Volunteers help restore old cemetery Cleanup: More than a century after the last burial at a tiny Ellicott City graveyard, workers begin a mission of dignity at the neglected site.

June 24, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Among the nicely manicured lawns in the quiet Ellicott City neighborhood of Valley Mede, one corner lot stands out. Overgrown weeds, rotten trees and piles of litter cover a cemetery.

It looks as if it has gone to seed ever since the last burial took place there in 1895.

"It was just a mess," said Sue Stein, who started cleaning up the half-acre Dorsey Cemetery in March -- doing the work she said "big, strong men" need to do, despite the fact she's 72 and has had 11 operations, including open heart surgery.

She's looking for more volunteers to help bolster the effort, but help has been slow in coming.

Stein and a few faithful volunteers from the community -- along with others who show up periodically -- have started cleaning and clearing around the edges of the half-acre lot.

They've braved sticker bushes and broken glass to cut down 60- to 100-foot trees and pull up thick weeds and honeysuckle vines by hand before spraying their roots.

They are slowly working their way to the cemetery's center, where the graves are. One day, they will piece the broken pieces of the marble slab gravestones together, Stein said.

The remains of 36 men, women and children were buried in the privately owned Ellicott City graveyard between 1809 and 1895. Most of the deceased are members of the county's venerable Dorsey family, whose residency in the county dates back to the 18th century when they owned thousands of acres of land.

"There's so much history" in the cemetery, Stein said. "Just out of respect for them, I think it should be cleaned up."

Stein said she's known about the site at the corner of Longview Drive and Hearthstone Road for many of the 30 years she's lived in her Ellicott City home with her husband, Lawrence. But it wasn't until earlier this year that one of her grandsons brought its run-down state to her attention.

Almost three years ago, her oldest daughter died. The daughter, along with other family members, is buried in the Crest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Marriottsville.

"I was thinking, 'Wouldn't it be awful if what happened to the Dorsey cemetery happened there?' " Stein said.

Pat Saleh, who has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years and volunteers for the effort, called the cemetery's condition "just appalling."

"It's very sad to see a cemetery abandoned," she said. "I would hate for my relatives to be left in that situation."

Some other nearby residents weren't too pleased to see some of the trees cut down, but otherwise, they seem to appreciate the work, said Deanna Goodman, a volunteer who has lived in the neighborhood for nine years.

"It has always been a bit of an eyesore," she said. "Most people are happy, but not many are helping. There's so much to do."

Stein has a list of people who have called her to volunteer. But after showing up to see the cemetery, they never came back.

"When they look at it, it looks like an impossible job. But it isn't," Stein said. "I saw it, and I was like a kid with a brand new toy. I couldn't wait to get started cleaning it up."

She has funded the effort pretty much on her own. She used the $269.25 proceeds from a yard sale to buy weed killer.

"I want to make it more like a park setting. It certainly would be an improvement to the neighborhood," she said. "But we still have a lot of work to do."

Anyone who wants more information on the Dorsey Cemetery cleanup effort can call Sue Stein at (410) 465-1253.

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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