Carlisle Borough looks to preserve African American cemetery

CARLISLE BOROUGH, Cumberland County - Growing up in Carlisle, Outreach Director at Cumberland County Historical Society Lindsay Varner was not aware that Memorial Park was a cemetery until she interned at the historical society.

“I took my internship here in 2007, and I learned that it was a cemetery then when I was I working on an Underground Railroad project," said Varner.

"And I think the first time that I learned that it was a park that was once a cemetery I think I was, it was a very sobering  realization.”

According to the historical society, there are about a hundred or more African Americans buried in the park. Some fought in the Civil War and others were African American slaves that escaped the oppression of slavery.

“It has been well known and documented as the segregated cemetery for Carlisle, but we didn’t have a start date. We didn’t know how many people were buried there?  When you walk past it, it doesn’t look like a cemetery," says Varner.

"But we knew from our records that there were still people buried there. It is still hallowed ground and there were still lots of questions and we didn’t have any answers.”

The borough approached the society about a month ago after the U.S. Army War College class of 2019 planned to gift the park with an archway. The archway Lincoln Cemetery engraved on it.

The society will launch a two-phase project to preserve the history of the cemetery. In the first phase, the society will launch a website that will feature photographs. Then the second phase will include recorded oral histories and the resolution of how the cemetery became a park.

“The weight of the project and doing the best job it's a complicated story and there are strong feelings so we want to make sure that we tell the story and capturing all of that is important to me," said Archives and Library Director at the Cumberland County Historical Society Cara Curtis.

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