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Our View: Those working to restore cemetery, identify bodies, deserve our appreciation

As Veterans Day approaches, we’re appreciative of what is being done at Ellsworth Cemetery in Westminster. Not just the cosmetic restoration but, especially, the time and effort being taken in an effort to identify those buried there, many of whom are veterans from as far back as the Civil War.

The Community Foundation of Carroll County, a nonprofit based in Westminster, and the Manchester chapter of the Knights of Columbus, have been working together to restore Ellsworth. More than 150 unmarked plots with buried bodies have been discovered in the cemetery, many of them through the use of technology unimaginable at the time the cemetery was established, on Dec. 21, 1876.

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Crews have used ground-penetrating radar to find more bodies buried there. According to Matthew Turner, a Virginia-based GeoModel official who operated the radar, said he’s able to see where the bodies are located from a bump in the line on the machine, similar to that of a polygraph test or a heart monitor. “That is relatively new science. It comes in handy now for this kind of work, it’s perfect,” Daniel Kloss a member of the Knights of Columbus, told us.

Of those buried at the site, at least 26 are veterans, and so far 10 of them have been identified.

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The cemetery was established about a decade after the Civil War, when six black Union Army veterans ⁠— Reuben Walker, David Ireland, William Adams, Lewis Dorsey, William Massey and Samuel Bowens — were buried there. It was needed because black individuals weren’t allowed to be buried within Westminster city limits. Over the years, the cemetery has endured not just normal wear and tear, but also vandalism, leaving some of the plots unmarked and headstones eroded and shattered. About 50 headstones have been destroyed or taken, according to records from the Historical Society of Carroll County.

“When we got here, the grass was 4 feet high, and we came here to put flags out at the veterans’ stones, we couldn’t find them. Everything was knocked down or it was buried, and it really touched my heart that the service that they gave to the country and they’re just forgotten,” said Tom Greul, with the Knights of Columbus.

No one should be forgotten, particularly those who served.

For each body that they find without a headstone, Greul has welded crosses to place at the unmarked graves until they figure out who is buried there. It takes “quite some time” for him and costs about $2 per cross to make, but he said: “It’s worth it. I don’t care what color they were. Figuring it all out is opening everything up.”

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The Community Foundation pursues grants and donations to go toward the cemetery and businesses near the cemetery — Wawa, Lowe’s and Kohl’s as well as Crossroads Community Church — have donated money and time toward its refurbishment.

But despite the technological advances, the funding and all the work being put into identifying those buried at Ellsworth, help is still needed from the community.

Kloss and Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Community Foundation of Westminster, are urging anyone who might have information about those buried at the cemetery to help identify some of the unmarked grave sites.

“If your family owns a plot here, and maybe there’s a paper in the family Bible or something ⁠— we don’t want the original but can we have a copy of it? So that we can see, ‘Yes, this family owns this plot’ so that we can identify who has the right to come in here,” Cimino said.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Community Foundation at 410-876-5505. It’s unlikely everyone buried at Ellsworth will be identified, but we hope as many as possible will be and that permanent markers are erected. So they aren’t forgotten.

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