Early Saturday, there were unsettling noises coming from the Pittston City Cemetery.
No, this isn’t the beginning of a ghost story. The noises emanated from lawn mowers, weed trimmers and chainsaws as more than 50 volunteers aided in the first of three cemetery cleanups.
Weeds, trees, vines, grass and downed limbs have overtaken parts of the cemetery, prompting Pittston native Ron Faraday, a member of the Greater Pittston Historical Society, to organize this year’s effort.
“The deplorable condition of the Pittston City Cemetery was recently brought to our attention and we’ve decided to do all we can to get the cemetery back into shape,” Faraday said. “There are some graves that are literally in the woods. Animals have burrowed down right near some headstones.”
The first weekend cleanup will continue today at 9 a.m., and volunteers can donate as little as an hour or work the entire day. Three additional volunteer work weekends are planned: Oct. 5-6, Nov. 9-10 and Dec. 7-8.
Faraday made a map for the volunteers and divided the cemetery into eight sections: the North corner, the South corner, the Hill section, the Jewish section, the Bank, the Hewitt, Jones and Holvey sections, the latter named after large families whose relatives are buried there. The goal is to eventually have the historical society provide walking tours of the cemetery with re-enactors in costume, Faraday said.
Despite the name, the graveyard is not owned by the Pittston’s government. It’s owned by the Pittston Cemetery Association, a group that has dwindled to a handful of members. The cemetery was opened in the mid-1800s by members of the Odd Fellows Society and has Civil War veterans buried there. Plots are still available in the newer section, but the older section is in disarray.
Joan Sylvester, and her son, Seth, and Donna Yentz were cutting grass and raking leaves and debris in the Holvey section.
“My brother is buried here,” Yentz said. “We’ve been coming here for years, and it’s just a mess. It needed some care. But in just a half day, you could see the difference already.”
In addition to muscle power, lawn equipment is needed. Workers are asked, if they can, to bring weed trimmers. Also needed are chainsaws, lawn mowers, rakes and shovels.
Members of the nearby American Legion Post 477 hosted a cookout lunch for the volunteers. Pittston Councilmen Joe McLean said the city crews volunteered and are using four city pickups, a dump truck and backhoe.
“It’s gratifying to see all these volunteers come out,” McLean said. “They grabbed their weed whackers and lawn mowers and put them to good use. We’re all working toward a common goal. It’s really a great community effort.”
A contingent from the Naval Reserve stations in Avoca and the Lehigh Valley also helped.
The hilly 50-acre cemetery sits on the corner of Swallow and Vine streets, across from West Park. Some notable residents buried there are World War I veteran Albert West, former Pittston Mayor John J. Allardyce, three victims of the Avondale mining disaster in Plymouth in 1869 and 15 victims of the Eagle Shaft Disaster in the Pittston Junction in 1871.