Community Thoughts

The Midland Cemetery, which dates back to the Civil War period was given its name by Jos Dunkle in 1876. Prior to that Midland Cemetery was known as the Colored Cemetery. Midland cemetery is located in Swatara Townhip, just outside Steelton, PA. The larger part of Midland had been buried under weeds and brush for 35 years before Barbara and her 11 year old son ventured into the cemetery in 1993. Barbara recollected: "When I was a little girl, my parents would come here after church on Sunday. Because I had allergies, they'd roll up the windows and leave me in this hot car while they disappeared into the brush--I'd sit and wait. Well, I was 35 when I came back here to see where they had gone on these Sunday afternoons to visit with Grandpa--and here I am...I thought was just that little corner of a cemetery...I started researching and pulling up the old deeds from 1932. And it just expanded.

Thank God it expanded without my knowledge, because I don't know if I would have been able to stand out here right now and talk to you. Because I didn't know it was this big. And I didn't know what kind of work I was getting into, and what kind of history I was going to open up." Many of the neighbors did not even know that the cemetery was there. At this ti me, Barbara decided to clean up this "corner cemetery" a little every day and figured that it would be in good shape by Spring.

Barbara had no idea of the immensity of the project that she had begun. Some of the headstones were impregnated within roots of the trees, trees so large that one could not fit his arms around them. Also, to Barbara's surprise, the cemetery was actually three and one-half acres large. It holds the remains of many African-American ancestors from this area, including Barbara's grandfather. Over 70 American war veterans' names have been recorded, dat ing back to the early19th century. This cemetery holds the history of the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Behind or under every tree is more history. Midland also holds the remains of Steelton's first black Ministers, Doctors, Stee lworkers, Teachers, and Parents. It is a place of heritage--a sacred place of heritage--and one that offers valuable information both to the immediate community and beyond.

"Everywhere you see a headstone, you know a whole life story is buried."


I never met [my grandfather]. He was dead before I was born, you know. I just know that he's over there. I'm not sure where he's buried, other than in that approximate vicinity, you know." - Barbara Barksdale


(Image: Lonnie Dodd, Barbara Barksdale, Susan Rose)


"Glenn Blue, back here, they just dug him up. Well, I shouldn't say dug him up, but dug up the headstone." - Barbara Barksdale


A large part of the cemetery has been restored with the help of the Pennsylvania Conservationist Society, Dauphin County Prison Inmates, Swatara Township, and many volunteers. Barbara is currently president of the non-profit organization that she founded , Friends of Midland. During June of 1996, the Friends of Midland united with the Borough of Steelton to bring reinactors from all wars together to be a part of an encampment and festival.

 "Every headstone, take care of it because that's one book. It's a book of history" - Barbara Barksdale


"My father is buried there and two of my brothers, my grandfather, and I have an Aunt there...a number of relatives are buried there. From that standpoint, I have an interest in Mid land." - Zane Phoenix

(Image: Headstone of Wilmer Phoenix, Father of Zane Phoenix.)

Midland Caretaker

Barbara Barksdale, known as the cemetery lady, a woman who has made it her mission is to restore, preserve and education the public on the vast amount of history of those who are buried in the Midland Cemetery. I am so avid about getting this history and salvaging the history that we have because we have so much to contribute.  And I am not talking about just blacks/African Americans, we must include all people.

 Such as the Portuguese, native American Indians, Jews, Germans, Croatians, and anyone else. We all have so much wonderful history that, in this melting pot that we call Steelton and surrounding area, that impacts all of America.  If we could just all step up to the plate and share the history, it would really make a difference in people's lives.

I have always had a love of history since the early ages of my life. My career paths lead me to nursing for years, even teaching Anatomy and Physiology at the Academy of Medical Arts and Business in Harrisburg for a number of years, but the love of history never died. My passion for history of my ancestors truly sparked when I had the opportunity to review books that were all about African American history. From there it just exploded.  Learning not only about my relatives, but the history of so many of those buried in the soil of Midland. Discovering the history of the United States Colored Troops and Buffalo Soldiers that had homes and worked right here in the Steelton, Swatara Township area. The history of the founders of the Hygienic School and many of the churches which still exist today are laid to rest on this hill. How could I walk away from them only to be forgotten again. I want to lives my life in order to contribute to the community. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the best colleges and students in central Pennsylvania. Have aided three Eagle Scouts to get their ranking and spoke at many occasions to spread the word about the history that belongs to everyone.

I want my dash to represent my life in a positive way. I will continue to educate others about African American history, and continue with restoring the Midland Cemetery.