Let me preface this with a prophecy: Half of those who will read this article will not do anything and will likely completely forget about what I’m writing the second they get to the end of this article. I sincerely hope I’m proven wrong.
Today I visited the cemeteries of two of my ancestors: Forks Township UCC and Salem Church in Moore Township. Here is what I saw (take today, 7/30/13):
These two pictures I took in the fall of this year at Salem Church.
These cemeteries hold our cherished ancestors. They are veterans of the Revolution, of the War of 1812, of the Civil War. They worked the ground, the built our communities from nothing. They fought off raids from native tribes sought on the destruction of the Colonial settlers. Every year they waged a war against the elements, against the land, against each other, so that we could live the life that we take for granted today. They did all this for the benefit of their children, their grandchildren–ultimately, for us.
In return, they lie forgotten, condemned to have their names erased off the very headstones that guard their bones. I have seen cuneiform tablets dating thousands of years old in better shape than these headstones aged merely a few hundred. Part of the problem is the ground itself–the wooden coffins have decayed and rotted under the weight of the heavy slate placed over them. As the slate sank to replace the space made by the rotted wood, the ground above the slate has slumped with it. The result is a series of sink holes that swallow up the headstones as well as whatever rests near it.
But a lot of the problem rests with us, the descendents of these patriots, our grandparents. We, those who share the same blood, let their final resting place fall into disarray and oblivion. We rob our descendents of the same appreciation of their past–with every decrepit tombstone, with every fallen grave, all those who have been taken by the earth. Are you OK with that? Are you easily able to allow this to happen? Would you prefer to see this:
We have a choice in front of us. We can continue to do nothing, let our ancestors and all their artifacts slip into the soil along with all their uniqueness, all their identity. Or we can do something. I don’t know what that is exactly–maybe organize a cleanup effort, volunteer to help preserve the cemeteries of the fallen who need it. Something must be done, or we may lose everything. How much longer until more sink holes open and envelope a cemetery of your cherished ancestor? Do we wait that long?
Since the last burial in 1915, the church and cemetery were not maintained. Members volunteering at the site say they have found reference to a cleanup in the 1930s, but aside from that, the cemetery and church became a forgotten and neglected relic of the past. In 2013, that all changed when Jeff Chiu, who has fourteen ancestors buried at the property, teamed up with the Friends of Old Swack Church, Metro Trails, GraveMatters, members of the Union Forge Heritage Association and Association for Gravestone Studies, and other unaffiliated volunteers. These volunteers have been working on weekends through March to remove brush, fallen trees, and discover and secure displaced gravestones.
Yes, this is awesome. I would love to try to organize something like this here in Pennsylvania, especially in Northampton County, where so many cemeteries have been left to decay. Kudos to The History Girl for pointing me in this direction. There is hope yet!