Spotlight: Odd Fellows Cemetery graveyard tour reveals secrets
town tells its tales through its burial ground.
Tombstones and graves provide color, chronology and secrets in a special way, if we only take time to listen.
On Aug. 5, members of Odd Fellows Harmony Lodge and Lady Harmony Rebekah Lodge hosted free, guided walking tours of the 38-acre Odd Fellows Cemetery, a burial ground that spans west Tamaqua and Schuylkill Township.
“We’ve done these walks before, but this is the first time with Lady Harmony,” said Justin Bailey, lodge secretary and site caretaker.
Tamaqua Odd Fellows Lodge was begun in 1843 and at one time was the second largest in Pennsylvania. Some of its members are knowledgeable about the cemetery, managed by a separate, offshoot group.
Twelve lodge volunteers were positioned at key sites on the hillside parcel. Guests were escorted every 15 minutes to those locations to learn about fascinating figures in local history.
The lodge chose specific subjects among more than 16,000 buried at the site, twice the population of the town.
The first stop was the tombstone of early businessman Philip Krell, 1863-1934.
“He bought the blacksmith shop of William Haber,” said Bailey.
The guide pointed out the grave of George Walter, 1877-1942.
His grandfather was accidentally killed by a cannon which had been fired off to celebrate the election of President James Buchanan.
The next guide, the Rev. Sharon Stokes of Tamaqua, showed guests the grave of an early barrister, attorney Conrad Shindel.
“He was chosen as a presidential elector,” she explained.
Stokes also guided visitors to the tomb of William Donaldson, born Dec. 13, 1803.
“He was from Durham, England, and came to America in July 1831.”
Donaldson was an early coal operator, religious leader and banker. His 1850 Anthracite Bank of Tamaqua still stands at 133 W. Broad St. He died a long, painful death after being burned in a mine explosion.
Guide Ashley Guscott of Summit Hill led visitors to the grave of E.J. Fry, 1826-1898, and wife Isabella.
“He was president of the First National Bank and in 1849 became postmaster. He was the youngest postmaster in the U.S.”
Guide Josh Guscott and daughter Lily, 7, were positioned at the nearby grave of Dr. Edwin Solliday. Guscott said Solliday responded to the mortal wounding of Tamaqua police officer Benjamin Yost, a turning point murder in the legend of the Molly Maguires.
He also pointed out the tombstone of Samuel Brode, a butcher who helped organize the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Tamaqua, one of the world’s first municipal lighting plants.
Another guide, Jen Swett, who recently moved to Tamaqua from Hazleton, escorted guests to the grave of George Kellner, a butcher known “for making sausage, liver pudding and blood pudding, which sold for 35 cents a pound.”
The animal fat was turned into lard, she said.
Swett also spoke of others: Ruth A. Steinert, actress, playwright and grocer who founded the SPCA of Tamaqua and the once popular South Ward Baby and Pet Parade.
Nearby was the grave of Henry A. Weldy of Weldy Powder Works, 1 mile from town. His plant was a forerunner to Atlas Powder Company.
Guide Katie Bailey of Tamaqua led visitors to the grave of Conrad Ifland, who founded Tamaqua’s first brewery at the corner of Lafayette and Swatara streets.
She also pointed out a granite obelisk honoring John P. Jones, murdered in Lansford in an attack attributed to the alleged Molly Maguires.
Guide Pat Rarick, Tamaqua, showed guests the gravemarker of Howard D. Buehler, a bachelor who left a bequest of more than $260,000 to the town. He asked town fathers to upgrade a swimming hole into what is now the Howard D. Buehler Memorial Pool at Tamaqua Bungalow Park.
Many other notable sites were visited in a tour that lasted 90 minutes.
Among those walking the trail of history were Dave “Smokey” DeLay and Linda DeLay of Tamaqua. Both said they thoroughly enjoyed the tour and were surprised at the amount of interesting information presented.
“You don’t really know how much history is here,” said Dave. “This makes it personal.”
The massive burial ground, nicknamed ?City of the Dead, also contains 102 undocumented graves and more than 100 bodies resting inside a large trunk. They represent a mass grave of unclaimed bodies from when Primitive Methodist Church moved its cemetery.
The Odd Fellows site also holds an unknown number of graves buried before records were kept.
Tamaqua Odd Fellows Cemetery and the Charles Baber Cemetery of Pottsville are the only two Victorian garden cemeteries in the county.