Exploring Franklin County's 'silent cities'
CHAMBERSBURG - In an effort to increase awareness of Franklin County’s vast history while taking people to places in the county that they might not otherwise visit, the Franklin County Historical Society - Kittochtinny is launching its first-ever cemetery scavenger hunt.
The family-friendly event runs from May 2-27 and requires participants to visit 15 cemeteries in various locations around Franklin County. There is an $8 fee per entrant, and the money raised will help to cover operational costs of the historical society.
“It [the scavenger hunt] is an event that will get people in touch with Franklin County history and the cemeteries,” said Janet Pollard, executive director of the Franklin County Visitors Bureau, which is sponsoring the event. “It’s a way to connect with the past and understand what there is to see. History is a hook. It gets people interested, and then they can have a little fun.”
Participants will be able to pick up clue packets at the Old Jail, 175 E. King St., Chambersburg, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. May 2. The packets must be returned either in person or by email by 4 p.m. May 27.
The packets contain a two-page form with specific questions and tasks related to the various cemeteries. Each of the 15 cemeteries will have between one and three tasks. Some of the tasks will require participants to take photographs to prove that they actually visited the cemeteries.
The packets also contain several maps, one of which is a map of the southern part of Franklin County with the 15 cemeteries marked on it. Larger cemeteries like Lincoln and Cedar Grove have their own maps.
Everybody who returns the forms with all of the tasks completed and the questions answered correctly will be entered into a drawing to win one of three cash prizes:$100, $75 or $50.
Franklin County Visitors Bureau is including their Flat Ben character in the packets. Flat Ben is a line drawing of Ben Franklin that participants will be asked to photograph in some of the cemetery locations. He was introduced by the visitors bureau last year as part of their Spring Into History event that encourages people to get out and explore Franklin County.
“Cemeteries are an incredible resource for genealogy researchers, and a lot of people visit Franklin County when they are looking for their family roots," Pollard said. "That’s where the trail starts for a lot of people. They can find that definitive answer about their ancestors through cemetery records.”
Pam Anderson, a volunteer at the historical society who specializes in genealogical research requests, first proposed the idea of the scavenger hunt last fall. She was inspired by seeing similar events in other communities and by an ongoing web project called findagrave.com, which is now part of ancestry.com.
“We have no idea how many people are going to want to do this,” said Anderson. “It’s brand new. Any time we can do something new and different, it’s a good thing.”
Anderson explained that people who are developing their family tree often live far away from the family member’s gravesite. Findagrave.com allows users to make a request through the site to someone who lives nearby and is able to go there.
“We go out and photograph the headstone so that they have verification of birth and death dates,” she said. “Then we post them on this website.”
In this respect, the field of genealogy is a large-scale scavenger hunt where people locate and confirm important facts about their ancestors from grave markers. And where there is a lot of history, there are a lot of cemeteries.
“Franklin County has over 200 cemeteries,” Anderson said. “We have about 30 volumes of tombstone transcriptions at the historical society, so it’s a pretty big deal.”
Anderson said Ann Hull, executive director of the Franklin County Historical Society, did the initial location scouting.
Some of the cemeteries were selected because of specific people who are buried there. Others, like the one at Rocky Spring Church, which is now owned and maintained by the historical society, were selected because of their general historical value.
“Plus, it’s May," Anderson said. "We thought, May is Memorial Day month, so why not do some memorials to the people from Franklin County? That’s why it runs all month. You don’t have to cram all of these cemeteries into a short weekend.”
Anderson reminds people who accept the scavenger hunt challenge to be respectful at the sites and to use caution when parking and when walking on uneven ground.