a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Mourn for these graves

This controversy started over a tombstone. It began when California University of Pennsylvania went looking for the grave of its "founder," Job Johnson, a surveyor and builder in the mid 1800s. Administrators were mortified to learn that the cemetery where Johnson was buried had suffered a terrible fate about 50 years ago when officials in California, Pa., had all of the headstones pushed over its hillside.

The official explanation today blamed borough workers who had grown tired of cutting the grass around the markers so they opted to create a field that would be easy to mow. Academic research, however, revealed murky evidence that Italian immigrants, angry at how they had suffered discrimination, retaliated against all of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in the burial grounds after Italians, for the first time, had taken control of the local government.

Regardless, shortly after Cal U. President Angelo Armenti Jr. arrived on campus in 1992, an archeology dig was authorized to find Johnson’s tombstone to decorate a new founder’s garden on campus. To everyone’s surprise, the graduate student assigned to the dig discovered the stone, along with a bunch of others.

The local historical society stepped in and said something similar to this: “Hold on to your britches. That tombstone belongs with the cemetery.” So Cal U. compromised, and made a molded replica of the thing and returned the original to the pile at the cemetery. Low and behold, some professors then argued that there wasn't any evidence to support Johnson's involvement in laying the cornerstone for the school. A carefully worded plaque was created to work around that dilemma, one that applauded unnamed founders credit, too, for building Old Main.

Well, the California Area Historical Society was then met with a bigger problem over what to do with the embarrassing heap of marble over at the gravesites. The cemetery map had long disappeared that could have connected the stones with the graves, some of which held the bodies of local boys who served in the War of 1812 and Civil War.

In the end, enough money was raised to embed the gravestones in concrete and create this unusual, yet clever, cemetery garden:

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