Charles Evans may have died 176 years earlier, but the founder of his namesake cemetery in Reading took a lively stroll among the gravestones, accompanied by delegates from Reading’s English and German mother and sister cities, respectively, during a celebratory tour.
Outfitted with a cane, top hat and early 1800s-style suit, Berks County historian Rick Polityka adopted the persona of Evans as he gave a recap of the cemetery’s past and the storied lives of those buried under the tombstones.
Joining Polityka on the tour Thursday through the cemetery’s serene slopes and striking architecture were Councilor Tony Page and Alderman Tony Jones from Reading, England, along with Lord Mayor Thomas Keck and Ulrich Track, head of cultural development, from Reutlingen, Germany.
The delegates, visiting Reading as part of the city’s 275th anniversary celebration, were also accompanied by city officials and members of the cemetery board of trustees.
The tour began within the cemetery’s administration building, which, with its steeply pitched roofing and sandstone brick façade, looked more like a castle than an office.
A wealthy lawyer and philanthropist, Evans donated three-quarters of his estate to the construction of the cemetery upon his death in 1847.
Evans’ goal was to provide a dignified place of internment where natural beauty would be preserved and enhanced, according to the cemetery’s website.
His gravestone stood beside the gravesite of wife Mary Keene Evans, who died in 1838.
“I’ll be back here in an hour,” Polityka said, embracing his role as a briefly resurrected Charles Evans as the tour passed the Evans’ grave.
Unmissable amid the cemetery’s 120 acres was a nearly 20-foot pyramid marking the grave of Frederick Lauer, a German immigrant, who settled in Reading in the 1820s and became the first president of the United States Brewers Association.
Lauer’s resting place was one of many visited by the touring party.
Track noted that it was unusual for German graves to be inscribed with anything beyond the names of the deceased.
Keck marveled at the size of the 2,200 trees lining the cemetery paths, and was surprised by how well-kept the centuries-old graves appeared.
“It’s a mirror of history,” Keck said. “It shows the high culture of the Reading people.”
Fragments of history’s bleaker chapters could also be seen scattered throughout the cemetery — in one portion, the towering Grand Army of the Republic monument — built in remembrance of Union soldiers — jutted into the sky, while in another isolated corner sat the small, mostly unmarked stones for Blacks buried there.
Also notable was a monument to Calvin Sellers, former superintendent of the Philadelphia, Reading and Pottsville Telegraph Company, who died of tuberculosis at a young age.
The monument reads “by the telegraph employees…as a mark of respect for their lamented superintendent.”
“He was revered by his employees,” Polityka said. “It’s not every day you see employees coming together to buy their boss a tombstone.”
In addition, the tour passed by the gravesite of Jerry Edwards, an English immigrant who led the Reading YMCA from 1889 to 1933.
Page said the cemetery was one of the largest he’d ever visited, second only to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
“By English standards this is colossal,” Page said. “It’s a great facility.”
Cemetery trustee Fred deP Rothermel Jr. noted that he has relatives buried in the cemetery, including 1800s-era artist Frederick Spang.
Trustee Eva Eisenbrown, whose relatives also are buried there, said the cemetery is full of fascinating history.
Polityka said places like the cemetery’s iconic Gothic Revival entrance just aren’t built anymore.
“You couldn’t build it if you wanted to,” Polityka said. “When you lose these kinds of treasures, you lose a little bit of your city’s character.”
Source: Berkshire mont
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