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Stone cold determination…
There’s a shady spot under a cedar tree in the Salem Union Cemetery in Reamstown. Nothing much grows there. It’s a quiet and nondescript spot. But hallowed.
Beneath the cedar’s branches is a mass grave, holding the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers who died in a makeshift hospital just a few hundred yards away. The number of soldiers lying there could be as few as 19 or as many as 50. No one knows for sure.
The cedar is on the edge of the cemetery property, and it overlooks a sad vista of crumbling and fallen tombstones. The earliest marked grave in the cemetery is that of Anna Catharine Schneider, who died in 1768.
The cemetery is to the east of the Salem Evangelical and Reformed Church and, in fact, predates the first church built on the site by several decades. It wasn’t until 1815 that two congregations, one Lutheran, the other Reformed, came together to build a church. The building was dedicated in June of 1817, but regular services were not held until the following year, according to a booklet prepared in 1957 for a 140th anniversary celebration of the church’s founding.
There’s a lot of history in the church building itself, but an even longer history to the graves outside. Time, weather and vandals have taken their toll on those graves.
A small group of volunteers, some of them Salem Church members, others with an intense interest in Reamstown history, have banded together to rescue the stones in the oldest part of the still-active cemetery.
They have organized as the Salem Union Cemetery Restoration Board, and they are hoping to raise $50,000 to fund a restoration project scheduled to start this spring. A member of the Reamstown community has already donated $20,000 towards the $50,000 goal, and on the day The Ephrata Review visited, committee member Ronald Horning, representing the East Cocalico Lions Club, presented a check for $1,000 to Fred Overhoser, who chairs the restoration committee.
Patty Gehman, another committee member, has painstakingly documented all the cemetery’s gravesites, from Anna Catharine Schneider’s final resting place to present-day interments.
There are 529 tombstones in 26 rows in the cemetery. She has classified 203 — less than half the stones — as being in good condition. Those in most need of rescue — broken, lying on the ground, propped up or needing a base — number 145. There are 120 stones sinking, leaning or needing a base, and 57 that simply need a base.
Milt Haldeman, an Ephrata historian who’s retired from Case New Holland, has developed a reputation as a cemetery restoration craftsman, will be doing much of the rescue work. The process begins with setting the damaged stones aside, involves digging a trench, 25-to-30-inches deep, filling it with concrete and then resetting the stones on the solid concrete base.
Haldeman has already done some of that work, mixing individual batches of concrete, two bags at a time, in a wheelbarrow. He’s investigating the practicality of having cement trucks deliver ready-mix to the site when the project gets underway some weeks from now.
Haldeman will be getting plenty of help from Michael Mondo, Salem E and R property committee chair, who retired from Case New Holland in December. Ronald Good, the sixth member of the restoration committee, is a Reamstown native and retired funeral director. Good hopes the restoration project will draw attention to Reamstown’s history, and especially to the Revolutionary War dead buried there. He thinks that rich history could play a role in any decision by the U.S. Postal Service to continue operating the Reamstown post office.