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Unearthing the history of Buffalo in Concordia Cemetery

Posted at 5:41 AM, Jun 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-21 07:11:40-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — This summer, a group of volunteers is spending hours in the 15 acres that make up Buffalo's Concordia Cemetery on Walden Avenue. They're dedicated to finding and unearthing grave markers that have gotten buried over the years, and working to bring new life to the cemetery.

Volunteers like Bonnie Fleischauer are working to meticulously locate and unearth stones that you wouldn't even know are there.

"They just sink over time. Between the freezing and the thawing and the rain," she explained. "Stone is heavy. So it will start to sink and then grass will grow right over it."

They use radar to get an idea of where the missing stones might be, then probe to hear the ping of a stone below the grass. Once they've found one, it's time to dig - carefully.

"The stones belong to the families and the ancestors," said Fleischauer. "They do not belong to the cemetery. So we have to be very careful when we're treating someone else's property."

Often times the stones the volunteers are unearthing haven't been touched for decades - some for perhaps a century.

"It's quite an experience. And we just acknowledge and honor their existence," said volunteer Maureen Gleason.

So far this year the volunteers have unearthed and reset more than 60 stones. They say many of the stones belonged to members of Buffalo's working class at the time. It's a labor of love, because no one is getting paid for the work they do.

"Nobody here earns a dime. We're doing this out of - because we love this place. And it's part of our own history," said Fleischauer.

The cemetery was founded in 1859. The burial ground was shared by three local churches - St. Peter's German Evangelical Church, First Trinity Lutheran Church, and St. Stephen's Evangelical Church.

Many of the markers the volunteers find are in German, but they have found some that were written in French and English. They say every stone they unearth tells a story.

"This is a living museum," said Fleischauer. "You're touching a piece of history. You're being able to prove to a descendant that their ancestor existed. This is part of that person's life story."

"We go ahead and look up their records, we look up their census records, we try to track their families," explained Gleason. "It's our history of our city. This history cannot be buried. It needs to be uncovered and exposed for all to see."

The cemetery is always looking for volunteers. They meet to look for stones and dig depending on the weather.
You can keep up with the latest on the cemetery on the Friends of Concordia Cemetery Facebook page.