The Midland Cemetery
The students and professors of the American Mosaic Semester at Dickinson College were fortunate enough to get to know a special member of the Steelton community, Barbara Barksdale. She has undertaken a major respons
ibility in the community by beginning to clear away an African-American Cemetery which was covered over by weeds and trees. The Midland Cemetery, which dates back to the Civil War period, is located in Swatara Townhip, just outside Steelton, PA. The lar
ger part of Midland had been buried under weeds and brush for 35 years before Barbara and her 11 year old son ventured into the cemetery in 1993. Barbara recollected: "When I was a little girl, my parents would come here after church on Sunday. Because
I had allergies, they'd roll up the windows and leave me in this hot car while they disappeared into the brush--I'd sit and wait. Well, I was 35 when I came back here to see where they had gone on these Sunday afternoons to visit with Grandpa--and here I
am...I thought was just that little corner of a cemetery...I started researching and pulling up the old deeds from 1932. And it just expanded. Thank God it expanded without my knowledge, because I don't know if I would have been able to stand out here
right now and talk to you. Because I didn't know it was this big. And I didn't know what kind of work I was getting into, and what kind of history I was going to open up." Many of the neighbors did not even know that the cemetery was there. At this ti
me, Barbara decided to clean up this "corner cemetery" a little every day and figured that it would be in good shape by Spring.
Barbara had no idea
of the immensity of the project that she had begun. Some of the headstones were impregnated within roots of the trees, trees so large that one could not fit his arms around them.
Also, to Barbara's surprise, the cemetery was actually three and one-half acres large. It holds the remains of many African-American ancestors from this area, including Barbara's grandfather. Over 70 American war veterans' names have been recorded, dat
ing back to the early19th century. This cemetery holds the history of the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Behind or under every tree is more history. Midland also holds the remains of Steelton's first black Ministers, Doctors, Stee
lworkers, Teachers, and Parents. It is a place of heritage--a sacred place of heritage--and one that offers valuable information both to the immediate community and beyond.
"Everywhere you see a headstone, you know a whole life story is buried."
Let's take a look at some of the work that is being done and what people have to say about the Midland Cemetery
"I never met [my grandfather]. He was dead before I was born, you know. I just know that he's over there. I'm not sure where he's buried, other than in that approximate vicinity,
you know." Barbara Barksdale
Lonnie Dodd, Barbara Barksdale, Susan Rose
father is buried there and two of my brothers, my grandfather, and I have an Aunt there...a number of relatives are buried there. From that standpoint, I have an interest in Mid
land." Zane Phoenix
Headstone of Wilmer Phoenix, Father of Zane Phoenix.
"Glenn Blue, back here, they just dug him up. Well, I shouldn't say dug him up, but dug up the headstone." Barbara Barksdale
"Every headstone, take care of it because that's one book. It's a book of history" Barbara Barksdale
A large part of the cemetery has been restored with the help of the Pennsylvania Conservationist Society, Dauphin County Prison Inmates, Swatara Township, and many volunteers. Barbara is currently president of the non-profit organization that she founded
, Friends of Midland. During June of 1996, the Friends of Midland united with the Borough of Steelton to bring reinactors from all wars together to be a part of an encampment and festival.
For more information about the Midland Cemetery, or if you would like to contribute to this project, please send correspondence to the following address:
Friends of Midland
P.O. Box 7442
Steelton, PA 17113-0442
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