165th jubilee : official publication commemorating McKeesport's old home week celebration, 1795-1960.
McKeesport, Pa.: Wivagg Printing, 1960.
Bruice A. Yount, Editor
The Old Graveyard
The original cemetery or graveyard, set apart by DAVID McKEE for the interment of his neighbors and their families, was located using present street names, would be on the north side of Ninth Avenue at Locust Street, running northward to the James Penny Plan and westward to Tube Work Alley.
There were no lots in the graveyard, and when a member of a family died, the kin of the dead person would merely go the graveyard, select a suitable spot and dig a grave; the coffins were wooden boxes, usually made by a carpenter, the cost was $5.00. If the one digging the grave would find the spot already occupied, he would fill up the hole, move over a few feet and try again.
The conditions in the cemetery became so bad that the borough officials appealed to the Governor, and a special act of the legislature was passed on the 15th day of March, 1872, giving the Burgess and the borough council the right “to remove the bodies from the old graveyard in said borough, to sell the ground and purchase other ground for burial purposes.
The grisly task of removing the dead had not proceeded to any great extent, when, on March 1st, 1873, the lot known as the Old Grave Yard was sold to JAMES EVANS. However, before a deed could be made and delivered JAMES NEEL entered a suit in equity at No. 724 July Term 1873 in the Court of Common Pleas against the Borough of McKeesport, LEWIS MATHEWS, SAMUEL FIELDS, JAMES HARRISON and JAMES EVANS, praying for an injuntion enjoining the defendants from the removal of the remains of the dead. The defendants, LEWIS MATHEWS, SAMUEL FIELDS and JAMES HARRISON, were persons employed by the borough and actively engaged in the removal of the bodies. MR. NEEL claimed that he had held possession of a lot in the Old Grave Yard since March 24th, 1852, that he had erected a stone wall around it, and had placed a iron fence on the stone wall, and had erected a monument in said lot at a cost of $1, 000.00. On Oct. 24th, 1873, REDICK (pg. 24) McKEE arrived in McKeesport and joined JAMES NEEL as a co-plaintiff in said suit.
By affidavits of gravediggers filed in the case, it was proven that the headstone on the grave of JOHN McKEE had been removed to make room for the walls enclosing the lot claimed by JAMES NEEL, and that said walls encroached on JOHN McKEE’S grave; that when the gravediggers attempted to removed the remains of JOHN McKEE, they were able to remove only a small part of his body, the greater part remaining under the walls of the NEEL lot, because the gravediggers feared personal injury from digging under the walls. JOHN W. PRITCHARD, Editor of the “Paragon” deposed and said, “That he had frequently seen person digging and hauling away sand for building purposes from the graveyard; if they happened to dig up a skeleton or remains, they would shovel the larger parts into a box, and the remainder was taken away with the sand and became part of the house being built.” The reason for this gruesome tale will come to light before the end of this graveyard story.
The injunction against the removal of the bodies of the dead was granted, and it was not until the year 1881 that the matter was finally settled. As the result of the settlement, JAMES NEEL and his wife, and JOHN BARTON and his wife, executed a deed to the Borough of McKeesport dated Feb. 29th, 1881, quitclaiming all their interest in the old graveyard. The consideration mentioned in the deed is $1205.00. It is recorded in Deed Book Vol. 425, page 180. On May 10th, 1881, REDICK McKEE executed a quitclaim deed to the Borough of McKeesport, the consideration mentioned being $300.00
The bodies of the dead, or parts of them, were taken to the McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery and reintered. As soon as it became public that money had been received by the plaintiffs in the injunction proceedings, a storm of protest arose from the citizens of the borough, and cries of “blood-money” were heard. To still the unpleasant uprising MR. NEEL invested his money in a town clock on the Second Ward or Walnut Street School, and its pleasant tones when the hour was struck could be heard all over the city. REDICK McKEE used his money to erect a monument in memory of his father on the Momeyer lot in the McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery, MRS. MOMEYER being a distant relative of MR. McKEE. In 1937, JAMES A. FULTON, being a member of the Board of Directors of the cemetery, interested a number of public spirited citizens in a plan to move the monument from the MOMEYER lot to a more prominent place in the cemetery, and as a result the monument now stands near the entrance to the cemetery. They were successful in moving the monument, but they could find no body to move with the monument. Overcome by embarrassment, they decided to keep the matter secret, and secret it was kept, until a few years before MR. FULTON’S death when he told the story of how they dug up half of the MOMEYER lot without finding a trace of the desired remains. By reference to the gravedigger’s affidavits, hereinbefore referred to, there is room for doubt that the remains of JOHN McKEE were ever removed from the old cemetery.
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