|All set for Memorial Day: St. Mary's|
Orthodox Cemetery of Dickson City.
This spring I managed to schedule eight whole days around Memorial Day to devote to fieldwork. The first part was in western PA, the second part in northeastern PA. It went so well, mostly according to plan but with some wonderful surprises, that I want to share a travelogue. And perhaps this will help readers appreciate some of how I've been spending my time all these years without a finished product to show for it. (Yet.)
First Leg: Western PA
I spent a lot of time in cemeteries on this trip, mainly to either photograph them thoroughly for the first time, to improve my existing archive of photos, or to investigate the Rusyn immigrants, if any, buried in various non-Rusyn cemeteries. While my book will include lots of cemetery and gravestone photos, in recent years I've felt it worthwhile, if not actually essential, to photograph most of the graves of Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants buried in PA and elsewhere, as time, the elements, and vandalism are constantly reducing the readable stock of these tombstones. Beyond the limited number I'll be using in my book, if nothing else I will also have a protected digital record of these valuable memorials to our people's presence and lives.
My trip started early Wednesday morning on May 26. My first stop in PA was the town of Meyersdale, Somerset County, not far from the MD/PA border. It was a mining town, and I knew (from church records from Windber, mostly) that a fair number of Rusyns settled there, even though they never had a church. So I visited the Roman Catholic cemetery and sure enough, found several probable Rusyn graves, and even one written in the Cyrillic alphabet. It remains for me to see if I can match up these stones with the evidence of local Rusyns as recorded in Windber.
|Grave of Anna Švec, nee Dzioka, 1887-1911.|
Ss. Philip & James R.C. Cemetery, Meyersdale.
From there I drove about 20 minutes to Ralphton, near Jennerstown, to the mostly-Polish and Slovak St. Joseph R.C. Cemetery. Not too much of interest there, but from my transcription made years ago, I thought there were a few possibilities. So much for that. Then I drove further north to South Fork, where about two years ago the historic Rusyn Greek Catholic Church of St. Michael was torn down. However, in reviewing my cemetery notes, I recalled that a number of probable Rusyns were buried in a Polish/Slovak R.C. cemetery, St. Anthony, in the "Fifficktown" section of town where St. Michael's also was, so I photographed them. For whatever reason, several of them seemed to be from Ol’šavica, Spiš County, buried here and not in St. Michael's Cemetery. Perhaps they were married to Roman Catholic women -- I'll have to see if I can determine that. [More about Carpatho-Rusyns in South Fork]
My next destination was Clearfield County. Unfortunately my attempts to connect with the Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic priests in Smithmill/Janesville (who also serves Bakerton/Elmora) and Ramey didn't pan out. But I was able to make a thorough compilation of graves at St. John's (Nativity of St. John the Baptist) Russian Orthodox Cemetery in Chester Hill/Philipsburg (including some of my likely distant relatives).
A short distance away I had a nice visit with Fr. Will Rupp, pastor of St. John's Byzantine Catholic Church in Hawk Run. I was in search of any kind of photo archive from there or his other parish, St. Mary's in Clarence. Not much luck, but he assured me he would try to locate some sort of historical photos -- which is good, because I have almost nothing from either parish, from any source. [More about Carpatho-Rusyns in Philipsburg & Hawk Run]
I went further up PA Route 53, stopping at mainly-Slovak R.C. cemeteries in Grassflat and Winburne, both of which had a bunch of obvious Rusyn graves:
|Grave of Marija Basala, Ss. Peter & Paul R.C.Cemetery, Grassflat.|
|Graves of Jan and Marija Galdun, Ss. Peter & Paul R.C.Cemetery, Grassflat.|
(The three-bar crosses on them are now just barely visible.)
|Some Rusyn graves in Ss. Cyril & Methodius R.C. Cemetery, Winburne.|
|Graves of Jurko Petrovan and daughter Annie, Ss. Cyril & Methodius R.C. Cemetery, Winburne.|
|St. Mary's (Dormition) Byzantine Catholic Church, Clarence.|
The most interesting grave, though, was probably this Ukrainian one:
I spent the night in a motel in Milesburg, just off I-80, to be in a good position for the next morning's itinerary.
