HEMPFIELD (KDKA) — A symphony of mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers combine in a sound of caring. Tombstone faces nearly erased by more than a century of weather are in the sun again.
“I was just touched by it,” said Robert Garritano. “I couldn’t sit home and not do something.”
In a single week, a handful of volunteers began clearing the 26 acres, bringing the 124-year-old Union Cemetery back to respectability.
“There needs to be a little but more dignity to this, and that’s what your story the other day brought out,” said Garritano.
After our story aired last Tuesday, Garritano, a retired school teacher, came to see the overgrown graves and neglect for himself.
“All of these people and all of these families need some dignity in death – and then you got Veterans Day coming up,” he said.
During his visit he met J.P. McWilliams walking his Siberian Husky, Dakota in the cemetery, asking if he wanted to help clean it up.
“We did a lot already, and if we have more people come out we can have it completed in do time,’ McWilliams said.
Garritano’s friend, Bob Iuzzolino, came on board next.
Flags flutter over the final resting places of veterans and firefighters.
“Great-Great-Great Grandfather was in the Civil war, lost his leg at Chicamauga,” said Guy Hutchinson whose family is buried there.
For Hutchinson, this has long been hallowed ground for his family. He’s amazed at how much Garritano has accomplished.
“I think he’s a saint,” he said. “I don’t know where the guy gets the energy.”
First Commonwealth Bank was the cemetery’s last court-appointed trustee. It paid nearly $140,000 for cemetery maintenance. The fund is empty.
The bank is asking the courts to transfer care of the cemetery to the municipality, which is allowed under state law, once the cemetery is abandoned. A hearing is set for Nov. 24.
But the volunteers hope, if all else fails, to make this an ongoing community effort, so Union Cemetery will be here for future generations. They know that if these stones could talk what a history lesson they’d tell.
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