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'Project Penny Heaven' aims to keep an unseen past alive

York City Cemetery has one headstone despite having hundreds of graves on the property. The Friends of York City Cemetery are looking to put a permanent reminder.

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — The headstone of Clashay Johnson is the only marker in York City Cemetery, though it's far from the only grave on the small plot in North York.

Hundreds are buried, unmarked under the uneven ground.

The Friends of York City Cemetery are looking to put a permanent reminder of the many buried at the cemetery- known and unknown.

"We're doing a lot of research to figure out their stories, their histories, and their name so we can have a permanent Monument put in," Friends of York Cemetery Chair Dr. Jamie Noerpel said. “There’s [nothing] for them, there's nothing to remember their names.”

The individuals buried are the unclaimed deceased and those that could not afford a full or proper burial. There's no official record of exactly how many people are interred at the cemetery, but the estimate is in the hundreds.

From the lone stone, there is a view of Prospect Hill Cemetery, and a clearer picture of a history marred by classism.

“You have people who couldn't afford burials and so they're just lost to history forever," Dr. Noerpel said. 

The scars of racial segregation are also visible. Many buried at York City Cemetery are Black Americans displaced from their original graves.

"Until the 1960s, with the exception of the Catholic Church, people that look like me were not permitted in York County cemeteries," Friends of York City Cemetery committee member Samantha Dorman said. "Even in death, they were unequal."

The committee's goal is to raise $20,000 for a six-foot monument. It will feature the names of those who have been identified as being buried there.

Friends of York City Cemetery members hope their efforts will keep the spirit and legacy of the dead alive.

“They say that no one is truly gone until they're gone from memory," Committee member Michael Shanabrook said. "These souls here have been missing for way too long.”

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