Day 2: The Northern Tier
The next morning I drove a few miles to the town of my birth, Bellefonte, to photograph the several Rusyn graves in the town's St. John the Evangelist R.C. cemetery. Among the graves were several Lemko families (who seem to have identified mainly as Ukrainians) and a Rusyn pioneer family to Centre County, the Saylors (originally Cehljar), of whom the patriarch Petro was born in Čirč, Šaryš County, and arrived in the area already in the mid-1880s. The local Rusyn colony was never large enough to support a Greek Catholic church, and the church in Clarence was a difficult, long trip away. So Bellefonte's Rusyn families generally became Roman Catholics, including the Saylors, one of whom, Philip, became a very prominent Monsignor and chancellor of the R.C. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
I believe this Bellefonte family was also from Čirč or from nearby Rus'ka Volja nad Popradom:
Heading almost directly north, in less than an hour I arrived at the picturesquely sited Renovo, along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, to revisit its St. Joseph R.C. cemetery; finding there several Rusyn immigrant families, including several from Osturnja, Spiš ounty, it occurred to me that there must be a much older R.C. cemetery for that parish. I later tracked it down, but by "later" I mean a week later. Guess I should go back once more... Anyway, heading west out of Renovo I also revisited the now barely-populated Bitumen, a once thriving coal town populated almost exclusively by Rusyn and Slovak immigrants. Rusyns never had their own church in Bitumen (they were visited periodically by Greek Catholic priests from Hawk Run and Sykesville). The R.C. chapel, which may have been used for Greek Catholic services (still hoping to find out if that was the case), adjoins a fascinating cemetery with many graves of Rusyn immigrants and their children, as well as what seemed to be a slight majority of Slovaks.
|Immaculate Conception R.C. Shrine Church & Cemetery, Bitumen.|
|Grave of Marta Ondik, 1877-1918.|
|Grave of Jan Silon, 1870-1913.|
|1909 memorial cross (inscribed in Slovak) given by parishioners of the Immaculate Conception R.C. Church|
Thence I drove to Kane, to another R.C. cemetery with a few Rusyn immigrants (who were affiliated with the G.C. church in Sheffield), where I linked up with US-6, and then to Sheffield itself. My hope to re-photograph the interior of the church, St. Michael's, didn't come to pass because the pastor was out of town.
|St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church in Sheffield, founded 1905.|
However, I photographed most of the parish cemetery, which had a fair number of old graves (1905-1915ish). The church's burial records mention some parishioners being buried in the "Ukrainian National Cemetery," and though there were a good number of Ukrainian members of St. Michael's, nothing at the parish cemetery seemed to remotely be a Ukrainian National anything.
|St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, Sheffield.|
I continued on US-6 to Warren to its R.C. cemetery, with a fairly small number of Rusyn immigrant graves, but at least one was notable, with the deceased's village of birth.
|Grave of Jan Kušnir, born in Male Zalužice, Už County, died 1903.|
Moving further west along Route 6 took me to a little cemetery between Youngsville and Pittsfield, St. Mary's Russian Orthodox (or "Greek Orthodox"). As far as I know there wasn't ever a church of that name here, only the cemetery. But the cemetery has its own bell/bell tower. And somewhere I have a reference to a Fr. Stephen Kanyan living in Pittsfield several decades ago. In the Warren Times in 1958 there were church listings that included this:
AMERICAN EASTERN ORTHODOX CATHOLIC MISSION-- Could the mission have held its services at the cemetery?
