This post is from Camille, who writes about her experiences this past summer finally getting to see Eckley cemetery:
After a year of trying to find a guide to take me, I was finally able to visit the Eckley Cemetery with the help of some local volunteers. I had heard ghost stories about war veterans who never returned home, coal miners seeking revenge for mistreatment, and children taken before their time. Images of a shadowy graveyard with a creaking wrought iron gate haunted my imagination. But after a year of waiting for my chance to visit the legendary Eckley Cemetery, a new sensation washed over me: profound sadness.
The Eckley Cemetery is located due south of present-day Eckley’s Miner’s Village on land now owned by Pagnotti Enterprises, a coal mining company. Large berms have been built up on three sides of the cemetery, with large white boulders guarding the final side to keep the strip mine out. A short road leads out of the cemetery but abruptly fades into the flat, grey, eerie landscape of the reclaimed strip mines. I was informed that Pagnotti machine buildings used to serve as landmarks to find the cemetery, but these buildings have all disappeared in the last six months. As a mater of fact, the most recent images available on Google Maps still show the building standing.
While I haven’t been able to find much on the history of the cemetery, I know that this was not the only cemetery for the town. Graves date from the early 19th century to the early 20th century, with the majority of surnames on the headstones being of English or German descent. None of the people who accompanied me to the cemetery knew who these people were — where they came from, whether they had families, or why the last traces of them on Earth had been abandoned on an island in the middle of a landscape that looks more like the surface of the moon than rural Pennsylvania.
On the day that I visited, however, it was neither the obscurity these once proud people had fallen into nor the grey wasteland that surrounded me that shot straight through my soul: it was the state of the cemetery.
With confusion over how to visit the cemetery (the cemetery is surrounded by private Pagnotti land, but Pagnotti is required to grant access to the cemetery) and no resources to speak of, maintenance at the cemetery has been carried out by a handful of dedicated individuals who spend their weekends pulling out poison ivy, chopping down sapling oaks that attempt to take root in the only land around not made of solidified sluice, and spraying for weeds. My guides informed me that a Boy Scouts of America troop used to come out every year and do this work as part of their community service, but threats made by Pagnotti forced the troop to abandon their work.
As I walked around the overgrown and rapidly deteriorating cemetery, I imagined the men and women that built Eckley: the families that attended church on Sunday; the children that attended school and played baseball in the street; and the miners who descended into the ground every day not knowing whether this would be their last. These people grew gardens and canned tomatoes, peppers, sauerkraut, and beans. They picked coal out of the culm banks and feared the Black Maria, the Coal and Iron Police, and more. Maybe they dreamed of going to school or starting a business, of moving to the big city or returning to the Old World. As the lives and experiences of the people who’s graves I now stood in front of swirled in my mind, I decided that these people deserved better than what they had. History and geography might have dealt these people a bad hand, but today (and every day) we can work together to make sure that their memories and their contributions to American History, to the Industrial Revolution, and to the spirit of labor is never forgotten. Archaeologists can tell these people’s stories by digging up the conditions of their daily lives. For the forgotten, overgrown souls in the Eckley Cemetery, I hope that our work on the Lattimer Archaeology Project can somehow honor their contributions. I hope that our passion to tell the story of life in the Anthracite region spreads. And I hope that I can get a sharp pair of branch cutters and a few friends to help me take out some of those oak saplings next summer.