central pennsylvania african american history for everyone
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Osler Family monument.The Witman Mausoleum.

Harrisburg Cemetery
African American
History Perspectives


Each September, the Camp Curtin Historical Society conducts Civil War themed tours of the historic Harrisburg Cemetery.  In 2002, the society first presented a special tour, led by Afrolumens Project historian George F. Nagle, that focused on the ways in which some of the persons buried in Harrisburg Cemetery interacted with the local African American community.   Among other topics, the tour examined slave holding, the Underground Railroad, racism, and the role of African Americans in the Civil War and post-war Harrisburg.  On this, and subsequent pages, are highlights of that special tour. 

Introduction and tour index


The Caretaker's house, at the cemetery entrance.arrisburg Cemetery is situated on a bluff overlooking the downtown portion of the city.  From the western boundary of the cemetery, visitors are treated to a magnificent sweeping view of the Capitol Complex and the city skyline.  Mature trees and intricate landscaping hide the cemetery's sun bleached monuments, mysterious mausoleums and stately obelisks from return view, however.   You can look out, but it seems that you can't look in.  Although surrounded on three sides by major roadways that carry thousands of persons daily past its serene landscape, few people know of the beauty that exists behind the metal fences.  To discover this gem hidden within the city's Allison Hill neighborhood, you have to enter through the large iron-gated entrance at Thirteenth and Liberty Streets.

Aged stairs lead down to the Gothic Revival Boyd Family plots.Once inside, visitors will find a well-maintained historic cemetery.  Harrisburg Cemetery, established in 1845, is a 35-acre landscaped treasure of historic importance, not only because it is the oldest and largest cemetery within the city, but also because it is the final resting place of many persons who played important roles in local, state and national affairs. From the Gothic Revival Caretaker’s House, designed in the style popularized by  nationally renowned architect A. J. Downing, to the impressive and beautiful tombs of governors, industrialists, congressmen, soldiers, suffragettes, artists and many more, visitors can explore beautiful winding pathways and grassy lanes in a leisurely walk.

The Harrisburg Cemetery has few African Americans buried on its grounds, due in part to a tradition of segregated burial that preceded its establishment, and due also to a policy of exclusion instituted in the early decades of the twentieth century. Those exclusions may make the notion of an African American history tour through the grounds of this cemetery seem out of place, but Afrolumens Project historians have turned up a wealth of information on many of the cemetery’s “residents” who were intimately involved with Harrisburg’s African American community. This online tour will visit the gravesites of slaveholders, anti-slavery activists, Underground Railroad stationmasters, political and moral reformers, progressive industrialists and many more who had a defining impact on the lives of state and local African Americans.

To begin, and to follow the tour, simply click the "Next" button at the bottom of this and each page.  Or you can visit graves selectively by following the links to each page in the index below.

Richard J. Haldeman, 1831-1885next »

Tour index

Richard J. Haldeman (1831-1885) Racist Politics in a Volatile Age
Thomas Elder (1767-1853) Lawyer, Banker, Slaveholder
Mordecai McKinney (1796-1867) "A Friend of the Oppressed and Downtrodden"
Charles Coatesworth Rawn (1802-1865) "this Nation will yet weep"
Andrew M. Bradley (1906-1983) Black Statesman and Civic Leader
Simon Cameron (1799-1889) The Emancipation Question
"For the Burial of Such White People"  A Restricted Cemetery

Afrolumens Project Home | Slavery | Underground Railroad | 19th Century | 20th Century

Original material on this page copyright 2003-2006 Afrolumens Project; All photographs on these pages copyright 2003 Afrolumens Project
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This page was updated August 31 2011