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We mark their lives Under the ground and above it, memories live on all over Northeastern Pennsylvania

By Joe Sylvester

May 23, 2013

They sit silently under the shade of tall trees or out in the open amid well-groomed lawns, quiet monuments to those who have gone before us.


Their imposing stone structures, sculptures or the words carved into their faces speak for the memory of those who lie beneath.


While most grave markers are modest, simply revealing the name and dates of a person’s life, and whether they served in the military, some are giant tributes to a person of note.


The Kirby and Stegmaier family mausoleums along the hilly, paved roads in Hollenback Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre offer such outsize tributes while safely containing family members’ remains.


Lying beneath a red stone tombstone in the uppermost part of Hollenback are the remains of Charles Miner, a 19th-century newspaperman, entrepreneur and longtime politician. He served on the Wilkes-Barre Town Council and in the state legislature and U.S. House of Representatives.


Tony Brooks, executive director of the Luzerne County Historical Society, said the stone for the unique marker was quarried from Laurel Run and is similar to the stone used to build the First Presbyterian Church at South Franklin and West Northampton streets in Wilkes-Barre.


“Charles Miner put on his stone he was the historian of the Wyoming Valley,” Brooks said. “It’s rather large.”


Also buried in Hollenback are George W. Woodward, an associate judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from 1852 to 1863 and chief justice from 1863 to 1867.


Innovative architect Bruce Price, whose daughter, Emily Post, went on to literally write the book on etiquette, designed the Woodward monument in Hollenback Cemetery and several other buildings and homes when he had an office in Wilkes-Barre. He also laid out Tuxedo Park in New York and Château Frontenac in Quebec City.


“Price himself is buried in Hollenback Cemetery,” Brooks said.


In St. Mary’s Cemetery in Hanover Township, the rank and file of headstones stand in formation on the green carpet of groomed hillside lawn. Inside the uppermost gate off St. Mary’s Road, the Kosek family headstone is partially draped with a sculpted judge’s robe. It is the plot where former Wilkes-Barre Mayor and Luzerne County Judge John Kosek is buried.


Kosek was mayor in the early 20th century and was the youngest man to serve in that office.


Hanover Green Cemetery along Main Road in the township, meanwhile, has been the final resting place of Rufus Bennet, George Washington’s personal bodyguard, since 1842. Lt. John Jameson, who survived the Wyoming Massacre, was buried there in 1782 after he was killed and scalped in an ambush by a band of Six Nation Indians near the very spot where his headstone sits behind the cemetery’s iron fence.


Pennsylvania’s 33rd governor, Arthur H. James, was buried in Hanover Green in 1973.


History at rest — or not


The Forty Fort Cemetery has many markers, with names forever linked to Wyoming Valley history, said local historian and Times Leader columnist Tom Mooney.


Among the more well-known names is that of Elinor Wylie, a famed poet and novelist of the early 20th century, whose maiden name was Hoyt and is buried in the Hoyt plot.


Mooney especially noted a memorial for three former headmasters of Wyoming Seminary, who were buried in the cemetery until the 1972 Agnes Flood, whose torrents of water broke through the dike and scattered their remains, along with those of some 2,500 other people.


High atop Plymouth Borough, near the border with Plymouth Township, lie the graves of soldiers from the Civil War “guarded” by a cannon on each of the four corners of the plot.


Also buried here are veterans of other wars, along with victims of the 1885 typhoid-fever epidemic and the 1902 smallpox epidemic, the Avondale mine disaster of 1869 and Gaylord mine disaster of 1894, as well as 10 of the 12 victims of the Powell Squib factory explosion in 1889, most of them girls ranging in age from 14 to 22. The factory made explosive detonators, known as squibs, used primarily in mining. That tall narrow monument reads that it was erected “by sympathizing citizens to the memory of 10 of the victims of the explosion that destroyed the Powell Squib Factory February 25, 1889.”


Not far away is the grave of a young boy from the 1872, marked by a sculpture of a boy resting against a tree, book in hand. The stone is too worn to identify him. But Shawnee Cemetery Preservation Association President Tom Jesso Sr. and his wife, Ruth, said the boy, Robert J. Jones, was 2 years old when he died. The story is he was killed by lightning.


“That’s been elaborated on to say he was struck on the way home from school, but he was only 2; he wouldn’t have been in school,” Ruth Jesso said.


Peaceful yet abuzz


The cemetery on one particular day last week was quiet, except for a couple of squirrels scampering through the nearby woods and birds chirping and calling throughout. The quiet at Shawnee contrasted with St. Mary’s Cemetery, where several cars parked along the paved roads throughout the cemetery grid on Monday had delivered family members tending to grave sites. They planted flowers at headstones, many of which were decorated with crisp, new small American flags for Memorial Day.


Tom Basar of Mountain Top, whose parents and other family members are buried there, was talking with friends there. He took the chance to socialize briefly.


Basar not only lists his family members who are part of the cemetery, but those who are not.


“My parents, my sister and her husband — he’s a Brooklynite — my grandparents on my mother’s side,” he noted.


His paternal grandparents are not buried here.


“My father was from Europe — Slovakia,” Basar said.


Cemeteries that house memorials to those resting in peace also provide a peaceful place for the living. Some like the peace of walking through the quiet. And many times, memorial markers are interesting to the eye.


Jeanne Kenney, a local photographer, likes to walk in Hollenback Cemetery, “as it’s very grand and there are many interesting markers and mausoleums,” she said.


“The shiny granite monstrosities are at a minimum. The fence and stone surrounding the entire cemetery are pretty cool, too.”


She loves the brick gutters in parts of the cemetery, too, but, she added, “My mind also boggles at the steep pitch of most of that cemetery — what a challenge some of those grave sites must’ve been to pull off.”


Of course, not all memorial markers sit atop a grave. There are plaques noting someone’s memory, buildings, such as libraries and other institutions of learning, and athletic fields named in honor of those who’ve passed from this life.


Mooney noted the memorial at the Kingston end of the Market Street Bridge for World War II Army Air Corps pilot Joseph Azat, who does not have a grave because he is listed as missing in action.


A towering marker in the Forty Fort Cemetery was erected by the cemetery association in memory of those whose remains were washed away when the “swirling water gouged away a four-acre chasm out of the heart of the cemetery, displacing approximately 2,500 burials.”

 

 

 

 

 

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