A Study of the Cumberland Cemetery in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania

Open Access
Fresta, Eileen M
Area of Honors:
American Studies (University College)
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Phyllis Blum Cole, Thesis Supervisor
  • Phyllis Blum Cole, Honors Advisor
  • Julie Ann Gallagher, Faculty Reader
  • Cumberland Cemetery
  • cemetery records
  • life expectancy
  • Middletown Township
  • public history
  • ground penetrating radar
The Cumberland Cemetery in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania is a unique historical landmark that encompasses local and national history from the mid-1800s to the present day. The cemetery represents the lives and culture of the people of Middletown Township during that era. This research focuses on a public history presentation of Cumberland Cemetery and the importance of directing community attention to this local historical landmark. Multiple public history resources were utilized to establish an historic timeline for the cemetery from its inception in the late 1850s. The cemetery’s history reflects a growing national issue of overcrowded urban cemeteries during the late 1700s and early 1800s, a problem resolved with the establishment of rural cemeteries nationwide. This rural cemetery movement began to give way to the lawn park cemetery movement by the mid-1800s. Cumberland Cemetery, historically situated at the crossroads of both the rural and lawn park cemetery movements, is a reflection of both. In addition, a study of the burials at Cumberland Cemetery represented in the interment ledger is used to show how the causes of death on a local scale relate to national and even global trends, revealing the importance of cemetery records as a multidisciplinary data source. The interment records contain extensive information regarding historic trends and variations in health-related causes of death over time. This portion of the research examines the gender, date of death, cause of death, and decedent’s age and residence at time of death for burials at Cumberland Cemetery in Middletown Township, Pennsylvania, from 1890 to 1989. The records provide valuable historic documentation regarding the impact of disease, population growth, and social trends over a specific time period within a particular geographic area. All of these trends are compared to historical records to reveal local social and demographic changes over time. Because burial records were not required by law prior to the early1900s, and because no extensive burial records from the 1860s through 1885 are known to exist, cemetery officials were unsure how much of the land in the oldest portions of the cemetery had been used for burials. A ground penetrating radar study of the oldest portion of the cemetery, sometimes referred to as “Pratt’s Burying Ground” was undertaken in an effort to determine the extent and location of burials prior to the cemetery’s incorporation in 1885. Results of the study for this one section reveal more than ninety unmarked graves, a reflection of the interplay of religious, cultural, and social issues within Middletown Township during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Community involvement is an important and critical requirement in working to protect a cemetery such as Cumberland, a fragile archeological and historical resource. As an historical resource, the cemetery crosses many fields of inquiry, including religion, history, gender studies, architecture, folklore, anthropology, popular culture, and others. The Cumberland Cemetery is a multidisciplinary resource, one we should continue to study for the wealth of information it contains, and one that should be preserved as an historic landmark for the residents of Middletown Township.