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Cemetery Group’s Efforts Revive Western Md. Site

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MICHAEL A. SAWYERS
Cumberland Times-News

LONACONING, Md. (AP) — After you drive Alexander and Furnace streets then navigate a couple of switchbacks on Cemetery Road, you’d figure there would be no more uphill.

You’d be wrong.

The top side of the four-acre Oak Hill Cemetery, where nearly 4,000 are buried, is higher yet, maybe another 100 feet in elevation.

“It’s good to know people in high places,” said Peggy Hutcheson, one of 46 members of the Oak Hill Cemetery Association, a group of Georges Creek citizens that cares deeply for the cemetery and has brought it back from difficult financial straits.

Hutcheson and a number of other association members gathered at the hillside cemetery this month to talk about the work that has been done ever since more than $27,000 was stolen from the organization’s coffers.

In 2012, Michael Leslie Staup, then 54, pleaded guilty in Allegany County Circuit Court to stealing the money by forging checks. Staup is serving a seven-year prison term with the Maryland Division of Corrections in Hagerstown.

“It hasn’t been easy, but we’re getting there,” said association president Jack Nightingale. “We have this year’s grass mowing paid for, but not a penny extra.” Mowing costs several thousand dollars.

Nightingale said the effort to tidy up and restore the cemetery is aided mightily by donations from numerous sources. Some are monetary. Others come in the way of free services.

The Allegany County Center for Career and Technical Education, for example, fabricated section letters that allow visitors to more easily navigate the cemetery and find particular gravesites. Students there are also building a new iron entrance gate and arch identifying the cemetery. Nightingale expects that entranceway to be erected this summer.

During the past year or so, Elsie Robertson, association secretary, walked the entire cemetery, notebook in hand, charting names, dates and as much information as she could gather from the various burial sites.

“Some of the real old tombstones had a lot of information, such as the town in Scotland where the person was born and when they moved here,” Robertson said. That information is all on paper now, but will be transferred to a cemetery website in the future.

Robertson said Nightingale is making a special effort to maintain the tombstones of veterans.

“We have veterans buried here from the Civil War to Vietnam,” he said, standing near the gravesite of World War I veteran Pvt. Charles Reichelt, who was born in 1896 and died in 1947.

Smith is probably the most common last name of Oak Hill Cemetery residents, according to Robertson. Sprinkled about are other “Crik” names such as Steele, Muir, McCormick and Broadwater.

In the upper left corner of the cemetery when viewed from the entrance road are two large stones for members of the Ternent family.

“It took two teams of horses to pull those up the hill,” Nightingale said.

A number of stones that were not placed on footers have sunk into the ground. If families will pay for the material to pour a footer (average of $20), the volunteers will do the work, according to Nightingale.

The person considered by many to be Lonaconing’s most famous person, Lefty Grove, a left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, is not interred at Oak Hill.

“He’s at Frostburg Memorial Park with other family members,” Robertson said.

A raffle here, a chicken dinner there, a donation from a visitor on Memorial Day, the Oak Hill Cemetery is hanging in there.

“We’ve improved a lot of things,” Nightingale said.

The cemetery has space for approximately another 150 burials.

The cemetery association was incorporated in 1884. The first burials were exhumations from the Old Coney Cemetery.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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