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Chester County Press

Volunteers seek to rescue the Mount Calvary Cemetery from poor conditions

07/05/2016 11:39AM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Mount Calvary Cemetery stands at the intersection of Bethel and Calvary Roads in Lower Oxford and, until very recently, it was largely forgotten.

Kimberly Boddy, a resident of Kennett Square, was helping a friend research some information and learned about the Mount Calvary Cemetery's existence almost by accident. When she saw that the cemetery was littered with trash, that the gravestones were in a sad state of disrepair, and that weeds had grown uncontrollably in some parts of the small cemetery, she was disheartened. She knew that the 100 or so people who were buried in the cemetery deserved better.

“It broke my heart,” Boddy explained. “This may be an historic piece of ground. This is not just African-American history here, it’s Lower Oxford history.”

The cemetery dates back to 1852. At one time, the Calvary Church stood next to the cemetery, but the church moved. The cemetery itself does not even have a known address, Boddy said. The people buried in the cemetery—with family names like Jones, Moore, or Webster—were most likely members of the Calvary Church before it changed its name to Allen A.M.E. and moved to a location in Oxford Borough. When Boddy learned about the cemetery, she also discovered that some of the people buried in it served their country—including volunteers who died in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

“We have a lot of individuals {buried here} who thought enough of their country to serve,” Boddy said, noting that there are eleven Civil War soldiers are among those who are buried in the Mount Calvary Cemetery.

Boddy began photographing visible markers and building a database of the names of the people buried in the cemetery. She also started trying to clean up the cemetery back in March, picking up piles of trash and discarded items. As she told others about her mission, she was soon joined by a group of dedicated volunteers. Some of the people who helped out are John Deecki, Marsha Corum, Clarissa Sherrow, and Michelle and Maddie Sapp. On one occasion, Boddy and some volunteers gathered up about 17 bags of trash. An unknown person—someone that Boddy referred to as an angel—came along and took away the bags of trash without even being asked to do so.

Now that a significant amount of trash has been removed, an effort is currently underway to clean the gravestones and make sure that they are all standing upright. It can be painstaking work, but the volunteers all believe it is worth it.

“Marsha is very good at helping to repair the stones,” Boddy explained.

Deecki said that cleaning out the overgrowth revealed gravestones that they wouldn’t have known were there. One such gravestone was of a military veteran. Another gravestone that was uncovered belonged to twelve members of the John and Catherine Twyman family who were tragically killed in a fire more than a half a century ago. The community joined together to purchase the gravestone for the family.

While Boddy was initially disheartened by the sad conditions of the cemetery, she has been inspired by the people and organizations that are willing to help in small ways to restore the sacred ground to a proper condition.

Lowe’s donated Dumpster bags because the group of volunteers were not going to be able to get a Dumpster on the site. Lowe's also donated a sickle to help with the work. Cameron's Hardware donated products to kill the weeds and the poison ivy. Different groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have volunteered to help out with the clean up. Boddy said that a man named Rodney Jennings has been coming in to mow the grass regularly for the last few years. Members of the small Allen A.M.E. Church have also said that they want to get involved with the effort to maintain the cemetery. They are planning a Community Day coming up to celebrate the improvements that have already been done and to continue the work that is needed.

“It’s a small church, but it has a lot of love,” Boddy said. “We know that we’re going to have a Community Day.”

Saturday, July 30 has been set as the tentative date for the Community Day. Boddy is hoping for some volunteers to offer help on that day, but also at other times as well.

“The overgrown trees on the Bethel Road side are in dire need of trimming, and any organization willing to assist with this would be a tremendous help,” Boddy said. The volunteers could also use a Dumpster, or help removing the trash and debris from the cemetery.

Boddy said that she would welcome the assistance of anyone who wants to get involved with the effort to restore honor to the Mount Calvary Cemetery. For information about how to help, email Boddy at [email protected].

“This is part of our history,” Boddy said. “This has been here for 16 decades. It’s the hope that we can make this a pleasant memorial garden.”