Gettysburg's story at Evergreen Cemetery

CEMETERY EDUCATION - Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Debra Novotny stopped at the grave site of town founder James Gettys during a public tour of historic Evergreen Cemetery Saturday to help raise interest in the burial ground, as well as funds for upkeep and improvements. (Tom Fontana/Gettysburg Times)

Spangler, Culp, McPherson, Weichert, Schwartz, Trostle, Tipton, Wade, and, of course, Gettys.

These names, and so many others that tell the story of Gettysburg, can be seen on numerous gravestones during a walk through historic Evergreen Cemetery, established in 1854 at Cemetery Hill on Baltimore Pike just south of town.

Such a stroll was taken by about 30 guests Saturday morning when Licensed Battlefield Guide Debra Novotny pointed out several essential landmarks in the graveyard.

The first stop on the tour was at the monument marking the burial site of the town's founder, James Gettys.

"Gettys died on March 13, 1815, and was buried in Black's Cemetery on Belmont School Road. His remains were moved to Evergreen Cemetery in 1865," Novotny said.

Novotny also related that Gettys, his mother and his wife (a relative of President Abraham Lincoln's wife Mary Todd) died within days of each other in March of the same year.

"There used to be a stone statue of a greyhound at the base of Getty's gravestone. Apparently he really liked dogs. One of his dogs wore a tag that said, 'I'm James Gettys' dog. Whose dog are you?'" she said.

German immigrants Peter Thorn and his wife Elizabeth were the first supervisors of the cemetery, and the first to reside in the two-story brick gatehouse. During the Civil War, Peter joined the Union army and Elizbeth assumed responsibility for the cemetery, burying over 90 Union casualties after the Battle of Gettysburg.

"There are believed to be two Confederate soldiers buried here," Novotny said. "Both are marked as Unknown, and my gut feeling tells me one is John Wesley Culp, who was born and raised in town, but joined the Rebel infantry and was killed at Gettysburg."

She also indicated the location of the grave of Culp's father, marked by one of the few stones in the cemetery that still show damage from gunfire caused by Yankee and Rebel clashes on Cemetery Hill.

Novotny said the original 17 acres of the cemetery has now grown to over 30 acres.

"It's believed the dedication ceremony for the National Soldiers Cemetery actually took place within the grounds of Evergreen Cemetery and the platform where Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address wasn't too far from the gatehouse," Novotny said.

One of the most popular stops in the cemetery is the grave site of Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed during the battle. It is topped by a statue of the young girl in the shadow of an American flag that continually waves in her honor.

"The marker was donated by the Women's Relief Corps of Iowa in 1901. That organization still provides a new flag every six months," she said.

Novotny was a teacher at Gettysburg High School for 30 years, while she also worked as a part-time battlefield guide. She retired from teaching in 2008 and became a full-time guide. This public cemetery tour was the initial attempt to spark interest in the historic graveyard to help raise funds for its upkeep. Future tours will be announced.

"It's important for you parents and grandparents to bring your children to the burial sites of their ancestors," Novotny told the guests. "They should know their family and community history, who they are descended from, to help them understand their own lives."

Before moving to Gettysburg in 2015, Tom Fontana was the editor of the Carbondale News for more than 20 years. He covers Biglerville Borough, Conewago Valley School District, Littlestown Borough and Franklin Township for the Gettysburg Times.

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