Incorporated in 1851 but with records of interments starting a half-century earlier, Greenwood Cemetery is generally recognized as Lawrence County’s oldest public burial ground.
Now, the public is being called upon to help reclaim the beauty and propriety of the troubled 46-acre facility that straddles the border of New Castle’s West Side and Union Township.
According to a history on Greenwood’s website, the cemetery has struggled financially for much of its existence. Dan Salvatore, president of the nonprofit Greenwood Cemetery Corporation, said last week that finding money to properly care for the facility continues to be a challenge.
When volunteers reported to the cemetery two days before Memorial Day to place new flags on the graves of 936 veterans buried there, they were greeted by wet, knee-high grass that covered many of the cemetery’s smaller markers.
That was something that Navy veteran and American Legion Post 343 member Mike Dudo could not abide, and he went looking for help.
“I’d noticed it before driving by, but when we came out here last Saturday and did the flags, people were soaked up to their knees,” said Dudo, who served his country from 1994-97, including time in the Persian Gulf.
“So I got a hold of a couple of guys and asked, can you at least help me get around the headstones so they can be seen? And somebody put a post on Facebook about how bad and disgraceful it looked and it just blew up.”
Volunteers with whom that message resonated descended upon Greenwood on Saturday morning with weed whackers, lawn mowers and good, old-fashioned elbow grease.
Antonelli Landscaping and Construction, the cemetery’s mowing contractor, began the effort on Wednesday, and the fruits of its labors were unmistakable. But with 46 acres to cover, there remained plenty to do Saturday.
Nick Burnett was among those who reported for duty. The 29-year-old lives on nearby Mount Pleasant Street, but knows no one who is buried in Greenwood.
“I just read about it in the paper, and I thought it was a shame to see all the grass grown up,” he said, pausing from his weed whacking chore. “I figured I’d come out here and spend some time, maybe a couple of hours.”
Jonathan Krause, 40, learned about the need in similar fashion.
“I’m a longtime resident of New Castle, but I never knew this place was here, and I never knew it was 46 acres on top of that and that they’ve always had trouble with funding,” he said. “I started reading articles about it and I did a little research on my own and I found out that there are a lot of founding fathers in this graveyard.
“The founding fathers, the guys that brought all the industry with them; they’re in here. You’ve got to pay your respect to them. They’re the ones that gave you this town to live in. They gave you hope. This is no way to repay somebody.”
Stacey Rice and her daughter, Lisa Platko, arrived in a pickup truck with a lawn mower and a rake in the rear. They no sooner had unloaded these than they begin to dig into a pile of fallen branches, tossing them into the back of their truck to be hauled away.
“My mom’s parents are here, they’re all over here on the lower end, and her grandparents are here, her sister, her brother, too” Rice said. “We came last Sunday, and I feel bad for her, because she can’t walk down over the hill to go see her parents without tripping over stuff.”
Retiree Jim Hubenthal and his wife, Leslie, received a double dose of disappointment when they had come out the previous weekend to place flowers on the grave of Leslie’s grandmother. In addition to being met by overgrown grass, they discovered that the tombstone had been upended.
“So I decided to come back,” Hubenthal said. “We managed to get it reset this morning, and I decided to cut for a few hours while I was here.
“I’ve been here since 9:30, I’ll cut until around 11, or until I or the machine run out of steam.”
Hubenthal encouraged county residents to see the state of Greenwood for themselves, and to take action.
“The public needs to see this,” he said, “even if you have someone here and you never drive up to see it. An old cemetery like this, there’s no funds any more because there’s no income. It’s hard. It’s all over the country. It’s not just New Castle.
“We need to figure out something to do with our spare time. A lot of retired people like me ought to take advantage of this as a place to come.”
Krause echoed that call.
“I think the community needs to get behind this and take action on this,” he said. “Even if you can only come up for 15 or 20 minutes with a weed whacker and go, just come up and do all you can do.”
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