Rt. 6, two miles west of Youngsville, Stephen Kanyan, Pastor, Sundays, 10:00 a.m. and holidays, 9:00 a.m.—Divine Liturgy in English and Slavonic
There's much that remains to be learned about this cemetery and the people who founded it. There were some people buried here from St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Church in Sheffield. Most of those buried there have Russian or Ukrainian surnames. But one grave I believe is of a Lemko family, that of Anthony and Ksenia ("Kuznich" = Kuzmich?) Reyda. I trust I'll find records of them eventually (or I already have them and just need to look!).
Unfortunately there's not too much information on any of the memorials for this cemetery at FindaGrave, though I have collected some obituaries of people buried there.
Next stop was another roadside cemetery right on US- 6 between Columbus and Corry. It's the parish cemetery of St. Mary's Orthodox Greek Catholic Church of Corry, whose history I really know nothing of. Once it had a church building (see the photo on this post) but now it meets at some other place in Corry, still served after several decades by the otherwise-retired Fr. Ronald Hazuda, pastor emeritus of St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Erie.
|St. Mary's Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery, Columbus/Corry.|
I wrapped up the day visiting R.C. cemeteries with some Rusyn immigrant graves in Union City and McKean before calling it a day and retiring to my motel just outside of Erie.
Day 3: Erie, Girard, and the Farming Colonies
Day 3, Friday, was another big day and one of the overall best of the trip, even though it was tempered with a bit of frustration.
It began quite well with an appointment to photograph the renovated interior of Ss. Cyril & Methodius Byzantine Catholic Church in Girard. Parishioner and church custodian David Pangratz was excited to open the church and tell me about the renovation project.
It's pretty amazing to ponder that on my first visit here about 15 years ago, the church looked inside like a post-Vatican II Roman Catholic church, with no icon screen, a rectangular altar, and little iconography or other traditional Byzantine features. Today it is a model Byzantine church. The parish also owns as much surrounding land as probably any other American Rusyn church I've ever seen.
I then took a lot of photos at St. John R.C. Cemetery in Girard, where well over 25 Rusyn immigrant families have been buried. Then I headed into Erie to photograph St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery and the renovated Ss. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church.
|St. Nicholas Orthodox Greek Catholic Cemetery of Erie.|
|Ss. Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church of Erie.|
The church was built in 1960, but the onion domes were added during a 2009 renovation project.
|The renovated interior, of 2009, when an icon screen, iconography, and new furnishings were added.|
Fr. John Mihalco of Ss. Peter & Paul Church provided me with the parish's very well-done 2013 centennial book.
In the "old neighborhood," near where St. Nicholas Church is still located, I was hoping to see the building that once was the "Greek Catholic Slovak Club" at 810 East Avenue, but was sorry to find that the site is now a gas station.
I remained in Erie a few more hours to photograph graves in Trinity and Calvary R.C. cemeteries. I am sure I didn't find them all. But of the oldest graves, found in Trinity Cemetery, was this find that made that visit worthwhile:
|The story of Rusyn immigrant Petro Storkel and his family is online here.|
Moving down south, in the vicinity of Albion were the Hope Cemetery in Cranesville, with many Rusyn immigrant graves, and Albion Cemetery, with just a few. Afterward I went a short distance to Pageville and Crossingville, two communities that were essentially a single group of Rusyn farmers with intertwined religious history.
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Pageville was the center of a historic farming colony of Lemkos who settled there around 1915. Evidently some of them had lived in Pittsburgh and Carnegie before moving north to go back to their "old-country" way of life. The church still exists, though with a very small congregation. Despite several attempts to contact the parish priest over the week leading up to this trip, I wasn't able to meet with him. But I did take some good photos of the unique site, the church, hall, and cemetery. A stream separates the churchyard from the cemetery, which you access via a footbridge, very much like in our villages in Carpathian Rus'.
|Access to the cemetery across the stream is only by footbridge.|
I must try again to meet with the pastor in order to photograph the interior of the church, inquire about any historical photos, and I truly hope, to view the original metrical records of the parish.
