Archive

McCandless cemetery could be swallowed by time | TribLIVE.com
News

McCandless cemetery could be swallowed by time

A little-known McCandless cemetery where soldiers from four wars are buried might lose its principal volunteer caretaker.

“I’ve had two open heart (surgeries). … It’s just getting harder and harder,” said Donald Wagner, 79, a Korean War veteran and commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9199, who almost single-handedly has maintained the small cemetery for five years.

With his 80th birthday nearing, Wagner said he won’t be able to do that much longer.

He worries about who will care for the graves when he no longer can load his lawnmower and tractor into the truck and drive the six miles from his home in Glenshaw. His wife, Constance, 73, mans the lawnmower while he takes the tractor around the six-acre plot.

“It just bothers us,” said Donald Wagner. “They deserve better.”

Scattered behind a small stone wall along Duncan Avenue are the graves of veterans from the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. Many of the markers were moved from their original locations. There is little hope of putting them back where they belong.

The cemetery, prone to flooding, holds an untold number of paupers’ graves.

“It’s sad. … When we first started, people called and asked, ‘Is my aunt buried there• Is my grandfather buried there?’ ” said Kathleen Munhall, chairperson of a now defunct group that formed in 2007 to try to preserve the cemetery, known alternately as Duncan Heights Cemetery, Duncan Manor Cemetery, Duncan Heights Colored Cemetery and Lakeview Cemetery.

At least 410 people, and possibly as many as 2,000, are buried there, according to Norman Meinert, 71, of O’Hara, who researched the history of the cemetery using Allegheny County records.

Many tombstones bearing the names of veterans sank over the years, said Ron Gancas, CEO of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

“There are African-American veterans buried there who were residents of Mayview,” said Gancas, who was a member of the Duncan Heights Cemetery Association.

State, county and local officials three years ago lined up to support its preservation.

“Everybody was on board; everybody wanted to help,” Munhall said.

But the property is privately owned and the group couldn’t get clear title to it.

“There’s nobody left with a connection to the original owners,” said Munhall.

Records from the cemetery are long lost, said Meinert. It is believed the property was owned by a small, black church around 1931 but then abandoned, Meinert said on his website, Allegheny River Family Archive. Two businessmen who bought the property in 1947 didn’t establish a perpetual care fund.

“We tried everything, but we ran into the ownership of that land,” Gancas said.

That stymied even municipal officials.

“As a general rule, we can’t go on private property,” said McCandless solicitor William Ries.

Told it needed $160,000 for perpetual care, the association started raising money but collected only a small fraction of its goal — $2,000 — and eventually returned the money to donors.

Other efforts to preserve the cemetery failed.

In 1961, the American Legion 32nd District wrote to county commissioners and the Office of Veterans Affairs “that a deplorable and disrespectful condition existed, with regard to the care granted the graves of war veterans.” But without proof of ownership, nothing could be done legally.

Wagner hoped help would come from an old Pennsylvania law that allows residents to ask a judge to force a municipality to take control of abandoned or neglected cemeteries and clear brush, grass, briars and weeds between May and August. But the 1923 statute limits expenditures by local officials to no more than $30 on a cemetery in a year’s time.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.