WILKES-BARRE — Ancestors of the “first families of the Wyoming Valley” are buried at the Hollenback Cemetery, Tony Brooks, executive director of the Luzerne County Historical Society, said during a tour of the cemetery on Saturday.
Brooks conducted two, Civil War-themed tours during the day of the several-hundred-year-old graveyard, which is located in Wilkes-Barre’s north end.
The cemetery includes 17 acres and more than 16,000 burial sites, Brooks said. Included are more than 600 Civil War veterans, many who became founders of local communities, prominent government officials and creators of well-known businesses, he said.
About 80 visitors taking the tours saw gravestones ranging from the very tall and ornate to tiny, almost unrecognizable slabs with the writing weathered away. They viewed some mausoleums as big as small homes bearing familiar area names such as Kirby, Butler, Dana, Beaumont, Slocum and Conyngham, as well as modest plates denoting the location of orphan children.
Brooks emphasized the cemetery provides an educational look into the Wyoming Valley’s past and touring it gives history buffs a great opportunity to peek into the past.
“It’s like living history,” he said. “It’s a great way to teach local people about local history.”
The cemetery includes the largest concentration of Civil War veterans in the nation, Brooks noted.
Clark Sweitzer, a teacher from Wyoming Seminary, was dressed in period attire portraying Col. Edmund Dana, who fought in the 143rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the war. Sweitzer (Dana) talked about his life in Wilkes-Barre, while standing over his burial site.
In the past, families would ride buggies through the cemetery paths as a “repose,” he said. “It’s a peaceful place,” he said.
And the cemetery did not discriminate. “Kings to paupers are buried here,” he said.
Joe Slusser of Wilkes-Barre participated in one of the tours, recognizing many of the names on the stones as the names of local streets. He was astounded at how many Civil War veterans buried there had returned to Wilkes-Barre after the war to become local leaders.
Most of all, he was impressed by the quality of the workmanship demonstrated in the stones and monuments, many dating back to the 1700s and 1800s. “These were hand-carved back then, not done by machines like they are now,” Slusser said.
Brooks said the cemetery is full, but there are some plots still waiting for their occupants. When the deceased have rights to the plots passed on to them through their families, they can be buried there, he said.