Union and West End Cemetery

The Union and West End Cemetery is located in center city Allentown. The main entrance is on 10th Street at 10th and Chew Streets. The cemetery is mantained by a dedicated group of volunteers. Ten board members (also volunteers) serve the cemetery association and manage the finances, make application for grants, solicit donations and participate in the maintenance of the cemetery.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Occassionally Something Stupid Happens

This was not a typical Sunday morning in the cemetery. It started out fairly normal, there were about nineteen helpers in the cemetery from 8 a.m. until about 11 a.m. courtesy of the Allentown Community Corrections Center. It had rained off and on during the evening and the grass was very wet, so a decision was made not to take out any riding lawn mowers. Most of the men were put into the cemetery with weed-whackers and a couple of push mowers. Others were assigned to a team that would place downed stones back on their pedestals.

In a supervisory position, I was overseeing the weed whackers who were concentrating on the "corrals", for the most part. A corral is a family plot16' X 16' that is completely enclosed with concrete posts and metal railings. A corral is a very difficult plot to maintain in a cemetery because the railings prevent any large equipment from entering. As a result, they are frequently allowed to become overgrown before they are addressed.

So, today, the task was to cut the grass in every corral in the cemetery using weed-whackers and push mowers. As I stated above, I was, for the most part, supervising and directing, but used the Scag Commercial mower to ride herd on the volunteers and to cut some grass around the corrals.

When the allotted three hours was up, all of the volunteers cleaned and put away their equipment. To help in the cleaning, we use a air compressor to blow grass off the equipment and also to air tires that are low. But mostly it is used for blowing off equipment and volunteers. When weed-whacking in wet grass, the clothes one wears tend to get more than a little grass-stained. Some of the volunteers were using the compressor to attempt to clean their pants, and I became impatient to put away the Scag. I saw an opening, although it meant driving over the bright orange hose connected to the compressor. This would not ordinarily be a problem except for the fact that the deck on the Scag was in the lowest position and the three blades were churning as fast as they could go. I failed to realize that, after using the Scag to clean off the driveway, I had neither shut off the blades nor lifted the deck as would be appropriate when putting a riding lawn mower in the garage.

Whoa! The Scag collected up the hose, jerking the nozzle out of the hands of the unsuspecting volunteer, and wrapping yards of the hose around all three blades. The Scag came to a halt. The driver said; Oh Heck! or words to that effect as he realized what he had done. Fortunately no one was hurt in the incident, but the driver of the Scag was mortified. As he surveyed the damage, the volunteers were departing; one looked back and said: "Good Luck with that!"

Good Luck, indeed. There was nothing lucky about the sordid incident except that no one was injured. Aside from that, the cemetery has a new hose for the compressor courtesy of the Scag driver.

The Blogger, also known as the Scag Driver sitting confident on the Scag.
He wasn't as confident or cocky after gathering up the compressor hose.

But don't let this incident cause you any concern. The cemetery needs volunteers to help maintain the premises. It isn't all hard work and toil. We actually find many rewarding moments in the cemetery. At the end of the day, there is always that feeling of having accomplished something, something special.

And yes there are humorous incidences as well. My fellow board members are surely not going to let me hear the last of my blunder with the compressor hose. This season of grass cutting is winding down, but come next spring, if you are in the Lehigh Valley area, come out and join us. We could always use another pair of hands.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Civil War Re-enactment

On a pleasant Saturday morning on August 11, 2007, the Union & West End Cemetery Association presented the "Four Days in April, Allentown's First Defenders." The annual re-eanactment event took place in the cemetery. A walking tour was conducted by the widow Yeager (portrayed by Barbara Miller) and she was accompanied by a color guard and a fife and drum corps. Those that had come to the cemetery that day were interested in history and wanted to experience it first hand in a historical cemetery. Visitors were led through the cemetery by the widow Yeager (widow of Captain Thomas Yeager, founder of the Allen Infantry in 1858) as they visited each of the graves of the twenty-three Civil War Veterans of Captain Yeager's Allen Infantry that are buried in the Union & West End Cemetery.

