Welcome to a new dimension of Mount Olivet, you could say it's our virtual, or cyber, cemetery. Mount Olivet was a latecomer to the internet as we didn't create our first business website until 2007 and a FaceBook page went up in 2012. I hate to sound crass but our early online offerings were about as lively as the genre we were showcasing. We decided to change that four years ago back in 2016.
We creatively revamped our website and FaceBook offerings. One of the principal components that would enhance and transform both entities came with the introduction of an internet-based blog which we entitled “Stories in Stone.” This was no ordinary blog, as it was our first step into "internet-driven preservation." Weekly features began being written on those buried within this historic, hallowed ground. The pieces were designed to inform, educate and entertain readers. Most of all they were an attempt to bring back the memories of those who have gone before.
In recent weeks, we have been working on a new website that will improve our business ability to work with customers. The site is currently live (mountolivetcemeteryinc.com) and has a different look and feel from the one you find yourself on right now. We will continue adding more interactive tools to assist those looking to pre-plan for their cemetery future, and of course serve those unfortunate families who are "at-need" in the present context, having experienced the recent loss of a loved one.
In the process, we decided to treat our existing website as "an adaptive reuse," fitting as this is the case with so many buildings in Downtown Frederick. To borrow from Visit Frederick (my former employer) and their popular tagline "Hip & Historic," this site will continue to serve as the principal archival home of virtual history for Mount Olivet. In keeping with that theme, we decided to create a new Uniform Resource Locator, or URL: mountolivethistory.com.
Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery means different things to different people. We have created a brand, hopefully synonymous with beautiful grounds, helpful staff, an eclectic collection of monuments both old and new, rich history, peerless services and products, and most of all peace and tranquility. We can only do so much as the staff of this iconic resting ground, however the true character of Mount Olivet can be measured by the achievements garnered, and legacies left, by those buried herein. In our case, we have over 40,000 former lives, featuring many of those responsible for giving us the town and county we appreciate today. We have monuments to them here, everywhere you look.
For neophytes to our particular cyber-offerings, the "Stories in Stone" blog features illustrated essays about former Frederick residents buried within Mount Olivet’s gates. Yes, some of these individuals stand out for their unique achievements on local, state and national levels such as Francis Scott Key, Barbara Fritchie and Thomas Johnson, Jr. Others can be remembered for their misfortunes. All in all, most of those “resting in peace” here just lived simple, ordinary lives, and our written online pieces all end the same, with the main subject dying.
I've generally been able to find a "silver lining" of some sort to highlight and mesh individuals and their lives with the context of Frederick, Maryland's rich heritage. Best of all, I have the opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) these folks to our readers. I'm sure in most cases, the subjects would be thankful of the "gift of remembrance." Of course, there are some instances in which an unfortunate end has not been readily handed down through generations due to shame or obvious reasons.
Thanks to the internet, we have the ability to reach readers throughout the world. This novelty has allowed audience members to "reach" back as well, sharing with us stories, pictures and information about those folks who happen to be loved ones, ancestors or just plain people of interest buried here in Frederick's most historic burying ground. To continue that thought, some may find our "stories" immediately after initial publishing, while others stumble upon them weeks, months, and even years later while conducting Google and Yahoo searches during family history research. This will continue to happen into the future, something that makes the research and publishing task involved well worth the effort. A big "thank you" goes out to the internet, as this is true historic preservation using electronic media.
Markers of a Lifetime
With 40,000 interments in our midst, roughly the same population as our state capital of Annapolis, I regularly pass countless grave sites without a thought, as their names are nothing more than “names in stone.” However, as I have found through my research and writings, the monuments and plaques are much more than that. Grave markers, monuments, and tombstones are tributes to, and representations of, past lives. Each provides a tangible connection to the decedent.
From a religious perspective, I’ve been taught that the spirit of our loved ones will always be with us, and are “watching from above.” Whatever you personally believe, these works in granite and marble are tangible, standing as tributes to lives once lived, be them spectacular, tragic or ordinary.
Gravestones can bring a sense of reality and closure for some people. For others, they serve to keep the memory of that person eternal. These "stones" stand proof that a life was once lived, and associate it with a tangible geographical location within a large cemetery or memorial park, church graveyard or family burial ground on an ancestral farm or plantation. This is a lasting footprint.
Each and every day, I see individuals coming to Mount Olivet to plan and purchase monuments for themselves and loved ones who have passed. Some designs are playful, others are serious. Most can best be described as traditional. I also see people decorating and cleaning grave stones, especially this time of year. For a modest fee, the cemetery provides a service to professionally clean monuments with non-invasive techniques.
Thanks to our preservation program, we are now in a position to embark on cleaning and making high quality repairs and restoration efforts to vintage stones on our grounds.
For over a decade, the Mount Olivet Board of Directors had entertained the idea of establishing a preservation-themed fund with the Community Foundation. The idea was first pitched, and championed by the late Colleen Remsberg, longtime Board member and immediate past president. Ms. Remsberg passed away in May, 2018, but not before she saw the Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund become an IRS accredited 501(c)(3) public charity in 2017. The mission reads as follows:
The mission of the Mount Olivet Cemetery Preservation and Enhancement Fund is to assist in the conservation of the natural beauty and historic integrity of Mount Olivet Cemetery and to increase public knowledge and appreciation of its unique, cultural, historic, and natural resources through charitable and educational programs.
Putting this in layman’s terms, we continue taking steps to preserve the history of this great “garden cemetery,” a community institution since the 1850s. In doing so, we want to safeguard the cemetery’s historic records, structures and grave monuments herein. We have taken a bit of a head start as can be exemplified by the fore-mentioned “Stories in Stone” articles and MountOlivetvets.com website, along with public lectures and our occasional commemorative events.
