The history of Midland Cemetery is a simple one. The burial site was started circa 1795 for the purpose of burying those who were working on or near the old farm which later became known as the Kelker Farm in the 1800. Midland did not actually get its legal name until around 1877. Midland Cemetery holds the remains of those who once were in servitude bondage either from another state or Pennsylvania and became free. Reading of the various headstones and in research we have noted veterans interred in these hallowed grounds are the United States Colored Troops, which were the Black men who volunteered to serve during the Civil War, the Buffalo Soldiers, who fought in and open up the West (Campaign). Headstones show soldiers of World War I and II, followed by the Korean War.
Aside from the various military men and possibly a few women (still researching), there are also the many leaders of the community. Ministers of churches which are still functioning in the Steelton, Harrisburg and Swatara Township area such as Monumental AME, Mt Zion Baptist, Goodwin Memorial, Beulah Baptist and the First Baptist Church to name a few. They are buried alongside of their deacons and deaconess and many of their church members.
Throughout the cemetery you will find family plots with and without headstones or markers. Over the years of restoration and reclaiming the cemetery we have found numerous amounts of babies, young children and teenagers. Some of the youth attended the “School for Colored Children” known as the Hygienic School, which was part of the Steelton School system.
Midland has wrapped its arms around the Black doctors, mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters and even the known abolitionist. Midland also has a Negro league baseball player, a writer and publisher of a local newspaper who was also Steelton’s first Black Councilman in the late 1800. It holds the remains of persons from our area that seemed to be ahead of the times. As you stroll around the graves you can get a picture of American life and how these folks contributed to history.
The pictures above are from the first years, right near the alley.
The following pictures shows the Pennsylvania Conservation Corp helping with cutting down trees. If you look close enough you will see the houses across Kelker Street. This angle is from standing at the top of the hill near the middle driveway.
Years before she became mscmtyldy our young Barbara Barksdale sat in her parents’ black Buick, right over there, by Ancestors Grove, windows rolled up almost all the way. She couldn’t hear the call, yet, of leaves rustling and the redwinged blackbirds’ caw; allergies clogged her head but she wondered about the deep copse her folks disappeared into to tend her grandfather’s grave and she wondered what time Elvis would sing “Heartbreak Hotel” that night on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Still, they called. Years later, allergies in tow, Barbara marched into that thicket with her troops of locals - friends, neighbors, Boy Scouts, historians who noted the leaves rustle and the redwinged blackbirds caw as they recovered this three-acre knoll full of graves from the 1800s- one with an oak whose trunk upheaved a headstone shattered by its reach toward the sky.
Another grave held the remains of an infant whose soft bones crumpled on his passage through his mother’s birth canal in the 1920s; and over there, the resting place of Pvt. Samuel Coles, of the Civil War’s United States Colored troops, grandfather of my husband’s Hygienic Grade School’s principal and teacher, whose calls, with the others’ made the leaves rustle and the redesigned blackbirds caw in response.
And now, we uncover the true beginnings of the call, not from long-gone Kelker mansion, or from their cultivated gardens, or the their well-kept family plots maintained by the enslaved who tilled the earth and plowed the fields but from right over there where we can still imagine our Barbara waiting for her parents to come back from their task of love and remembrance, back to the place where the first Steelton Kelkers flung as far away from their lives, their life the remains of the deceased enslaved who call to this day but I do not recognize the key hovering somewhere inside me and I cannot know how to recall the tones, the notes from hell passed from our ancestors’ cells to me; yet if my mind cannot comprehend the call from those men and women passing on the power of the powerless my heart feels their call.
Our hearts should hear that call. Today. Listen. Listen to the rustle of the leaves; to the caw of the redwinged blackbird. Listen.
Marian Cannon Dornell Saturday, October 20, 18