Elderly couple preserve 2 graveyards, and something of their own family histories CARROLL COUNTY

February 05, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

The two graveyards might have disappeared years ago in the knotted underbrush of bushes and weeds if it weren't for one couple: Ellsworth Dowery and his wife, Helen Dunson Dowery.

Mrs. Dowery, 81, oversees Mount Joy Cemetery in Carroll County even though she is debilitated by rheumatoid arthritis. And Mr. Dowery, 83, maintained Mount Olive Cemetery in Frederick County for years until losing a leg in 1990.

They are confined to wheelchairs and seldom visit the cemeteries anymore. But their work has preserved a slice of their family histories as well as the histories of other black families that have populated rural Carroll and Frederick counties for generations.

Mr. Dowery is soft-spoken and not at all comfortable discussing the historical significance of what he has done. He says he maintained Mount Olive Cemetery simply because his parents and many relatives are buried there. He wanted to preserve his family tree, as he puts it.

Mrs. Dowery is outspoken but sternly clear about her unwillingness to discuss Mount Joy Cemetery. Her parents and ancestors are buried there.

The Dowerys have been married 61 years. They live in Union Bridge about midway between the graveyards.

Mount Joy is just west of Uniontown on Bark Hill Road. And Mount Olive is off Route 31 just across the Carroll line in Frederick County -- one mile up a remote dirt road.

Mr. Dowery rode there with George Howard one cold day not long ago. Mr. Howard steered his old Ford painted turquoise gently past the tilted tombstones. It seemed an odd place to drive a truck, but it is the only way to get Mr. Dowery out there these days.

Since he lost his right leg three years ago because of poor circulation, Mr. Dowery hasn't been able to care for this mostly forgotten cemetery. That task has fallen to Mr. Howard, 69, who has a bum leg of his own.

The two men spent one entire winter nearly 20 winters ago rescuing the graveyard from the woods -- clearing brush and digging up roots.

"Me and Mr. Dowery worked up here all winter, didn't we, El?" Mr. Howard said.

"Yes, sir," Mr. Dowery replied from the cab of the truck, his walker folded up in back. "We sure did."

Mount Olive Cemetery today is not a busy place; there are only a few people living left to bury there, and those already there have hardly any relatives left. But the cemetery is clean and respectable.

"The church was right over there where the stones are, see?" Mr. Howard said. The small structure no longer stands. Mr. Dowery's grandfather hauled the first load of logs in 1848 to build Mount Olive Church.

The graveyard is a couple of acres. It's pretty well full of graves, but you can't tell by the number of stones. Many graves are unmarked; relatives couldn't afford stones, or markers were lost over the years.

Some of the stones that survived are cracked or broken. Some were shattered by hoodlums.

The graveyard was neglected for years. That's why in 1974, when Mr. Dowery retired from Lehigh Portland Cement Co., he and Mr. Howard conspired to clean it up. A few people helped, but it was mostly their doing. And with a little help now and then, they mowed the grass and maintained it together until Mr. Dowery lost his leg. Sometimes they got a little money from relatives of the departed; many times they didn't.

The last burial was one year ago, Mr. Howard's sister. "Used to be when somebody was buried they had to go and cut down the bushes; you couldn't walk down through here," Mr. Howard said. "But when my sister was buried, the hearse drove right down to the grave."

Mr. Howard's parents are buried there, too. But he won't join them, he said. He has a plot next to his wife's family at Mount Joy-Cemetery.

Mount Joy, of course, is Mrs. Dowery's province. She oversees it by telephone. After she's gone, she said, her nephew, Richard N. Dixon, a state delegate, will take care of it.

Mount Joy Church was built in 1858 and demolished in 1962 after the next-to-last member died, Mrs. Dowery said. "That's when I had the church torn down," she said. "Nobody was left but me."

Someone was buried there just last week. Mrs. Dowery will be buried there someday. She bought her plot way back when her husband was away in the Navy during World War II.

She bought only one plot.

"I didn't know if he was coming back," she said seriously.

So Mrs. Dowery will be buried at Mount Joy. Mr. Dowery will be buried at Mount Olive. And this couple, wedded 62 years this June, will forever rest in the separate graveyards they tended in life.

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