Everyone is for saving historic buildings, reusing historic churches and restoring historic parks, but what about a place that holds not only history, but the people who helped to make it? Concordia Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of early residents of Buffalo, including over 450 war veterans of which 125 are Civil War veterans. Currently there are over 16,800 people in the 15 acres that forms Concordia.
One of the oldest cemeteries in Western New York, it opened in 1859--two years before Abraham Lincoln became president, to give you an idea of how long ago that really was. Other than the venerable Forest Lawn, Concordia is Buffalo's only other cemetery, tucked away on the East Side. (Correction: St Francis Xavier Cemetery is another cemetery within city borders.)
Though it was founded when Buffalo was two-fifths German, by three German congregations--St. Peter's German Evangelical Church (1835), St. Stephen's Evangelical Church (1853), and First Trinity Lutheran Church (1839)--Concordia came to be the final resting place of people of all ethnic backgrounds.
As luck (the bad kind) would have it, Concordia was abandoned in 2003 after its former treasurer stole the cemetery funds. A group of family members of those buried at Concordia came forth and volunteered, working hard to accomplish much, but they are few in number after all of this time, and the upkeep is hard work. One volunteer with more than 60 relatives buried in Concordia, spent many hours at the cemetery working and organizing cemetery records into computer search files. In addition, Concordia Cemetery has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and the New York State Register of Historic Places.
After performing maintenance of the grounds, repairing the Victorian iron fence and replacing the arched gate that had been stolen--along with repairing toppled and broken grave stones--these few volunteers are no longer able to do all of the work required. (Can we say they're not as young and strong as they used to be?)
The word "Concordia" means harmony, and the current caretakers are hoping that there are volunteers in the community who will blend with them in caring for the cemetery.
Those involved with the cemetery note a recent quote about Buffalo from The National Trust for Historic Preservation: "This lakeside city harbors an unexpected discovery around every corner. Offering a staggering range of cultural resources..." Those who have labored over this sacred and historic place believe that Concordia is one of these hidden resources, and they'd like some help in preserving it.
Interested volunteers can contact Diane Pesch-Savatteri at 716.685.2648 for more information.
[Update: New Oxford Square resident and cemetery expert, John Bry, has confirmed that there are in fact 3 cemeteries in Buffalo proper and that St. Francis is the third, not mentioned in this article.
Bry went beyond that to say, "There is a contact person from the city that has stepped in as a temporary trustee, and the State Division of Cemeteries is working with them. But no further interments will take place at Concordia until the cemetery can be brought into compliance with mapping and coordination of lot sales. Until then, to me, the cemetery is a passive cemetery now (or what I call a neighbortery) Not that there is anything wrong with that. The cemetery can become a cultural location, but that also means finding ways to bring in revenue and maintain the property with no money coming in from traditional space sales. Tours, memberships, grants are just a few possibilities.
"Forest Lawn was designed as a park style/rural movement/aesthetic movement cemetery. People call it different things, but the difference is it retains much more of its park like setting, it was built on a far larger scale, and is more active. The German influence at Corcordia never took on the refined form of landscape design like Forest Lawn, but is still significant for its cultural influence as an ethnic interpretation of 19th century burial and memorial trends."
As a point of interest, Bry is in Indiana this weekend, delivering his "Moonlight at the Mausoleum" Irish wake themed event in a mausoleum built by his family in 1917. John was particularly tickled to find out the Irish band from Indianaolis that he hired was "founded by a guy from South Buffalo."]