German Reformed Cemetery is mapped and documented

Shawn Hardy news@echo-pilot.com
Jack Webb is shown with the back side of the sign for the German Reformed Cemetery on South Carlisle Street, which has a map of the graves. SHAWN HARDY/ECHO PILOT

The sign facing South Carlisle Street says "German Reformed Cemetery," but it is the back side that tells the tale of the Greencastle graveyard established in 1786.

It features a map and information on the more than 300 burial sites at the cemetery, which is owned by Grace United Church of Christ.

The map and information about the historic cemetery are available through 21st century technology at findagrave.com, which features 489,701 cemeteries in 241 countries around the world. Information also is available at ancestry.com.

A book in a three-ring binder and on DVD about the cemetery were given to Grace UCC, local libraries and historical societies and has been provided digitally to Allison-Antrim Museum.

It is the result of a labor of love for Jack Webb and Susan Hankey-Webb, who adopted the cemetery after moving into their historic home next door in 2014.

Avid genealogists, they thought it would be neat to have an old cemetery next door. In addition to locating, mapping and researching, they are hands-on with finding, cleaning and repairing tombstones.

They've drawn on their own observations, books, manuscripts and computer discs from libraries across the country as well as the "Tombstone Inscriptions, Franklin County, PA, Volume 5, Greencastle Cemeteries" by John F. Pflueger of the Kittochtinny Historical Society.

The German Reformed Cemetery data book they've compiled is a work-in-progress that will be updated as more information is uncovered. It includes tombstone inscriptions, locations of graves and research on all burials.

The oldest grave is for Elizabeta Weider in 1791 and the last burial was Jacob Pensinger in 1890. A total of 337 people are buried in the cemetery, including more than 110 children younger than 18.

At time without antibiotics and with outbreaks like typhoid just getting pneumonia could be deadly, Hankey-Webb noted.

Flags and plaques denote the graves of veterans — four from the Revolutionary War, plus one wife whose veteran husband is buried elsewhere; six from the War of 1812, plus four wives whose veteran husbands are buried elsewhere; and six from the Civil War.

One of the many stories that has been pieced together from the various sources is about John P. Herr, a Hessian solider who fought for the British, deserted then enlisted to fight for the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

Only about 30 percent of the tombstones are entirely legible, a few are in German and many are leaning, broken off or laying down hidden under dirt and grass.

"It's like the TV show 'History Detectives' trying to see what they say," Hankey-Webb said, while her husband added, "It's depressing when you can't read anything."

There's always something to do in the cemetery and Webb is looking for volunteers, especially with Old Home Week coming up.

"You can be 90 and I have a job for you," he said.

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