Digging Up The Shefflers

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January 01, 2006

The Little Old Cemeteries

Out here in California there is an old cemetery near me that began receiving the remains of early Southern Californians in about 1880. It is fairly large, though, and is run by a local cemetery association.

In Pennsylvania, though, cemeteries belonging to churches of the earliest settlers, or private plots on land sold many times over since the first families buried their loved ones there, just crumble away below brush and rock, alongside county roads or behind the ruins of farmhouses and cabins found there.

This story of such a cemetery is appeared a few months ago and caught my attention because, ironically, I made note that it wasn't going to get the attention of too many other people:

The stones are marked with names like Beamer and Remaley, some of the oldest families in Murrysville, known then as Franklin Township. Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans are buried there.

The records from Olive Reformed Church -- disbanded around 1960 and demolished more than 10 years ago -- document generations of baptisms and marriages, as well as deaths from such period ailments as apoplexy, typhoid fever and whooping cough.

Olive is just one of many such abandoned cemeteries in Westmoreland County and around the region....

Ostronic inherited the job from her mother, who was the last person to be buried there, in 2000. Caretaker by default, she was given a map, a briefcase full of old papers and a bank account with $50 in it, said Pete Geiger of Murrysville, a member of the Murrysville-Export Rotary Club whose mother was a Remaley. Once a year, Rotarians pitch in to give the abandoned cemetery "a good working over" for Memorial Day, Geiger said.

"A church builds a cemetery, then it goes out of operation," he said. "The corporation stays on the books, but everybody dies. So there's a cemetery with nobody responsible for it."

According to Scott Doyle, a historic preservation specialist with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the public's interest in preserving historic cemeteries is high right now.

"You're the fourth call I've received today," said Doyle. "It's a pretty active group of people, and there's a big concern about historic cemeteries in the commonwealth. As for those that assume care for these abandoned cemeteries by choice or by default, we can provide guidance on what appropriate measures are to document or restore them."

Every year, Ostronic writes letters to the small and dwindling number of relatives of the deceased, asking them for donations. She hires a local man to mow the grass, but tries to stretch out the meager funds by having him mow only before the "big holidays," like Mother's and Father's days.

"I don't know who to give it over to, pass it on to," said Ostronic. "It's not like there's money to say, here, take care of this -- there is not. I do worry about the future of this little cemetery."

Read Full Article HERE...