A small, Civil War-era cemetery tucked next to a rural cornfield in Upper Allen Township where approximately 80 African Americans are buried was celebrated this weekend, with scores of locals paying tribute.
A plaque acknowledging the placement of the Lincoln Cemetery on the Cumberland County Register of Historical Places was unveiled Saturday morning at a ceremony recognizing the graves of 12 Black veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops who fought in segregated regiments during the U.S. Civil War.
The event was organized by Megan McNamee, Upper Allen’s environmental planner/storm water program manager. McNamee submitted the application to the Cumberland County Historical Society for placing the one-acre cemetery totaling around 80 African American graves on the county’s Register of Historic Places. Lincoln Cemetery’s earliest marked burial is April 15, 1862, but the deceased’s name was listed on a portion of their stone that’s since been lost.
“Honoring a site like Lincoln Cemetery is a great way to memorialize the history of our township,” McNamee said. “Awareness and education are among the best ways to guarantee the preservation of our township’s history. It is vital that as we move forward, we do not forget our past. Not only will the Cumberland County Register of Historical Places provide awareness in the community of our fascinating history, but it will become a building block for the promotion of local historic preservation.”
Although the site was approved for the honor in February 2020, the plaque unveiling, like many other area events, was postponed from last year due to the pandemic, McNamee said.
Saturday’s speakers included Eric Kelso and Milazzo of Cumberland County Historical Society; Upper Allen Township Commissioner Ken Martin; Mechanicsburg Mayor Jack Ritter; U.S. Rep. Scott Perry; and Joni Shenck, representing state Rep. Sheryl Delozier.
“It is embarrassing to me to live so close to here and not know this was here,” Perry told Saturday’s crowd. “To me, history is about people, it’s about us. ... We don’t know exactly how many (are buried here), but it is important that we preserve them. None of us ever want to be forgotten.”
Also invited to speak were state Sen. Mike Regan, whose 31st Senatorial District represents parts of Cumberland and York counties, as well as Civil War re-enactor Keith Zook (a great-nephew several times over of Civil War veteran Samuel Kirk Zook), and Paul Kreiner, commander of the Vietnam Veterans of Mechanicsburg.
“Thanks everyone for coming. It means a lot to us,” Kreiner, visibly emotional, told Saturday’s crowd.
Vietnam Veterans of Mechanicsburg volunteers began restoring the cemetery, located off West Winding Hill Road in Upper Allen Township, shortly after the veterans group formed in 1998. At that time, the burial ground historically named as Lincoln Colored Cemetery was “grown out with stones down,” said Nancy Kreiner, Paul’s wife.
Nancy said it took organization volunteers “many years” to restore the site to its current condition, which continues to be maintained by Vietnam Veterans of Mechanicsburg. On Memorial Day, “lots of volunteers” continue to decorate veterans’ graves each year at Lincoln Cemetery on behalf of the Mechanicsburg organization.
“There are no family members to bring things to the veterans’ graves here (at Lincoln Cemetery),” she said Saturday. “I hope that the ones who didn’t know this was here before will remember it now.”
Regan told Saturday’s crowd he had “just came that day quietly [to] pay my respects” to the Black Civil War veterans interred there. The U.S. Colored troops “were fighting for a country that had not been very good to them,” he said.
Saturday’s ceremony was hosted by Bob Buhrig, owner/director of Buhrig Funeral Home in Mechanicsburg. Following the graveside event, Upper Allen Township hosted a reception for all attendees at the township building.
“Lincoln Cemetery brings to light lesser-known aspects of our county’s history, and the Cumberland County Historical Society is honored to have Lincoln Cemetery on our Cumberland County Register of Historic Places,” said Tristin Milazzo, community outreach director at the Historical Society.