The caring of a cemetery
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Jeff Hinton of Saylorsburg is the third generation of caretakers at the Gilbert Cemetery and enjoys his job.
A cemetery provides that eternal final resting place. It is usually quiet and peaceful. Silent solid stone markers provide basic information of those who lie beneath, reminders that these faceless names once walked on this earth.
It's Jeff Hinton's job to keep the Gilbert Cemetery mowed and trimmed. Over his many years of maintaining it, he has found the cemetery to be a most interesting place to work.
For three generations, the Hintons have been caretakers of the cemetery between Long Mountain Road and Gilbert/Effort Road. It began with Jeff's grandfather, Elmer Hinton, who lived on Weir Mt. Road in Gilbert. He pushed his wheelbarrow full of equipment to the cemetery, and dug graves by hand with pick and shovel for $5.
When Elmer passed away in 1943, Jeff's father, LeRoy Hinton took over as caretaker.
Jeff remembers some of his dad's favorite cemetery jokes.
"As a caretaker of a cemetery, you have a 1,000 people underfoot and nobody ever complains," and "Why do they build a fence around a cemetery? Because people are dying to get in."
As LeRoy's five sons became old enough, they all helped their father in tending the cemetery, mowing grass and trimming.
"That was back when we only had push mowers. We got paid 50 cents an hour," says Jeff.
One of the names that never failed to make Jeff and his brothers laugh when they were kids was the tombstone of Sallie Shitz, 1814-1895.
When LeRoy passed away in 1989, Floyd Green and then Elmer Kreger became caretaker. When Elmer died in 1998, Jeff took on the responsibilities once held by his father and grandfather, in addition to being the cemetery's secretary/treasurer.
Today he at least has power mowers and trimmers compared to the old push mowers he used as a kid.
"It's an awful lot of weed whacking," he says, which he does about every two weeks. He thinks he does about 14 mowings in a year. He can do a rush job in 12 hours but 15 hours to do a neat job with trimming.
The most asked questions he receives from people is "What can I plant?" and "What can I put on the grave?"
He did a lot of research of other cemeteries' regulations and he came up with only one rule ..."You put it on, you take care of it."
He doesn't quite understand why, but sometimes flowers and lights are stolen from the sites.
"What would people want with that?"
The history of the cemetery begins with when the Salem Church was built. The cornerstone for the log church was laid Nov. 14, 1806 in the area of where the old cemetery is. The church served members of the German Lutheran and Reformed congregations. There were no graves before 1806.
The congregation outgrew the log church and a new one was built with a dedication held in Aug. 1873. In 1949, the church was struck by lightning and burned. It was at this time the congregations decided to split. The Reforms built the Salem Evangelical and Reformed Church (now Salem UCC) in 1950. The Lutherans met in the small chapel on the corner across from the cemetery until 1961 when it joined with St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Kresgeville to become Salem-St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran. The former chapel had no well or septic. Just an outhouse. It was sold to the Effort Mill for a cutting room, and was painted green. It was later dismantled and stored in Germansville for three years. It was sold and transported to Napa Valley, California as an addition to a home.
The Gilbert Cemetery was incorporated in 1940. In order to see that it continues to function, it has a six-person board of directors representing the two churches. Donald Burger is the president.
Years ago, ladies like Marjorie Krome from the Salem United Church of Christ sold cakes so the cemetery would be an independent, incorporated separate entity.
The cemetery averages about 14 burials a year. One out of three are cremations. Jeff thinks the cemetery is about 3/4 full and will be able to continue accommodating burials for the next 50 years. To date there are about 4,000 graves.
In the 1940s, an eight-grave plot sold for $75. Today a grave is $400 and cremation graves are $200, including perpetual care by Jeff.
The cemetery is not without its celebrities.
It has a Henry Kissinger, a Robert E. Lee and two Grace Kellys - just not the politician, Confederate general or movie star.
But it does have one bona fide celebrity buried within its confines. That is S. S. Kresge, the founder of the S. S. Kresge Company, later renamed Kmart Corporation. A beautiful small granite mausoleum surrounds the tomb of Kresge. It is privately maintained by members of the Kresge family and the Kresge Foundation.
Today members of Gladys Nordmyer's family has been caring for it.
The cemetery's other claim to fame is the Conrad Kresge monument. The large carved stone depicts the tragic story of an Indian massacre against one of the first families of settlers to the area ... the Kresges, killing Conrad's 12-year-old son, John, 1777. It is the site of many visitors throughout the year. Conrad was S.S. Kresge's great-great-grandson.
William (Bud) Kresge of Kresge's Funeral Home in Brodheadsville, says the large stone arrived by train in Kunkletown in 1915. It took two teams of horses to bring it by wagon to the cemetery. It was made by the Wenz Company of Allentown and the cost of the monument was $800.99. A copy of the original bill is in the 2009 edition of the Kresge Family History by Atwood J. Shupp. The funds for the monument were raised through voluntary donations from family members.
Veterans are honored at the cemetery by the placement of American flags on their graves twice a year by veterans' organizations.
Not all the tombstones are stone. Some are totally all metal like Eugene S. Christman's, the son of Edward and Christiana Christman, who died at the age of 25 in 1893.
Boy Scout troops come in periodically and help upright several of the old tombstones that have fallen over.
Some sites are family plots with three or more tombstones like that of Peter (1822-1873), Peter's wife Sarah (1822-1885) and son William (1844-1881).
Jeff, a 1964 graduate of Pleasant Valley and East Stroudsburg University in '68, is a mail carrier in addition to caring for the cemetery. He usually finishes his run around 2 p.m. He then goes to the cemetery and puts in a few hours of work. He sees his cemetery caretaking job as his retirement job. In his spare time, he enjoys kayaking, fishing, golfing, tinkering around and rebuilding classic cars (especially '64 Chevelles). Family is very important to him. He and his wife of 44 years, Linda (Altemose), have three children and six grandchildren. He and Linda are very active members of Salem-St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church.
A cemetery commemorates lives. It provides a history of people and the community they lived in. It is a perpetual record of yesterday. It is a sanctuary of peace and quiet today. Jeff finds great satisfaction in being a part of a heritage that tries to preserve all that.
(If you would like to learn more about the Gilbert Cemetery, the Chestnuthill Historical Society invites everyone to a special walk-thru of the cemetery on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m.)