Just a mile down the road, in Crossingville, sits the slightly better-known Ss. Peter & Paul Russian Orthodox Church, distinguished from the Pageville church as a "Carpathian Russian" or "Uhorsky" church because most of its early members were Subcarpathian Rusyns from Zemplyn and Bereg Counties. Here I experienced one of the most surprising and fantastic visits of the trip. More than 15 years ago when I first visited the church, the pastor did not have the original metrical records, only a book with the records translated into English that omitted any mention of villages of origin. Off and on since then I've been asking around among members of that church if a parishioner might have those records. Well, the recently-assigned pastor, Fr. Daniel Mathewson, met me outside the church and was absolutely eager to help me by pulling out records, meeting minutes, and other books that he welcomed me to photocopy or photograph (and you bet I did). In fact, he got out the original metrical records right away and sure enough, they were filled with notations of the native villages and counties of the immigrants mentioned therein. Finally!!!
|The first entries in the baptismal register, from 1926-1927.|
Another super find was the original meeting minutes of the parish, written in Rusyn. As expected, they are at once mundane and fascinating.
|Vasyl' Kel'man (Charles Kelyman) was the cantor at Ss. Peter & Paul Church for several decades.|
I do hope to find sources of old photographs from the parish, but at worst there are a lot of interesting ones in the parish's 50th anniversary booklet, which I can scan and reprint. I went to the parish cemetery to complete my visit. It was nice to see again, and photograph this time, the several graves that had the people's native villages inscribed on them.
|Hriso family graves in Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery;|
Andrij and Anna were both born in Habura, Zemplyn County.
|Koman family graves in Ss. Peter & Paul Cemetery;|
Mychal and Anna were both born in Krasnŷj Brid, Zemplyn County.
Another hour or so on the road brought me to the Sharon area. A delicious meal at a popular Italian restaurant in Sharpsville with my friend Fr. David Mastroberte of St. John's Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church of Sharon (now Hermitage) was an excellent end to an excellent day. Fr. David and his family graciously provided this Rusnak vagabond-for-a-week with lodging for the night.
Day 4: Hermitage/Sharon, Sagamore, and Punxsy
My ambitious program began with a Mastroberte family breakfast of Rusyn Paschal foods (raisin paska, kolbasa, etc.) followed shortly after by my first visit to St. Mary's R.C. Cemetery of Sharon, one of the first burial places of Rusyn pioneers before the establishment of St. Michael's Greek Catholic Church in South Sharon/Farrell and Cemetery.
|The large cross at the center of the cemetery was|
donated by the large number of parishioners from Zavadka, Spiš County.
Hitting Interstate 376 for a while, then US-422 East, brought me eventually to three Armstrong County towns in the same general vicinity: Yatesboro, Rural Valley, and Sagamore. The first two had cemeteries with several Rusyn immigrant graves; Yatesboro even had a Greek Catholic parish of its own many decades ago, but as far as I know it didn't have its own church. (Anybody familiar with this parish? Please get in touch and share your knowledge!) Sagamore has two adjacent cemeteries: Sacred Heart R.C., with quite a few old Rusyn immigrant graves, including a few indicating the village Virliv (or Orlov) as the immigrant's place of birth, and the Rusyn, Greek Catholic St. Mary's, whose church was unfortunately closed about 10 years ago.
|Grave of Mychal Krompaskŷj, 1891-1916, born in Virliv, Šaryš County,|
in Sacred Heart R.C. Cemetery in Sagamore.
|St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, Sagamore.|
A second cemetery was established in DeLancey/Adrian just a few years later to serve the large numbers of Rusyns living north of Punxsutawney, on the hillside shown below.
After completing my archival documentation of both, I went to the Ss. Cosmas & Damian (now known as Calvary) R.C. Cemetery closer into town. Many other Rusyn immigrants are also buried there, and among them are three priests, father, son, and grandson, the latter two of whom both served as pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul.
|Graves of Fathers Cornelius, Paul, and Theodore (not in photo) Mankovich in Punxsy's R.C. Cemetery.|
Both Fathers Paul and Theodore served as pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul G.C. Church.
