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Volunteers work to restore cemetery for black veterans, 'make amends' for vandalism, decay

Ellsworth Cemetery, in Westminster, Md., is seen in a 2018 video about the cemetery's re-dedication.

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By AKIRA KYLES | Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md. | Published: November 1, 2019

WESTMINSTER, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Six black Union Army veterans — Reuben Walker, David Ireland, William Adams, Lewis Dorsey, William Massey and Samuel Bowens — established the Ellsworth Cemetery on Dec. 21, 1876.

Since then, the cemetery has endured not just normal wear and tear, but also vandalism, leaving some of the plots unmarked and headstones eroded and shattered. About 50 headstones have been destroyed or taken, according to records from the Carroll County Historical Society. Due to its poor condition, it has gone largely unnoticed by the community.

Now, more than 140 years after the cemetery’s founding, Carroll County organizations are teaming up to help restore Ellsworth Cemetery, which today is next to the Wawa at 805 Leidy Road in Westminster.

The Community Foundation of Carroll County, a nonprofit based in Westminster, and the Manchester chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization of the Catholic Church, have been working together to restore the cemetery’s former glory. The Knights of Columbus chapter is based at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church.

“Right now we’re just identifying the graves, that a lot of the headstones are no longer with us. So we’re trying to locate where people are buried so we can put temporary crosses in to identify grave sites,” said Daniel Kloss, a member of the Knights of Columbus. “Hopefully, we can restore what we can restore. I don’t think we can get it back to 100%, but I think we can make amends for the damages. The Knights of Columbus is an order that does work like that; we pick up a challenge like that, especially for veterans.”

According to Kloss, the cemetery was created because black individuals weren’t allowed to be buried within Westminster city limits.

The Knights of Columbus took over recuperating the cemetery from Union Memorial Baptist Church.

“Their attendance went down and they no longer had either the physical or the monetary resources to take care of it,” Kloss said. “So, a lot of people — state police did it for a while, various churches took it for a while. And six years ago, the Knight of Columbus took it over and we’ve had it ever since.”

In the late 1990s, George Murphy, a member of Union Memorial’s board of directors; the Rev. James Hinton, former president of Ellsworth Cemetery Company, which was established to open the cemetery but has since been disbanded; and the Rev. Robert Ball, executive director of Westminster Rescue Mission, collaborated to begin restoring the grounds.

“George loves this place, I mean, absolutely loves it, knows everything there is to know about it. He did a lot of the repairing of stones and that kind of thing by himself,” said Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Community Foundation of Westminster.

Cimino has been working with the Community Foundation for 25 years, with the cemetery for eight years and the Knights of Columbus to help the cemetery for about two years. According to Cimino, the Community Foundation pursues grants and donations to give to the Knights to go toward benefiting the cemetery.

Despite their efforts, the cemetery was in poor condition by the time the Knights of Columbus took over.

“When we got here, the grass was 4 feet high, and we came here to put flags out at the veterans’ stones, we couldn’t find them. Everything was knocked down or it was buried, and it really touched my heart that the service that they gave to the country and they’re just forgotten,” said Tom Greul, who was the Master of the Fourth Degree with the Knights of Columbus when he started helping with the cemetery.

The cemetery has also been deliberately damaged by an organized hate group, Greul said.

It isn’t all bad — some of the stones, according to Kloss, just need to be cleaned and polished.

As of Oct. 25, the Knights of Columbus found at least 150 unmarked plots with buried bodies in the cemetery. They are using ground-penetrating radar to find more bodies buried in the cemetery. Of the 150 people buried at the site, at least 26 are veterans, and so far 10 of them have been identified.

The cemetery has a “Stranger’s Row,” where seven people are buried, though it would be next to impossible to identify them now, Kloss said. Unidentified people can still be buried there today at four plots, though the decision of who can would rest with the Community Foundation.

According to Matthew Turner, a Virginia-based GeoModel official who operated the radar, he’s able to see where the bodies are located from a bump in the line on the machine, similar to that of a polygraph test or a heart monitor.

“That is relatively new science. It comes in handy now for this kind of work, it’s perfect,” Kloss said. “But I wish they would have done this like 20 years ago, that would’ve made it easier.”

For each body that they find without a headstone, Greul has welded crosses to place at the unmarked graves until they figure out who is buried there.

So far, Greul has welded 28 crosses out of reinforcing bar, commonly known as rebar, which took “quite some time” for him to do but only cost about $2 per cross to make.

“It’s worth it. I don’t care what color they were," Greul said. “Figuring it all out is opening everything up.”

Greul is also making headstones for the unmarked graves that also only cost him about $2 to make.

“I wanted to be able to put a name back for the people that are missing, and we were trying to figure out how we could do it cost effectively," he said. "So I took a little cardboard box, got some concrete, bought a set of concrete stamps, and I can make that headstone for two bucks. Then, we can put it in the ground and then we’ll be putting the names back that have been erased forever.”

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Several businesses in the area have pitched in their part toward maintaining that history by donating their time, money or even a discount.

According to Kloss, the Wawa located next to the cemetery has donated about $5,000 over the past three years; the Lowe’s at 777 Market St. has offered them a 50% discount, which helped them improve the fence; and the local Kohl’s has offered five of their employees to help four times, and each time they’ve helped the store has also donated $500. Crossroads Church in Westminster has also supported events for the cemetery with the use of their facilities and staff.

Both Kloss and Cimino are urging people who might have information about those buried at the cemetery to help identify some of the unmarked grave sites.

“If your family owns a plot here, and maybe there’s a paper in the family Bible or something — we don’t want the original but can we have a copy of it? So that we can see, ‘Yes, this family owns this plot’ so that we can identify who has the right to come in here,” Cimino said.

There are future plans to keep improving the cemetery in addition to identifying the bodies and providing headstones to the graves.

The Knights of Columbus are working to install three flagpoles in the center of the cemetery — one American flag, one Maryland flag and one Carroll County or MIA flag — with a solar LED light ring on top of each pole.

They would also like to get large floodlights to shine on the cemetery from dusk to dawn, in hopes the light will prevent people from causing damage to the cemetery.

Cimino hopes restoring the cemetery will encourage young black Carroll countians to get involved in helping with the maintenance.

“What I hope is that the younger generation of black families will say, ‘Yes, this is ours. We’ll take care of it, we’re responsible for it, we’ll do it.’ It’s something that we want to kind of restore to what it should be and keep it that way so people don’t forget again,” Cimino said. “They don’t lose track of who’s here and why they’re here, and what’s the story.”

If people don’t grasp the significance behind the history of the cemetery, they will be doomed to repeat it, Cimino said.

“It’s everybody’s history. It’s not just one group’s history. It’s all Carroll County history and it belongs to all of us,” she said. “If we don’t remember that, we are doomed to live it again and who wants to do that?”

©2019 the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.)
Visit the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.) at www.carrollcountytimes.com
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