Mount Hope cemetery sits at the intersection of Liberty Street and Wardle Avenue. It is the lone burial area on Youngstown's East Side, and began its existence as a potter's field in the 1800s as the final resting place for indigent farm workers.
I have an aunt and uncle buried there -- Willie and Emma Lee Buston. Some of you may also have loved ones buried there.
The cemetery, now known as Mount Hope Veterans Memorial Park, has fallen into disrepair over the years. Vandals have overturned headstones and damaged the small chapel; the site has been used as a dumping area for trash and dead animals.
The cemetery has had several owners since the 1920s. The most recent was the Rev. William Duke Jr., who died in 1985. The property has been turned over to his widow, Kathryn, but she does not have the finances to maintain the property.
The city of Youngstown sporadically has cut and cleared the graveyard.
A deal to sell it to local businessmen who would properly maintain it fell through in the late 1980s.
Who's doing the work: East Side neighbors and relatives of those buried at Mount Hope got together in 1992 to clear away trash and waist-high weeds from the plots. The graveyard is now being maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers and the 176-member Donald Lockett Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6488.
The post, which got involved with Mount Hope in the 1990s, has had the Ohio National Guard come in and clean and grade neglected parts of the cemetery.
Tony Feldes and Clarence Watts of Youngstown, members of Post 6488, have been involved with the Mount Hope Cemetery Beautification Committee, the nonprofit group that is soliciting funds and volunteer help to keep the cemetery in proper condition.
They explained why it's important for Mount Hope to be maintained.
"We got involved with Mount Hope because there are, to date, 486 known veterans buried there," Feldes said. Those veterans died for their country in the Civil War, Spanish and American War, World wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
"There is a mistaken assumption that the graveyard is for blacks only. That is wrong. Since it was initially a potter's field, all funeral directors from throughout the city have used it for burials," Feldes added.
The cemetery once occupied 13 acres, but is now about 10 1/2 acres because some property has been sold, Feldes continued.
Watts, known to his friends and fellow veterans as "Buddy," explained just one aspect of the expense incurred in maintaining the graveyard.
"To make one grass-cutting, most people want about $1,000," Watts said. "To keep the area looking nice, it takes about eight to 10 cuts per year, depending on the weather."
Priorities: Feldes said despite the efforts of the beautification committee and the post, there is still much that must be done at Mount Hope. The committee and the post have outlined the top three funding priorities. They are:
UInstallation of a drainage system. The cemetery's drain tiles have collapsed over the years and, during wet weather, the center of the cemetery resembles a pond, Feldes said.
UResearchers are needed. The post and the committee have done their best, but professional help must be obtained to find all the people interred at Mount Hope.
"I want to see the veterans buried there get the respect that is their due," Feldes said. "They died for this country. The color of their skin doesn't matter."
Feldes and Watts said the post would like to place 33 headstones in granite and bronze on the proper plots for veterans, but that has been difficult to do because of the cemetery's poor condition. Many sites also don't have memorial markers for identification purposes.
There is no excuse for deliberate desecration of a cemetery. Post 6488 and the committee have taken on the challenge to make sure Mount Hope can be restored to a place of dignity.
To help them in their efforts, send your tax-deductible contribution to Mount Hope Cemetery Beautification Committee, care of National City Bank, 795 N. Garland Ave., Youngstown 44505.