• Jack McBride White

Hidden Graves Among the Strip Malls

I had forgotten this little story from March of 2012, but it still captures something. I updated it a little, but mostly things still stand as they stood in 2012.

Old Trinity Cemetery Cleanup Day

You know the place. Eldersburg, Maryland. The intersection of 32 and 26. One of the least scenic places on earth, although it does have a sign now that says, “Welcome to Eldersburg” at an intersection that isn't welcoming. And after your trip to Panera or Food Lion or Walmart, as you sit at the intersection, waiting forever to turn left on 32 and head back toward Sykesville, instead of looking down out the driver’s side window at the cigarette butts lined from tire to tire and beyond, you can stare toward that sign, and think, at least someone had, or has, good intentions.

And you can thank the Freedom Area Citizens Council for the sign, and then you can head toward Sykesville where the history isn't all hidden away and buried under asphalt.

Eldersburg – The Lost Frontier

And you could reflect on the fact that although you can’t find any sign of anything remotely old or historic, the sign says, “Settled in 1750.” And you could realize that a long time ago, before the lonely welcome sign, before all the houses and traffic and strip malls, before Walmart and Home Depot, before Starbucks and Glory Days and countless fast food joints, before all the chains, and the few remaining and struggling Moms and Pops that come and go, long before the old place that was once new and seems forever to be dying, called “Carrolltown Center,” Eldersburg was a different sort of place. It was, in fact, the frontier.

[As you probably know, Carrolltown Center is long gone now, replaced by a really super Walmart.]

The Old Chapel

And during that time there was a small chapel, referred to as a chapel of ease, where the farmers could pray, and beside the chapel, there was a burial ground, and across the way was Welsh’s tavern. The area was referred to as Delaware Hundred. And fighting Indians was an actual concern.

They built the chapel five years before the Revolutionary War and renamed it to Holy Trinity Church sometime after 1830, but eventually, sometime around the Second World War, the old abandoned, crumbling remains of the building were taken down and buried. Just as today, across the street from where the chapel stood, they’re bulldozing the grounds where the original tavern stood since the 1760s.

Joni Mitchell once sang, "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot."

Eldersburg seems to take that as a point of pride. We can never have enough banks, beauty salons, Chinese restaurants. We can never have enough gasoline, coffee, convenience, and liquor stores.

Soon, I hear, there may be a Royal Farms there on the corner by the welcome sign. [Yes, and soon after that a Wawa right across the street.]

The Hidden Graves

But nearby, hidden among all this blacktopped farmland, not even a mile from that new welcome sign, there’s a strange, lost, secret place that really does go back to 1750 or thereabouts.

It’s called Old Trinity Cemetery. It sits right off Liberty Road, out of view, nearly lost behind another Eldersburg shopping center (the Princess Shopping Center if I'm not mistaken) with a Mexican restaurant, a place that sells mattresses, a Chinese takeout, and Rita’s. It’s the old burial ground that surrounded the long ago chapel. It was discovered and saved. It has friends. A woman named Susanna Warfield is buried there. Other prominent citizens are buried there. Holy people. Slaveowners. Children who died young.

It’s surrounded by our current version of civilization, but it lives in another century, another time, and really another world.

And this Saturday was clean up day. And the Friends of Old Trinity Cemetery, as they do every spring, came to spruce up the grounds.

It was cold and dark, and there were only eight of them, but once again, the grounds are clean. The hidden cemetery is safe. The leaves are raked and hauled away. The stones are standing. The bones are buried. The ghosts are resting.

Ready for another year of being mostly ignored, as Eldersburg swirls around it and the voices of children eating water ice and custard drift through the trees on warm summer nights.