After a long, hot and sunny, and super-productive day, I made a comparably long drive to Hershey, where I spent the night in my bedroom at my Mom's home.
Voyage Through Coal Country (the Hard Kind)
After Liturgy at my home parish in Harrisburg and lunch with Mom, on Sunday afternoon I headed up Interstate 81 to the Minersville exit and turned left, going past Lavelle, and arrived at Merrian Mountain, the site of the cemetery of St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church of Mount Carmel. St. Michael's was founded in 1907 by Lemkos who were alienated by the Ukrainian priests who had been serving their Greek Catholic parish, and the naming of Galician Ukrainian Bishop Soter Ortynsky to be the 1st Greek Catholic bishop in the U.S. hastened their departure for the Orthodox Church.
|Cemetery cross of St. Michael's, with grave of former pastor,|
Father Andrew Dedick, and his wife Matushka Anna.
Then I went to Hazleton to do a more thorough job of photographing graves at St. Michael's Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cemetery. St. Michael's parish had a large number of Lemko members, including some who founded a branch of the Lemko Association/Lemko-Soyuz in West Hazleton.
|Mychal and Pelagija (Valko) Šostak, charter members of the Lemko Association in West Hazleton.|
|Nykolaj and Eva (Šostak) Škymba, charter members of the Lemko Association in West Hazleton.|
My next stop was the town of Glen Lyon, to thoroughly photograph St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, which was also used by the former St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church in the Hanover Section of Nanticoke (St. Michael's Church in Glen Lyon was also closed in recent years.). One church of Rusyn origin remains in Glen Lyon, St. Nicholas; I posted an article and my own comments about it here.
|St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Cemetery of Glen Lyon.|
I finished out the day photographing some Rusyn (and some Ukrainian and/or Russian) immigrant graves in Hanover Township's Maple Hill and Oak Lawn Cemeteries. Those buried in Maple Hill were mostly members of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in south Wilkes-Barre (some of whom lived in Ashley or Georgetown/W-B Township), while those in Oak Lawn seem to have been members of St. John's Russian Orthodox Church in the Hanover Section of Nanticoke. Most of the folks buried in Oak Lawn were from the exact area my own Rusyn grandparents came from, that is, villages between Svidnyk and the Dukla Pass, in northeastern Slovakia.
A rainstorm and dark clouds brought an early end to my work for that day, so I made my way to Jessup to visit and stay with my longtime friend and supporter in this work, Msgr. John Sekellick. Through his many-times-over graciousness and hospitality, I'd have Jessup as my base of operations for the next few days.
St. Tikhon's Monastery & Seminary
On Monday, Memorial Day, as I have done that day for almost every year for 25 years now, I drove about 15 miles to St. Tikhon's Monastery, for their 112th annual pilgrimage.
While at the pilgrimage, I thought I would do a mini photo-travelogue for the Facebook group I founded, Lemko Rusyns and Friends (Лемкы-Русины з приятелями). So I iPhone-photographed highlights of the grounds -- including the monastery church and the tomb of St. Alexis Toth, his tomb before he was glorified as a saint, the cemetery, shrines, and little bits of Rusynness here and there. Many Carpatho-Rusyn laypeople and clergy buried at the monastery cemetery, and there are some graves and other monuments on the grounds that testify to the "Galician Russophile" orientation that most of the American Lemkos who converted to Orthodoxy had (and many of their children & grandchildren still have). I photographed a sample of mainly Lemko graves; most of the Lemko immigrant laypeople buried here either lived near the monastery (on farms) or in the Mayfield, Jermyn, Simpson, Olyphant, or Wilkes-Barre areas. See the travelogue here.
|St. Tikhon's Russian Orthodox Monastery Cemetery|
|The story of Orthodox immigrants to the U.S.:|
"The Italian Americans"?
