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A crowd formed on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 26, at Jonestown’s Old Reformed Burial Grounds on King and Queen Streets, the likes of which it probably hasn’t seen since its last burial in 1956; however, no one was there to mourn this time.
It was the site of the Jonestown Historical Society’s first Spirits of Jonestown Cemetery Tour fundraiser meant to educate folks interested in the northern Lebanon County borough’s rich local lore and early family history.
“Hundreds of people walk by here on the way to the elementary school, fire department and health center”, said Kimberly Longenecker, historical society president. “It’s so unnoticeable with the chain link fence and no fancy gate until you go in. We realized that there was a treasure trove of artwork and information right here and people were missing it.”
Retired art teacher, Judith Wanfried, lead the discussion on headstone art. She encouraged people to look carefully at headstones and to examine the shapes, inscriptions, and symbols which often reveal age and how the family felt about the deceased.
“Ivy stands for fidelity, clasped hands say good-by to the loved one and welcome to heaven or the fidelity of a husband and wife, laurel wreaths mean victory over death,” explained Wanfried. She went on to point at other symbols, like a book which represents the Bible, drapery denoting mourning, and eternal flames, urns, and lambs marking a child’s grave, all starkly different from many of today’s symbols.
Also found among the family plots were veterans symbols from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, as well as the War of 1812, with one marker reflecting Grand Army of the Republic.
Prior to Saturday’s event the organization ran a trial run with the 5th graders from next-door Jonestown Elementary school. The school’s principal, John Rizzo, volunteered to play the character of late Jonestown resident and prior Buck Hotel proprietor, Harrison Shartle, whose leg is buried between his parents graves in this cemetery, but whose body is actually buried in the Lutheran Cemetery.
As the local account goes, it was 1888 and Shartle was on a horse down by what is now the Rail Trail and a train whistle startled the horse and Shartle landed in its path. He was able to pull himself away from the train except for his one leg. Friends carried him to the bar at the Central Hotel where it was determined by Dr. Andrew that the leg should be amputated.
“The kids had a blast and asked lots of questions”, said Rizzo who was dressed in a black period suit with hat and beard and appeared inside a tent made to resemble the Buck Hotel. “He was an interesting character and this was a good opportunity to teach about the local history that is taken for granted. As a former history teacher, I just eat this up.”
Noel Stratton, Jonestown resident and archaeologist with the PA State Historic Preservation office offered a broad general analysis of the small grave yard—a burial ground attached to a church versus a stand alone cemetery. One hint she noticed were grave markers that were too close together and were most likely relocated from another site. “Early churches weren’t opposed to building over their grave yards, but now if you want to build, you have to move them, that’s where the archaeologist comes in.”
A borough map she provided from the mid 1800’s showed a few other cemeteries that no longer exist. A church also is absent from the site where now is a large green space. The building was dismantled and much of the materials like windows, beams and bricks according to Melanie Schaeffer, historical society member, were used to build the St. John’s United Church of Christ on Market Street.
“One of the things we want to do (as the historical society) is to acknowledge the people who are buried here”, said Schaeffer. Dr. Samuel Treichler caught her interest and further research told Schaeffer that his family came from Holland in 1727 through Philadelphia and that Treichler was a volunteer Civil War Union Army military surgeon and one of the founding stake holders in the Swatara Collegiate Institute where he taught Chemistry (today’s American Legion building).
Fredericksburg resident Wendy Gerberich is helping her son with a scout history project about Talbot’s Hall, which was another historical use for the American Legion building. “When I heard about this (event), I got on gravesites.com for two hours reading up before I came. She (Schaeffer) connected the dots for me.”
Learn more about the Jonestown Historical Society by following the group’s Facebook page.
Penelope Litz is a Cleona native who currently lives in Indianapolis. Her family is from the Jonestown area and she wanted to share her experience on last Saturday’s tour.
This article was updated to clarify the Dr. Samual Treichler’s ancestor arrived in Philadelphia from Holland in the 1700’s, not Treichler himself.