A month-and-a-half ago, in October, we hosted a gentleman named Jonathan Appel, one of the country's top experts in cemetery monument restoration. Jonathan owns Atlas Preservation, located in Southington, Connecticut and presented a workshop to participants providing history and context to the examples of monuments found here in Mount Olivet. This was his third annual visit to Mount Olivet. Each trip, he has explained to audiences what has happened to many of our monuments over the years in terms of wear and tear. Mr. Appel also gave instruction and tips on how to repair and clean our historic cemetery gravestones.
Jonathan Appell has over 25 years of experience preserving, restoring, and repairing gravestones and monuments. A recent work project of note is “the Knight’s Tomb” in Jamestown, quite possibly the oldest existing gravestone in America, dating back to the 1630s. Jonathan continues to spread his knowledge by participation in seminars and workshops around the country and assists historic cemeteries and burying grounds with recommendations on conservation equipment, tools and repair products.
Participants got to see multiple monuments repaired and actually took part in cleaning gravestones themselves. In addition to having our staff fix the stones within our capability, we intend on raising funds to continue bringing talented gentlemen like Mr. Appell to assist us in repairing many more.
The special event took place on October 7th (2020) as part of our new Friends of Mount Olivet Cemetery initiative. This membership group is an extension of the Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund and will continue to host activities like these designed to generate enthusiasm, volunteers and fundraising through engaging and entertaining educational programs, research projects, gravestone preservation, special event planning and anniversary commemorations.
The Power of the Internet
For as much sadness that I witness firsthand in my job, I see an equal amount of joyful remembrance for those who have passed. I also see family historians (from both the professional and amateur ranks) reveling in discoveries made through ancestral pilgrimages.
I know genealogy is not for the faint of heart, but the internet innovations of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.com, Fold3, Newspapers.com and Findagrave.com have been godsends, allowing ease in time and effort in finding pertinent resources. The latter of the sites mentioned certainly drives my point home, as you can make a "virtual" visit to a gravestone in a cemetery anywhere in the world as long as its been documented by a Findagrave volunteer. Here one can gaze upon the final resting place and stone of a long-lost ancestor. In some cases, you may also find obituaries, photos and links to other family members. We continue the story from there with our subjects who have been featured with "Stories in Stone."
In 2018, we launched a companion "sister-website" entitled www.MountOlivetVets.com. This website has a similar mission to FindaGrave.com and one day will contain memorial pages for the over 4,000 military veterans buried at Mount Olivet. Here you will find pictures of grave monuments and military-issued stones/markers and obituaries along with vital, personal and military record information. In some cases, we feature photographs of the deceased which allows users to put a face with a name, and so much more—a life.
We finished a first phase of creating pages for over 600 World War I vets. We now are slowly adding Revolutionary War and War of 1812 soldiers. Meanwhile, we have volunteers slowly compiling info on Civil War and World War II soldiers buried in Mount Olivet.
The site as a whole can best be described as "a work in progress," and will continued to be embellished. The hope is to find volunteer researchers in our "Friends group" in an effort to make pages for all the vets here in Mount Olivet. In addition, we humbly ask for the assistance of descendants, historians and friends to provide us with photographs and/or additional information of note. We also want to link to other sources of information regarding our vets, and the training and battles they participated in. The internet will continue to dictate the success and strength of this information resource for not only users, but us here at the cemetery. We are most excited about the opportunity to acquire additional info, scans of pictures and documents of these men and women from relatives all over the world which can add greatly to our preservation efforts pertaining to those buried here.
Some people go into cemeteries and simply see names and dates chiseled in stone. Many of us see much, much more. I continue to learn more about the lives of Mount Olivet’s residents through studying grave stones, researching our blog, collecting images and documenting stories told to me by visiting descendants (regarding their relatives). Our goal is to continue sharing these gifts with you, the reader, not to mention future generations of the dearly departed wherever they may live.
In years to come, we hope to have have much more online information about those buried here.
I want to mention the online opportunity that exists now for charitable donating to our Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund (MOCPEF) on Giving Tuesday, or anytime throughout the year. A formal partnership was formed last November with the Community Foundation of Frederick County, our fiduciary overseer for the fund.
Many people are well aware of Giving Tuesday, also stylized as #Giving Tuesday for internet social networking purposes. This event, occurring on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, celebrates its 6th anniversary this week, as it began back in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City along with the United Nations Foundation. It's a “tongue in cheek” response to the post Thanksgiving commercialization of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has steadily been growing in popularity, now firmly established as an international day of giving at the beginning of the holiday season. Over $60 million was raised last year on this day.
As mentioned earlier, our Friends group members and volunteers hold the key to unlocking and preserving so much more of our cemetery's rich history. in the near future, efforts will expand to educational partnerships such as school field trips, interpretive historic wayside displays and unique commemorative plantings. Best of all, we will have the opportunity, and more so the financial support, to clean, preserve and repair broken and illegible gravestones and monuments in the cemetery’s historic section.
We appreciate any assistance you can give, be it monetarily, or simply volunteering family information and photograph scans of relatives interred here. Please click the links below to learn about contributing to our Preservation & Enhancement Fund (Immediate Need Projects Fund or CFFC's Perpetual Preservation Fund), or joining our Friends of Mount Olivet group.
Find the link to the application form below. It may just make unique gift idea for the holidays. We accept checks (made out to the Mount Olivet Cemetery Preservation and Enhancement Fund) and will supply paperwork for charitable giving tax purposes.
Feel free to reach out to me to discuss further and learn more about how you can help preserve this amazing outdoor and virtual museum of Frederick's history. It's literally and figuratively, the gift of a lifetime.