There is no doubt that anyone familiar with the Union & West End Cemetery would immediately think of it as a historical site. After all, it was originally established in 1854, more than 150 years ago. The cemetery contains the remains of five Revolutionary War soldiers, a number of veterans of the War of 1812, 715 Civil War Veterans, veterans from WWI, WWII, the Korean
War and Viet
Nam. Not to mention a number of celebrated politicians, prominent personages and 20,000 dear souls that led ordinary lives.
The cemetery is also the final resting place of Ignatz Gresser
, a Civil War Veteran that was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Historical, well it would certainly seem so. But, unfortunately, the State of Pennsylvania does not agree. The Pennsylvania Legislature passed an act in 1994, known as the Historic Burial Places Preservation Act, that outlines the requirements to be officially considered a Historical Burial Place.
Rather than bore you with the official language and the legalize, I will paraphrase the essential elements of the law; a burial ground that has been in existence for more than 100 years wherein there have been no burials for at least 50 years.
Unless a cemetery can qualify as a historical
burial place in the State of Pennsylvania, the Federal Preservation Commission will not even consider the application of a cemetery seeking Federal recognition as a Historical Site.
Being a Federal Historical Site would provide the cemetery will additional sources of revenue, not available without the designation. Additionally, the cemetery would enjoy protections that are not available because the cemetery cannot qualify under existing Pennsylvania legislature. (Act of Apr. 29, 1994, P. 141, No. 22) See also, Burial Grounds (Title 9) Unconsolidated Pennsylvania Statutes.
Many of you that read this blog regularly may not be aware of the fact that the Union & West End Cemetery is an active
cemetery. Yes, it was abandoned for several years back in the late 1990's and it became a waste land for all intents and purposes, but it has never ceased to be an active cemetery. Now that the cemetery is under caring, active management and is cared for to the best of the ability of the few volunteers that are active in the cemetery every spring and summer, it is not unusual to have a number of burials each year. In 2005, there were six burials in the cemetery. In 2006, there were four burials, two of which were burials of cremated remains. So, yes! the cemetery is an active cemetery. If we were to cease all burials at the end of 2006, it would be 2056 before the cemetery would qualify as a Historical Burial Ground under current Pennsylvania law. Amazing, Huh?
But of course, the Union & West End Cemetery can not stop burials from taking place. The cemetery is owned by the "Lot Owners". The Union and West End Cemetery Association is simply the care-taker; the cemetery is maintained, preserved, and managed by a small, dedicated group of individuals that believe that the 20,000 plus souls buried in the cemetery deserve respect and consideration. The cemetery is not just a graveyard for forgotten souls; it is the final resting place of many of Allentown's earliest citizens. Citizens that had a right to expect that their final resting place would be maintained
, honored and respected by those that followed. Certainly the descendants of these honored and beloved citizens have a right to expect that the cemetery will be maintained as a quite, pleasant and well maintained community resource. We owe it to them!
So, while the cemetery is referred to as a great historical site, located in downtown Allentown, it is historical only in the literal meaning of the word; but not, unfortunately, in the legal sense.
Such a shame! Such an injustice!