Jermyn’s moving dead
by Walter Avery
Jermyn Historical Society
No, this is not a script for a Halloween movie about zombies. It is a part of Jermyn’s history that both amazes and fascinates newcomers to the area when they first hear about it. Before 1930, what is now Gibson Street was Cemetery Street, for it led to Jermyn’s first burial ground “Shadyside Cemetery”. Way up into the 1950’s the older people in town still called Gibson St. Cemetery St. Shadyside extended from just this side of Garfield Avenue to the area now occupied by the housing project on Henry Drive. Just to the right of the cemetery was Maple Grove Park. The first burial in Shadyside took place in 1872 and a cemetery association was formed in 1889.
In 1929 the Hudson Coal Co. who had leased them the land wanted to dig out the coal under the graves. They offered to pay all expenses to have the bodies moved to the old Powder Mill land that they now owned. On January 8, 1930; six hundred people met in the basement of the Methodist Church to hear the coal company’s proposal. Burgess John Mellow, president of the Cemetery Association opened the meeting. It took 15 minutes to read the proposal. Then Postmaster Arthur Winter spoke on an idea that he, Eugene Avery and William Staples had about buying land near Montdale for a cemetery in a rural setting. Lawyer H.D. Cary read the deed of Shadyside and said that the coal company had the right to dig up the coal without notice. After a heated discussion, all who owned lots were to vote to approve the offer or not, however; many lot owners were not there that night. The vote was 238 for and 38 against.
Those who were against soon formed their own cemetery association with Sam Langman, Mr. Vail and Eugene Avery’s daughter Edna as secretary. The land near Montdale was purchased and Valley View Cemetery was formed. Part of the cemetery was going to be a plot for Masons. A rock that kids jumped off when swimming in Rushbrook Creek just as you start up Route 107. It was called the “white rock”. They moved it to Valley View intending to put a Masonic emblem on it. The Masonic plot never happened. Just imagine the work to get that big rock there in 1930.
Funeral director Floyd Battenberg was awarded the contract to move the bodies and John Booth; the job to relocate the tombstones. They had to wait until cold weather to start to dig up the bodies, for many of them were buried in wooden coffins before there was embalming or vaults and before a hard freeze. Work began on October 23, and was completed on December 20, 1930. Many family members came to watch their loved ones being exhumed. I have been told by descendants of people involved that it was hoped that family members be there at the time to identify the body. I also have heard many stories of jewelry being reclaimed by family members. One written account tells of a badly decomposed body but the crease was still in his trousers and a woman’s hair still neatly pinned in place. Several of the bodies that were buried in wet places were found petrified. One account tells that 1,171 bodies were moved to Jermyn, 610 to Valley View and 30 to other places for a total of 1,811 bodies and all done in just 45 working days.
I got the information for this article from many articles in our archives but have yet to find a photo of Shadyside. This is a void in our history.