LEWISTOWN - Tucked in a corner, behind the Geisinger Medical Group building and a new housing development, rests a plot of land surrounded by wrought iron fencing and wooden fence posts, marking cemetery ground known as Potter's Field.
In the 1800s, potter's fields were created across America as the final resting place for those who could not afford a grave burial or were not associated with local congregations, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The land acted as a reserved burial ground for paupers, foreigners, slaves, prisoners and the unidentified.
Though the Mifflin County-owned cemetery holds more than an estimated 288 graves, based on an examination of the ground in 1997, the souls buried there remain all but forgotten without the assistance of headstones or marked graves.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE?BOYER
Tom Baker, left, Pam Baker and Diane Ruth, right, sing songs during a candle-lighting ceremony Thursday evening at the Mifflin County Potter’s Field Cemetery in Lewistown.
However, members of a local Facebook group, "If you're from Burnham, you remember when," have begun a beautification project in honor of those buried and the community history the land holds, said Linda Snook, group member and project organizer.
"We went to the Historical Society, did a little research, and then visited Potter's Field," Snook said. "The members of the Facebook group agreed that more needed to be done to beautify the resting place of those that met unfortunate times in their lives. This has become an awe-inspiring project."
The group has since planted hybrid daylilies, a pink dogwood tree and a few iris plants, Snook said. Plans have been made to plant knock-out roses at the entrance gate during the next growing season, she added.
On Thursday night, the group gathered at the cemetery once more, to hang a Christmas wreath and string garland around the fence. The evening continued with a candle lighting ceremony as the buried were honored with a rendition of Silent Night.
"We thought that an evening like this was a natural extension of the beautification we are trying to do," Snook said. "It's a way for us to honor the loved ones that have been lost during the harder times in our history."
The Potter's Field cemetery is regularly maintained by the county, including the mowing and other minor details, said Mifflin County Commissioner Mark Sunderland. A cemetery or specific plot is usually maintained by family, but those in Potter's Field cemetery have no family, and thus the responsibility falls to the county, he said.
"A cemetery like this could be forgotten pretty quickly," Sunderland said. "This group is bringing it back to the forefront and reminding the community of its historical significance. I think the beautification project is a great service to our county."
A list of some of those buried in the Potter's Field cemetery, some with names and some without, can be found by the entrance gate. For more information about the cemetery, contact the Mifflin County Historical Society at 242-1022.