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Community group to preserve Dravosburg cemetery's history

| Monday, April 21, 2014, 1:21 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Jan Catalogna, Doug Baxter and Ruth Snodgrass discuss the three grave markers at the burial site of Civil War Medal of Honor recipient Charles Oliver in Richland Cemetery in Dravosburg.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Dave Scott, Pat Toth, Mary Ann Markle and Bill Snodgrass Sr. marvel at the tallest monument in Richland Cemetery at the grave of John Risher, who once owned all of the land on which Dravosburg sits today.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Ann Toth and John Palcsey point out the grave of Jabez Griffiths, one of four Union soldiers who carried the mortally wounded President Lincoln from Ford's Theatre.

The community group responsible for preserving Dravosburg's history with a centennial book and small museum is raising funds to capture its next project on film.

Dravosburg Community Archives will explore the history of Richland Cemetery, a 13-acre graveyard where many local historical figures are interred. Members are commissioning a documentary/period portrayal of some of the most interesting people buried there.

“Every cemetery has a lot of history to it,” Doug Baxter said. “There is a story for every one of the people buried here. We are putting together a great history source for schools, public television and community groups.”

Baxter and fellow members of the Dravosburg Community Archives nonprofit group, which formed as a legacy organization after a successful borough centennial celebration in 2003, wanted a creative way to tap into what they describe as a hub of borough history.

“We thought about leading walking tours during the summer months,” president Jan Catalogna said. “Then, we thought about installing a monument with a narrative on it. It just wasn't enough.”

By putting the cemetery's history on film, Catalogna said, the final product will be available all year round. It's a one-time project that will be around forever and viewers can watch it at their convenience, she explained.

The film will be narrated by an actor portraying John C. Risher, who once owned nearly all the land that makes up modern Dravosburg. His grave is marked with a granite monument that towers over others in the cemetery. At the time of Risher's death in 1889, the monument cost more than $5,000.

Caretaker Mike Nemeth and staff maintain the grounds around that monument and thousands of others on a daily basis, as the cemetery's acres get daily foot and bicycle traffic.

“When you walk through the cemetery and you see all of the stones, it puts local history into perspective,” Ann Toth said. “This cemetery makes history come alive.”

Archives members want the film to tell stories of local soldiers, including Jabez Griffiths, who carried President Lincoln from Ford's Theatre, and Edward Pigford, who survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

There will be a segment dedicated to Mon Valley residents who died of Spanish influenza in the early 1900s.

Actors will be dressed in period clothing including Civil War era uniforms, late 19th-century women's clothing and 1918 common dress.

“Because of generous donations and matching Archives funds, we are very close to launching this exciting project in the summer,” Catalogna said.

Anyone interested in participating in the film project is asked to call Catalogna at 412-469-2710.

Donations are payable to Dravosburg Community Archives, c/o Amity Presbyterian Church, 400 Euclid Ave., Dravosburg, 15034.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or