A cemetery resurrection

June 27th, 2015 1:29 am

First Posted: 9/7/2013

The grounds of the Pittston Cemetery are hallowed once again.

A crew of more than 50 volunteers spent Saturday taking back the cemetery from years of ravage from Mother Nature.

Weeds, trees, vines, grass and downed limbs had overtaken parts of the cemetery, prompting Pittston native Ron Faraday, a member of the Greater Pittston Historical Society, to organize a massive cleanup.

The first cleanup will continue today (Sunday) 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 and 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, after large families buried there. The goal is to have the Historical Society provide walking tours of the cemetery with reenactors in costume, Faraday said.

Despite the name, the graveyard is not owned by the Pittston City. It’s owned by the Pittston Cemetery Association, a group that has dwindled down to a small handful of members. It was opened in the mid-1800s by members of the Odd Fellows Society and has veterans of the Civil War 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 Holovey 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.

Donnie Evans of the Oregon section brought a water power washer and has taken a century of grime and dirt off many of the graves, including the large 103-year-old Fallen Heroes monument in the center of the cemetery. That was completely enshrouded in trees and vines and the original white stone was gray and you couldn’t read the plaque. Evans helped to restore it by power washing the stone and chemically etching the bronze plaque.

Julio Caprari of Pittston, a member of the historical society, said he was happy about the turnout.

“We got a lot done, but there’s still a lot more to be done,” Caprari said.

Paula Denisco, West Pittston, saw the notice in the Sunday Dispatch and thought she’d help out.

“A couple years ago my son’s boy scout troop was working on Eagle Scout badges. We helped at the Wyoming cemetery, so I thought I’d help here.”

Joseph Smith, who moved out of the area in 1964 but is a member of the Greater Pittston Historical Society, came to visit his family in the Oregon section.

“I’m doing double duty,” he said. “I’m combining family and community service.”

Pittston American Legion Post 477 adjutant Allan Haas said the post offered the use of its nearby pavilion and facilities and provided refreshments.

“It’s all about community service,” Haas said. “It’s the right thing to do. One of the goals of the American Legion is help the community. That’s what we’re doing.” He said the post has about 125 members, but has an active social group, ladies auxiliary and a Sons of American Legion, but new members are always welcome.

A contingent from the Naval Reserve Stations in Avoca and the Lehigh Valley also helped out.

Rick Shane of Jenkins Township brought his chainsaw. He said he’s been using it with the fire department, but it’s also a hobby. He plans to start doing trail maintenance with it and said he was happy to lend a hand.

“I have some experience, so I’d figured I’d help out,” Shane said.

Faraday said the physical work in cleaning up the cemetery is only half the problem. He said organizing and computerizing the cemetery’s records is another monumental task that needs to be done. Some are on microfilm, some are on paper, and some are missing.

“We have a lot of work to do with that as well,” Faraday said

In addition to manpower, lawn equipment is needed. Workers are asked to bring their weed whackers to use if they can. Also needed are chainsaws, lawn mowers, rakes and shovels.

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.”

Bruce Widdick, assistant supervisor of Pittston City’s Department of Public Works said his crew fixed the roads with material from recent street milling and loaded the branches and rakings.

“We’ll grind it all up with the chipper,” he said. “So far we’ve taken out more than 25 truckloads and there’s a lot more to be cut and a lot more to pick up.”

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.