaged stones, and are left with the dilemma of what to do with them. That’s the situation facing St. Emanuel Burial Association in the small town of Jefferson, who maintain St. Emanuel’s Union Cemetery. Perhaps the Preserving York community can give them a hand.
And now, a bit of history…
St. Emanuel’s Cemetery is the result of a union between Trinity Lutheran Church and Christ United Church of Christ, which separated in 1883. In the 1990s, donations were given and a large monument with brass plaques was created that contained all 675 names of those buried in the cemetery, including years or birth and death. As the tombstones slowly deteriorate, this monument will stand the test of time and serve as an important reminder into out past.
The cemetery is currently maintained by loyal volunteers from two Jefferson churches, who take care of the mowing and minor stone repair. Their time and dedication is greatly appreciated for all that they do.
At first glance, would you see the problem?
If you were to drive down East Sunset View Street, which is more like an alley, you probably wouldn’t see a problem with this average-looking cemetery. Once used by St. Emanuel’s Union Church whose house of worship was on the property, the cemetery had active burials between 1833 and 1957. Some stones are no longer in their original location due to a restoration project in the mid-1900s.
Concrete “rows” were poured at some point in time, encasing the base of the stones in a permanent foundation. As the years slowly passed by, some stones broke off as they became fragile with age.
So what happened to those stones?
If there was a graveyard for displaced tombstones, the above photograph might be an accurate portrayal of how it would appear. This is the resting place for countless stones that have broken off at the base, toppled over, or were moved for other reasons. They are available for visitors to look through, but it would be quite a chore to do so.
When a family member told me about the situation, I knew I had to look into it and see what could be done. I contacted a member of the association who was kind enough to meet me and show me around the cemetery. As we talked, I learned the finances to repair the stones were non-existent and quite frankly, they didn’t know what else to do.
Now before I continue, let me make myself clear. I am in NO way pointing fingers or blaming the St. Emanuel’s Burial Association for this situation. There are many other cemetery organizations facing the same dilemma as tough financial times are faced by many. So what don’t we lend them a hand to come up with another solution?
Time for another cemetery restoration project…
Whenever a local cemetery is in need of help, I’m eager to spearhead a drive to offer any assistance I can. I submitted a plan to the association member I’ve been corresponding with, and hope to receive approval from them very soon. That plan is highlighted below:
- The first step is to have the tombstones inventoried and photographed for future reference. You might recall reading about my friend Harry Senft who has been working on a several-project to photograph each and every tombstone in York County. He will surely be invited to participate in this project.
- The next step is to “display” the stones in such a way that the public can easily view them, and family members can properly commemorate their loved ones. I suggested we lay a row black plastic along the rear portion of the property and cover it with a layer of mulch. The tombstones can then be placed on top of the mulch one by one until each is clearly visible. It would be fairly easy to maintain, and much more pleasing to the eye.
- Who will perform these duties? As with projects I’ve been a part of in the past, volunteers will be the driving force to make this endeavor a successful. Possibly local boy or girl scouts could participate.
- Where will the supplies come from? I’m confident we can find donors who would offer the supplies we need, whether it’s an entire load of mulch or multiple donors each offering a few bags of mulch. Tree trimming services are always looking for places to unload a load of wood chips, which would be a great alternative.
The “mother” marker above should be a reminder to us all that these tombstones were placed to remember brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends, grandparents, fathers, and yes, even mothers.
If you would like to help with this cemetery restoration project or contribute necessary supplies, please do not hesitate to contact me. Monetary donations will also be accepted to offset any expenses that may be incurred.
This history doesn’t belong to one person, it belongs to the entire York County community.
- I’ve started to look into the future of Preserving York and making it an “official” entity. More details will be released in the future.
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