Cemetery’s ‘monumental’ task - restore history
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Ethel Sentipal wipes snow from a stone at Cross Creek Cemetery. She said that particular table stone is especially meaningful to her because it marks the grave of a relative who died in the early 19th century.
A monument at Cross Creek Cemetery honors veterans of the American Revolution who are buried there. On the reverse, veterans of the Indian wars and the War of 1812 are honored. In the foreground are special veterans markers that the Sentipals hope to match with the correct gravesites. They had been stolen years ago but were recovered.
Jonas Amspoker (1740-1796) was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. His modern-day descendants commissioned a new marker when his original tombstone was damaged, and they visit his grave every year to place a wreath. The Sentipals hope descendants of those buried in the cemetery will contact them to they can learn more about historical figures laid to rest there.
Ethel Sentipal clears one of dozens of markers placed near a storage shed at the graveyard. She said a landscaper placed many of the broken or overturned markers there while he cut the grass. The Sentpals are attempting to match the markers with their original gravesites.
The members of the volunteer Cross Creek Cemetery Co. have a “grave” responsibility: restoring the hundreds of historical grave markers that have been destroyed or damaged over the centuries.
“We’ve been working very hard since we’ve taken over last year,” said Ethel Sentipal, secretary of the group. “But there’s still so much to do. I don’t watch much TV.”
The cemetery, on Cross Creek Road at Cross Creek Presbyterian Church, has been in existence since 1779. In that time, it has been the final resting place for veterans of “Indian wars,” the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, to name a few. But over the years, the limestone and granite markers of the graveyard’s “residents” have become damaged, misplaced and vandalized.
As head of the small group of volunteers endeavoring to restore the cemetery, Sentipal hopes to put all the pieces back together in order to give the men and women buried in the cemetery the respect they deserve.
“We eventually want to renovate (the markers) and get all of them up,” said Joe Sentipal, Ethel’s husband and an integral member of the volunteer team. “But it’s tough because the only money that comes in is from the new burials.”
The cemetery is a tale of two plots. The area closest to the church is the “old cemetery,” while a more distant graveyard houses new interments. Separating the two is a mowed hillock that was full of brush and bramble until Joe Sentipal recently cleared it with some help from his brother, Jim.
Despite the monumental task ahead of them, they do have a couple things going for them: They maintain an active congregation and they have inherited the immaculate records of a noted local historian who oversaw the cemetery through 1939.
“I don’t know if you know anything about A.D. White, but he must have been a genius,” Ethel Sentipal said. “Everything fell in line from where we could see. But there’s just a lot of stones missing.”
Inside a meeting room in the church building, Ethel spreads out a rolled-up chart. Its paper yellowed by age, it shows the neat handwritten notes of the church elder superimposed over a gridded map of the cemeteries. A nearby ledger shows a similar attention to detail.
“The person who mowed, what he did was if he found a stone laying over, he would throw it up against that building,” Ethel Sentipal said, pointing to a log storage shed.
A thief stole copper markers honoring veterans from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War and both world wars. They were eventually returned, but the Sentipals aren’t sure which graves they should adorn.
The Sentipals are asking for the public’s help in putting the numerous misplaced tombstones where they belong. They’re hoping the families of people buried there may know the stories behind those folks and share the stories so the cemetery group can compile accurate historical records.
“I, myself, would like to learn more about the people who are buried there,” Ethel said.
She knows some people are interested in caring for their ancestors’ plots. She’s had inquiries from family members from as far away as Florida, and one particular grave – that of Revolutionary War veteran Jonas Anstoker, who died in 1796 – is visited every year.
“Someone adorns that grave all the time,” Ethel said. “And we know nothing about them.”
The cemetery is a historian’s dream. Among the numerous historical figures interred at the site are Hannah Bebout, who died in 1830 and was said to have pumped water when she served Gen. George Washington during the “dark days” of the Revolutionary War, and Joseph Vance, who died in 1832 and was the proprietor of nearby Vance’s Fort.
To get in touch with Cross Creek Cemetery Co., call Ethel Sentipal at 724-947-4079 or write to 1156 Eldersville Rd., Burgettstown, PA 15021.