I won't belabor the point by discussing the content and presentation of the "Pascha in the Carpathians / Carpatho-Russian Home at Pascha" and "Christmas Eve 'Holy Supper'" displays, but it's evident that unlike with most of the rest of this museum, these displays are not taken up in a serious way by the museum directors/curators.
|This exhibit is entitled "Carpatho-Russian Home at Pascha."|
|I'm not a specialist in Carpatho-Rusyn folk dress, but this doesn't resemble|
anything Rusyn I've ever seen in any village, book, or museum covering the topic.
|Archpriest John Nehrebecki (left) and yours truly.|
|Grave of Pavel Varchola, 1865-1915, born in Kolbaš (now Brezina), Zemplyn County,|
in St. Agnes R.C. Cemetery. (He was not any relation to Andy Warhol.)
|Graves of Rusyn immigrants and co-villagers Jan Mika (left), 1868-1904, and Jan Mykuljak/Mikuliak, 1871-1904.|
Hearing thunder in the distance, I nevertheless headed south to Simpson (aka "Fell Township") to improve my archive of photographs of the Saints Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Church's parish cemetery and its gravestones. This parish was founded in 1905 by Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants (mainly Lemkos from Nowy Sącz and Gorlice Counties, and a substantial number of Rusyns from Habura, Zemplyn County). It's a parish of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, but has never gone by the name Ukrainian Catholic.
|Ss. Peter & Paul Greek Catholic Cemetery|
|Ss. Peter & Paul Church, Simpson, view from Prospect Street.|
There is also the St. Basil Russian Orthodox Church in town (two of them, actually) founded the same year, also very Lemko in membership, from the same villages plus others in Grybiv, Jaslo, Krosno, and Lisko Counties. But I already have an extensive collection of photos I took in their cemetery. A quickly-approaching thunderstorm and heavy rain hastened my departure, and it continued for quite some time, so I called it a day.
I returned to St. Tikhon's the next two days to make use of the collections at St. Tikhon's Seminary Library. I had been there several times before, mainly scanning/copying from church anniversary books and photographing pages from the Svit newspaper of the Russian Orthodox Catholic Mutual Aid Society (ROCMAS). This time, however, I was scanning photographs and ads from almanacs (kalendary) of ROCMAS, RBO, and UROBA that I had not come across in other archives. And the bulk of my time was spent photographing pages from Svit and the RBO's newspaper Pravda.
|A title page from Svit in 1899 (founded 1897).|
|Title page of the debut issue of Pravda in 1902.|
In Svit and Pravda I found some incredible information and also some rare photographs. Some of the cool things I found:
|A 1902 ad in Pravda for a local brewery in Shenandoah, whose directors were Carpatho-Rusyns.|
|The Rusyn band (Russka banda) in Mayfield, Pa., 1902.|
|A recurring column, "A Lemko Voice," in Lemko Rusyn, from Svit, 1930s.|
|Notice from Svit in 1932 of the upcoming dedication of the newly-constructed|
St. Michael Greek Catholic Russian Orthodox Church in Saint Clair, Pa.
In the bit of morning time I had to spare those last two days, I did some photography in a few other area Rusyn cemeteries.
|The neatly laid out and well-maintained St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Dunmore.|
|Cross monument of St. Michael's Cemetery.|
|The cemetery of St. Mary's Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in Dickson City, located in Chinchilla.|
|St. John's Russian Orthodox Cemetery in Mayfield. This is probably by far the Rusyn cemetery with the highest number of graves with the deceased's birthplace inscribed upon them.|
It was a long week-plus, but extremely valuable and, actually, a lot of fun. (Clearly I'm one of those rare people who enjoys visiting cemeteries!) I don't anticipate taking too many more of these research trips before I need to begin the arduous task of actually writing the manuscript. In any case, I want to go wherever else is necessary within the next year or so, if I am to have any hope of meeting my self-imposed deadline for completing and publishing the book.
Original material is © by the author, Richard D. Custer; all rights reserved.