(The following article was published in the Johnstown,
Pa. Tribune Democrat on Sunday, September 6, 2009)
Cemetery Holds Remains of Unidentified TB Victims
Tucked away on a small Cresson Township road is Union Cemetery, a final resting place for perhaps hundreds of long-forgotten
victims of tuberculosis.
The unmarked graves, some said to be butting against one another, contain remains of patients
who lost their battles with the disease at the Cresson Sanatorium.
The San, as many former residents refer to it today,
operated from 1913 to 1963 as one of three state-supported TB hospitals.
Thousands recovered and returned to their
homes across the state. But others, including many children and teens, were not so lucky. For some victims of
the once-dreaded disease, their families could not or would not claim their remains.
As a result, they were given a
final resting place on a grassy slope about a mile from the wooded hilltop where they spent their final days.
not exclusive to the San, Union Cemetery was used by the state until the mid-1960s, when the sanitorium was closed. The facility
evolved into Cresson State Hospital, housing mentally retarded residents.
“The Cresson State Hospital used it
very little. It wasn’t something that carried over,” said Mike McGuire, a Cresson resident who helped with maintenance
at the cemetery and fixed markers more than 25 years ago.
The restoration project was instituted by Ginny Thornburgh,
wife of then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh, and included a large marker on a field containing an unknown number of unmarked graves,
Initial efforts were made to identify at least some of the graves, but San records were unavailable.
Most documentation was lost in 1972, when Hurricane Agnes hit Harrisburg.
Loss of the records also made it impossible
to determine the number of San patients buried at the cemetery.
What information was available came from people in
the area at the time who worked in the medical records department of the San, McGuire said.
For a while, the cemetery
was cared for by members of the maintenance staff of what was eventually renamed the Cresson Center.
now is maintained by the State Correctional Institution-Cresson, prison spokeswoman Rebecca Reifer said.
Department of Corrections took over the property in the early 1980s.