Brian Kennell Caretaker of Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg,PA

Brian Kennell
Caretaker

 

I was born and raised in Gettysburg and cemeteries have always been a part of my life. My family's home was located on Steinwehr Avenue next to the Annex of the Soldiers' National Cemetery, and as a child I considered it as part of my own back yard. Like most boys, I would occasionally wander off and explore new territories.

An older gentleman, Carl Baum, who lived in a small cottage next to the National Cemetery, befriended my family and allowed us to take his two dogs for walks. Frequently Schotzie, his rotund dachshund, would also wander off to explore the neighborhood and the Kennell children would be called to form a search party to find her.

One particular occasion, I used my bicycle to search the cemeteries. I remember the first time I rode up to the archway, wondering if I was straying too far from my house. I worried that once I got into the cemetery, I would have trouble finding my way out. With hesitancy, I journeyed further and further back through the cemetery roads, passing
Jenny Wade's statue, the cast-iron dog at H. J. Stahle's grave, and all the other fascinating headstones. The huge trees in the cemetery, especially the Kentucky Bean and Buckeye trees captivated me. When I reached the furthest point of the old section near David Wills' lot, I realized the hill that was in front of me was steeper than the roads that I was accustomed to riding on before. I braved the decline rather easily. So easily that I circled back around and zoomed down the hill once again. This time I continued on and had enough speed to charge the hill at Ivy Rock.

Upon returning to the gatehouse, I was once again intrigued by its interesting structure. I stopped, tried out the water pump and looked at the balcony above me. I jumped back on my bike and thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be neat to live in this house." When I returned to Mr. Baum's house down the street, my brother and sister were waiting there with Shotzie. She had run off to one of her favorite hangouts, the Gettysburg Tour Center. She could often be found there greeting the people getting off the buses.

I became acquainted more and more each year with Evergreen, especially when I became friends with Ken Illenberger, whose father worked for the National Park Service. While the Illenbergers lived in the gatehouse of the National Cemetery during the early 1970's, Ken and I would often race our bikes through Evergreen where the roads were clear of vehicles. Within a few years, however, the Illenberger family moved to the Sherfy House on the Emittsburg Road and our Evergreen adventures came to a close.

At that time my father was the superintendent of the Gettysburg Country
Club, a position he held for over twenty years. During his years at the country club, he had the privilege of caddying for President Eisenhower whenever he was available. He developed a good friendship with the president and would later oversee the maintenance of the putting green at the Eisenhower farm. His fond memories of Ike definitely overshadowed the grueling hours spent trying to please the elitist golfers of Gettysburg.

In February of 1976, my father left the Country Club and was hired as superintendent of the Evergreen Cemetery. During his tenure at the cemetery, my father appreciated the change of pace from the pressures of running a golf course. He established bluebird houses in the cemetery that dramatically increased the population of bluebirds to the area. As the seventh superintendent of the Evergreen, he also developed an interest in the cemetery's history. He would give occasional tours and tell human interest stories of the people buried here. A substantial amount of information in my upcoming book was collected during his 15 years as superintendent.

In 1991, after working with my father for twelve years, I assumed the duties of superintendent and quickly learned the difference between working at a cemetery and being in charge of one. One of the most difficult aspects of the position is meeting with parents suffering from the loss of their son or daughter in an automobile accident. Nevertheless, it has been rewarding to see the healing process at work as they come to grips with the loss, and recall the fond memories spent with their child.

Unlike many native townspeople, I have never regretted my decision to stay in Gettysburg. When I look back at my twenty-two years at Evergreen, I realize that there has not been one day that I dreaded coming to work. I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of working outside, although my body does not rebound as easily as it once did. It is humbling working at a cemetery, knowing that nothing or no one lives forever. It has helped me to keep things in proper perspective.

Occasionally, I think back to the first time that I rode through the brick archway on my bicycle. I can still picture myself at the pump below the balcony, wide-eyed and unaware of the future events that would call me back to stay. To this day, I am still fascinated by the cemetery and I still wonder if I'll ever find my way out.

"Who builds stronger than a mason, a shipwright, or a carpenter?…a
gravemaker. The houses he makes lasts till doomsday."
William Shakespeare
Hamlet, Act. V. i


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