Martinsburg’s Green Hill Cemetery

Adjacent to the Green Hill Historic African American Cemetery is the Green Hill Cemetery, laid out across 15 acres in concentric circles on a cone-shaped hill overlooking the town of Martinsburg and looking across to North Mountain.

Martinsburg native David Hunter Strother, with the help of Surveyor John Kearfolt, laid out Green Hill Cemetery based on a design he had seen while studying art in Paris. Strother was better known for being a prominent mid-19th-century illustrator and writer under the pen name “Porte Crayon.” He also was the nation’s sole reporter for John Brown’s treason trial in nearby Charles Town, writing and sketching for Harpers Weekly.

Strother and his father owned the famed Berkeley Springs Hotel, and that’s where Strother spent his summers. He served as an adjutant general during the Civil War and was later appointed as Consul to Mexico. He is among the several notable persons buried in the cemetery.

At the crest of the hill stands a neo-Classical Revival stone mausoleum, built in 1918 with stained glass windows and a bronze entrance door. Sadly, it seems neglected, like the rest of the cemetery, as the planters stationed on either side of the entrance walk are mismatched and devoid of living flowers (one of the planters still holds last year’s dead plantings).

As with many similar cemeteries designed in the “rural garden” style that was coming into style at the time, this cemetery offers some interesting sculpture that in particular reflects the Victorian era: draped urns, wreathes and garlands, doves, lambs and such.

Morning glories symbolize the Resurrection since the flower blooms in the morning and is closed by afternoon.
Walk eastward down the hill from the mausoleum, toward the Green Hill Historic African American Cemetery, and you’ll encounter the creepy brick receiving vault. Although the description at the cemetery’s website notes that it “features iron doors with star and half-moon cut outs,” I saw only a weathered, wooden door. Part of a tombstone rests against the door, as if holding it shut.
Interestingly, the cemetery’s website also notes that the cemetery’s record books indicate causes of death, such as “suicide,” “Diphtheria,” ”Small pox,” and “killed on electric wire.” Beside the funeral of Mrs. Samuel Watson, Jan. 12, 1914, the cemetery superintendent recorded “coldest weather ever in Martinsburg, thermometer registered 20 degrees below zero!”
Doves symbolizes peace and purity.
With the B&O Railroad yards right in town, the record book holds frequent references to the railroad, such as “killed in railroad yard,” “Killed at opequon by B & 0,” and “killed at Couchman’s curve.”
When we visited this cemetery, it seemed as if it was slipping out of the community’s awareness much as the Historic African American Cemetery had a century earlier. Although there was evidence of recent mowings, wildflowers sprang up among the headstones, and between many of the stones young trees and brush were growing out of control.
Weeping willow trees symbolize life after death and the resurrection of the soul
because c
uttings from willow trees can grow into new trees even after laying on the ground
for months unattended or even when planted upside down in the soil.
It seems as if nature is reclaiming Green Hill as her own. As you go down the hillside, the graves become more unkempt and wild (we visited in July).
Of course, this just made the cemetery more creepy and photogenic.
And it also makes it easy to imagine that there really is a lady in white (or maybe even two of them) who roams the cemetery (there are two different versions of this lady in white. Both stories reflect the region’s history (one reason why I love ghost stories so much!).
One of the Lady in White stories focuses on a young woman who’s betrothed died in the Civil War and is buried in the Confederates unnamed soldiers’ mass burial site — she searches the grave yard looking for his grave.
The other version of the Lady in White story tells the tale of a “gypsy woman” who cursed an African American grave-digger because she believed he was in a relationship with her daughter; soon afterward she died, but the cursed man was doomed to dig her grave, when a flaming ball shot upward out of the woman’s grave. Her hateful curse backfired on her, and she is said to roam the cemetery, with her hair blazing as if on fire.
Probably the saddest part of the cemetery was what I called the Avenue of Forgotten Children, a series of graves of infants and young children at the very edge of the cemetery.
Note the lamb and dove on these babies’ tombstones.
Getting there: 486 East Burke Street, Martinsburg WV

Hours: Daylight


This is the second in the two-part series on Green Hill Cemetery.

Explore other interesting cemeteries in the mid-Atlantic region:

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