Imagine, there were only forty-eight men in the Allen Infantry militia unit when they went to war. They were one of the first companies to answer the Presidents call for 75,000 troops to defend the Capital. This unit and four others from rural counties in Pennsylvania boarded trains within days of the firing on Fort Sumter. When Rebel forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, the import was clear; they had fired on the flag of the United States of America and thus, the "War Betrween the States" was begun.

The five militia units totaled but 530 poorly equipped men. But these five Pennsylvania units were the first to reach the Capital and a greatful President. From that time forward they would be known and celebrated as the "First Defenders."

As the assembled visitors followed the chosen path through the cemetery, the widow Yeager gave brief insight into each of the First Defenders as the spectators moved from grave to grave. Only forty-eight men and twenty three are buried in the historic Union and West End Cemetery. In total, the cemetery is the final resting place of 714 Union Veterans. The second largest congregation of Civil War veterans outside of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg.

When the group of visitors arrived at the Grand Army of the Republic burial plot under the flag in the cemetery, the visitors were greeted by the association President, Charles Canning. President Canning welcomed the assembled group, acknowledged dignitaries in the crowd of onlookers and introduced William Grim, Burgess of the Borough of Allentown in 1861 (potrayed by Everette Carr). Burgess Grim spoke of the history of Militia units in America and the 'Allen Infantry' militia unit in particular. He spoke of the vital role the five Pennsylvania militia units played in defending the imperiled capital at Washington at the outbreak of the Civil War.

Burgess Grim also spoke of the grand celebration when the men of the Allen Infantry returned home to Allentown on July 24th, 1861. Hundreds of well-wishers turned out to greet them. Band played, crowds of people cheered, there was a parade and a banquet at the Eagle Hotel that lasted well into the evening.

Many of the men of the Allen Infantry that served their ninty day enlistment in Company G' of the Twenty-fifth Volunteer Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment went on the serve longer terms of service with other units. Captain Thomas Yeager, enrolled, as a Major, in the fifty-third Pennslvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was killed at the Battle of Fair Oaks in Virginia on 1 June 1862. On May 31st, the day before his death, President Lincoln had commissioned him a Brigadier General. Yeager never knew of this honor. Yeagers remains were returned to Allentown and he is among those buried in the Union and West End Cemetery.

The Flag Bearer for this occasion was Gary Weaver, representing the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The Purcell's, a fife and drum corps, led by Kenneth Purcell and accompanied on the fife and drum by his sons, followed Burgess Grim with a program of music and song. The Purcell's closed the ceremony with a rousing and spirited song accompanied by fife and drum.

Medal awarded to First Defenders by the State of Pennsylvania

Monday, August 06, 2007


Salute to the Allen Infantry

Union & West End Cemetery Association

Salute to the Allen Infantry

Pennsylvania's First Defenders

From the Boro of Allentown

Civil War History
with Re-enactors

Saturday, August 11, 2007
10:00 A.M.
(Rain Date August 18)

Walking Tour with Program ending at the

12th Street Civil War Memorial

Admission Free

Sunday, August 05, 2007


An Unusual Happening

This past week the Union and West End Cemetery had a burial. This is a somewhat unusual event. You might ask; what is so unusual about a cemetery having a burial? Well, for one thing, the cemetery is 153 years old. Most of the lot owners have passed away. In some few instances, descendants have paperwork that support their claim to the lot. But for the most part, the cemetery association board does not know many of the owners of the cemetery lots. There are some 2200 lots in the cemetery each 16' X 16', enough space for ten graves. The association is in contact with only fifty-three lot owners of record.

The burial, this past week, was the first burial for 2007. The only legitimate income that the cemetery produces is burial fees. It is no wonder that the cemetery is a non-profit corporation, operated by volunteers. There are no paid employees, there is no money with which to pay them. The cemetery gets its operational funds from donations and grants, but it is never enough.

The cemetery is maintained by a dozen volunteers and with assistance from the Allentown Community Corrections Center. The incarcerated individuals that are in need of community credit hours give the cemetery three hours a week, three Sundays a month. Their help is greatly appreciated.

Below are photos taken of the recent burial:

Rest In Peace.

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