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Why do we look forward to spring? The Phillies’ home opener? The first day of trout season? The forests slowly filling up with fresh, green leaves? Sure, all of those are great, but for the last few years a group of committed volunteers have come to associate early spring with the annual St. Michael’s Cemetery clean up. This South Bethlehem cemetery is one of the hidden gems of the Lehigh Valley. Nestled on the side of South Mountain, between the edge of the city and a Lehigh University-owned forest, the sweeping views from the cemetery take in nearby historic worker housing and blast furnaces, the unique architecture of the northside, and the ridgeline of the Blue Mountains miles to the north.
St. Michael’s remains one of the few patches of green, open space in the city, and it is within walking distances of thousands of residents. The ornate grave markers, mausoleums, and wrought iron fences are a testament to the craftsmanship and care that generations of immigrant families poured into their local resting place.
Yet, for all its potential as a community resource, the cemetery is rarely visited, the gravestones are toppled, and every year the forest reclaims a few more feet of grass. For many years, a handful of individuals managed to keep the grass cut and pick up the worst of the litter, but, without assistance, it was a struggle just to keep the cemetery from deteriorating beyond hope. Fortunately, in the last few years, St. Michael’s volunteer base has significantly increased. Annual clean ups sponsored by the D&L, South Bethlehem Historical Society, Mayor’s Southside Task Force and the St. Michael’s Preservation Association have put dozens of college students, Boy Scouts, and community members to work picking up litter, filling in low points to make mowing easier, weeding around the grave sites, and, in general, giving the cemetery some much needed TLC. Their efforts have done much to improve the cemetery–the amount of litter has noticeably decreased year to year and evidence of volunteer activity has deterred the worst of the vandalism.
Of course, there is much more work to be done. This year’s clean up will be held on April 10. We’ll meet at 9 AM and continue working until people want to head home. For all of the details of what to bring and what to wear, download this year’s flyer. Feel free to print extra copies, post them at work, hand them out to friends, or send the flyer out through email. There is no shortage of work to be done, so come out and get involved in your community!
If you can’t make it to the clean up, there are plenty of things to do on your own. Send a letter to the paper, letting the world know you think St. Michael’s is worth protecting. Do your part by cleaning up your yard, street, or local park. Better yet, take a walk through St. Michael’s, enjoy the scenery, and assert a presence in this special place.
It’s only with your generosity that we can keep bringing the region’s important history and stories to life.