Seen through the yellow leaves of a tree in the Holy Trinity Cemetery,… (File Photo / 2005 )
Local history, whether it resides in family letters or in the names and dates on weather-scarred tombstones in an abandoned cemetery, only survives if someone, somewhere along the line, takes the initiative to preserve it.
So it is with Old Trinity Cemetery, one of the oldest remaining burial grounds in Carroll County, which, ironically, is located almost within a stone's throw of Eldersburg's busiest intersection, Route 32 and Liberty Road.
The old graveyard's rich local history will be celebrated at Old Trinity's annual Visitation Day on Oct. 30.
In 1999, when the late James Purman and a handful of other south Carroll residents launched an effort to save Old Trinity, Purman called it "a rescue from oblivion."
That became the title of Purman's 1993 book on the cemetery, in which he vividly described the state of ruin that Old Trinity was in when his nonprofit group, Friends of Old Trinity Cemetery, launched its rescue mission.
"More than half the stones now standing, about 60 in number, were out of site, buried under the soil, vines or leaves or lying flat, slowly sinking into the ground when our restoration work began in 1990. Fences had been vandalized and carried away," he wrote. "The site was desolate."
Purman, a former Episcopal priest and past curator of the Sykesville Gatehouse Museum, died in 2007. But, thanks to a handful of dedicated volunteers, the rehabilitation of Old Trinity continues.
The annual Visitation Day, as in years past, promises to be a brief afternoon soiree combining worship, living history and celebration. As in the past, it will be a tribute to the legacy of Old Trinity infused with the spirit of Halloween.
There will be music, living-history re-enactors, and costumed children, with cider, doughnuts, cookies and other refreshments thrown in for good measure.
One of the highlights at past Visitation Days has been the history re-enactors — usually a descendant of someone buried in the cemetery who re-enacts episodes from the life of his or her long-dead ancestor.
"This year, a 14-year-old Pennsylvania boy, Jared Grace, will portray one of his distant ancestors, who is buried in the cemetery: John Winfield Richardson, who died at age 19, in 1892," said Anne Horvath, a founding member of Friends of Old Trinity Cemetery and the graveyard's current caretaker.
"Jared is a little bit nervous," Horvath added with a chuckle. "So his grandmother, Jane Ward, is going to be asking him some leading questions."
Horvath and Ward, who is the interim president of the Friends group, will also give updates on ongoing restoration projects relating to the cemetery. They will have information on a forthcoming book that will include a history of the cemetery, and photos and biographies of many of those who were buried there between the late 18th century, and the early and mid-20th century.
In his book, Purman also recounted the process that has caused countless old rural cemeteries to simply vanish from the landscape, and from memory:
"Time takes its toll: frost heaves the ground and dislodges tombstones; falling limbs and leaves accumulate; nature, never more than a few years at bay from civilization, encroaches.
"One tombstone falls, children or vandals seek to tumble other stones, the ground rises, and pieces of monuments or fence are carried away as souvenirs. Perhaps a farm field is adjacent. The plows and disc come closer and closer. Who knows where the graveyard ends and the field begins."
Horvath knows firsthand that the mission of rescuing an old graveyard from oblivion never ends. She and her husband, George, recently spent hours cleaning up a couple of truckloads of fallen limbs and other debris that was strewn around the cemetery by late summer storms and hurricanes.
"It takes a while to rake a quarter of an acre and clean up around tombstones and haul it all off, but it needs to be done," Horvath said.
The Friends of Old Trinity Cemetery's annual Visitation Day will be held at the cemetery, located off Liberty Road west of Route 32, at 3 p.m., Sun., Oct. 30. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Children are encouraged to come in their Halloween costumes. Directions to and more information can be found online, at http://www.dvetter.com/OldTrnty/rescue.html.