SHAMOKIN — For 160 years, a 20-acre parcel of land overlooking the city has served as a pristine, quiet place of solitude where many past local residents, poor and prominent alike, have been laid to rest.
The Shamokin Cemetery, which has survived decades of weathering and spates of vandalism, is now facing perhaps its greatest challenge — neglect.
In recent years, the cemetery, which is privately owned by the Shamokin Cemetery Co., has become the sight of unsightly tall grass, weeds and small trees covering a large number of headstones.
Roger Alleman, a Vietnam War veteran and adjutant of American Legion Post 73, said he is sickened by what’s become of the cemetery and the “absence of respect” shown toward many of the 751 veterans and service members who are buried there.
“I hate it. It’s something that has to be fixed,” he commented.
For decades, Alleman has delivered American flags, provided by the Northumberland County Veterans Administration Office, to volunteers who place them on the grave sites of the country’s heroes.
Coal Township VFW Post 317 Commander John Schenewerk added, “What’s currently happening up there to all of the those headstones and gravesites, of both veterans and lay people alike, is disgusting.”
Perhaps the most iconic portion of the cemetery is the Soldiers Circle, located at the northeast corner of the cemetery. Laid out in four concentric rings of small headstones and flags surrounding a large monument, the sacred area is the final resting place of 242 veterans and service members from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars.
It was constructed in 1871 by the Grand Army of the Republic. At its center, the circle houses a large granite stone that was brought back from the location of the Battle of Gettysburg. Many of the names of the people buried there are no longer visible on the headstones.
The Perz family, who has relatives buried in the circle, visited the cemetery earlier this summer and was shocked at the conditions.
“Look around at this mess. It’s not being properly taken care of. We drove all the way from Eastlake, Ohio, and we get here and see this,” said 85-year-old Ruth (Boyd) Perz, whose family played a prominent role in Shamokin’s history. “It’s a beautiful cemetery and contains so much local history. I’m hopeful that it can be cleaned up and improved.”
She also expressed concerns about the location of cemetery records and the conditions of “tattered” American flags in the Circle.
Perz’s great-grandfather was Hugh Boyd, a Civil War veteran and whose father was one of the original settlers of Boydtown and a founding member of the former Trinity Episcopal Church.
“We have about 50 members of the Boyd family buried in the Shamokin Cemetery,” said Perz. “I give a total of $300 annually in separate donations of $100 each to the Shamokin, Mount Carmel and Centralia cemeteries. This is the only one that looks like this.”
Perz indicated that she had sent an annual donation of $100 endorsed to Dave Donmoyer prior to his death.
“When my check was returned because Mr. Donmoyer passed away, I contacted City Hall and was informed that there was a committee overseeing the upkeep of the cemetery. I was told to write a check made payable to the City of Shamokin and it would be forwarded to the cemetery committee. The check, however, was not cashed until at least 6 to 8 months later,” she recalled.
The cemetery has a rich and storied history dating back to 1859, when a group of local citizens banded together under the title of The Shamokin Cemetery Co. and petitioned the courts for a charter. On Aug. 13, 1859, the petition was granted and the company was organized.
On April 28, 1860, the first officers of company were elected. They included Charles Helfenstein, president; Joseph Bird, vice president; P. Bird, secretary; and William Marshall, treasurer. On May 12, 1860, company by-laws were adopted, and in 1874 permanent by-laws were established.
The cemetery opened its gates to the public in that same year of 1860. Today, there are over 16,000 souls buried in the cemetery in a total of 23 large blocks, which are subdivided into ranges and individual lots.
Mausoleums and headstones
There is a large mausoleum located in the cemetery and four smaller ones, which are privately-owned. In 1916, The Central Mausoleum Co. of Carlisle built the large mausoleum in Block 11 of the cemetery. At the time of its construction, it was the largest in the state, housing 160 crypts with a chapel and storage accommodations.
Last year, a large tree fell, blocking the front of one of the privately-owned mausoleums — the Wilson Krieger mausoleum — located near the main entrance steps at Grant and High streets. A recent visitor was appalled that the tree remained in the same position for several months.
“We took several photographs up there. It’s hard to believe it’s come to this,” said Anne (Neely) Chamberlin, who currently resides in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. “As I approached the entrance gates, my heart sank. I carefully walked up the steps and observed numerous pieces of a fallen, stately white birch tree on the ground and left blocking the steps and path to our family’s mausoleum.”
Chamberlin explained that the Krieger mausoleum was built in 1872, when Alice Maud Krieger died at the age of 11. Her great-great uncle, Wilson Krieger, born on Feb. 22, 1849, was a pioneer resident of Shamokin and a founding member of the First Presbyterian Church. Wilson married Annie Neely, a Scottish immigrant and another of Shamokin’s pioneer residents.
Chamberlin said it was heartbreaking to view her family’s mausoleum entrance blocked by the tree. She pointed out that numerous other headstones were also covered by pieces of the felled tree.
She added, “I’m tired of visiting the Shamokin that I love and seeing the Shamokin Cemetery, so rich in history, continue to deteriorate year after year.”
Company president responds
William Milbrand, president of The Shamokin Cemetery Co., said the company is in financial distress and in need of a full-time caretaker.
“Right now, we’re able to pay our monthly bills, but nothing more. We get roughly $1,000 per quarter from an irrevocable trust comprised of money paid into a perpetual care trust fund, but we need to hire a permanent caretaker and come up with a way of paying for that care on a regular basis.”
Milbrand expressed desire to maintain the cemetery, but noted frustration with a lack of regular help.
“The public says they’re interested, and some people will come up and cut and trim for a few hours, but that’s it,” he said. “I started working at the cemetery when I was 14 years old. I care about it, but I just can’t do everything myself. It should be a position that someone needs to be paid to maintain.”
Mlbrand said the company spent $20,000 last year to hire Brookside Landscaping to perform a week’s worth of work in response to public outcry.
According to Milbrand, former company president Dave Donmoyer kept all cemetery records at his home following vandalism and a fire at the cemetery. When Donmoyer passed away in 2017, someone allegedly took a number of the records and put them up for estate sale without communicating with the cemetery board.
Milbrand said he acquired some of the records for safe keeping.
“I’m not sure how many names are recorded. The book was maintained from 1860-1992, but from 1992 we’re not sure,” he said of recent burials.
Milbrand said there is concern with a lack of board meetings and procedures.
“We haven’t had a meeting of the cemetery board since Dave died,” Milbrand said. “I’ve said many times, and still feel, that we should be holding regular meetings.”
As for who is currently in charge of managing the cemetery’s assets and accountable for its finances, Milbrand simply stated that the treasurer of the company handles any payments. It was not made clear, however, as to whether or not payments of cemetery funds needed to be discussed and approved by the majority of board members at a formal meeting.
Milbrand also indicated that if someone wants to volunteer their time and services in an effort to help cleanup and maintain the cemetery, they may contact either himself or the board via the email address listed on cemetery’s website.
The website is at www.shamokincemetery.com. It contains history, maps and contact information. The contact name listed on the website is Tracy (Eveland) Donnelly along with the email address of email@example.com. Written correspondence may be addressed to: The Shamokin Cemetery, P.O. Box 362, Shamokin, PA 17872.