HARPERS FERRY—It’s hard to believe that a town so steeped in history could have two cemeteries hundreds of years old, which are literally ‘hidden’ from public view and knowledge and the victims of too much neglect.
The cemeteries, located right near each other off of Old Furnace Road, are Cedar Hill Cemetery, which was a “colored cemetery” for an unknown number of years before the land was purchased by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in 1869, later the John Wesley Methodist Church. Cedar Hill does have some tombstones and is currently maintained. However, the second cemetery, Pine Grove, is well documented on official maps but there are no available records identifying who is buried there. And, the site is now a forest.
“Hidden in Plain Sight - Revealing the Concealed Harpers Ferry Cemeteries,” is a documentary based on 20 years of research by local filmmaker Cynthia Gayton. Gayton is currently seeking local, regional and national film screening opportunities.
“The filming, including interviews, organizing material, collecting additional documents and photographs, and filming itself, started in November 2019. We finished the documentary (including post-production) in July 2020,” Gayton said.
The documentary was filmed primarily in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, and Winchester, Virginia, as well as along the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.
The documentary is extremely detailed, concerning the history of this tiny Eastern Panhandle town. How slavery affected those enslaved and the politics of the 18th through the 20th centuries all played a part in the fate of the two cemeteries.
“You had the Battle of Harpers Ferry and the Battle of Antietam in nearby Sharpsburg, Maryland, both happening in 1862. Soldiers from both were buried in Pine Grove, but we don’t know where they are or who they are. Cedar Hill had enslaved people buried there and other places but because the slaves couldn’t read or write, we don’t know about them. These are people. They were alive. They shouldn’t just be forgotten,” Gayton said.
Bonnie Zampino, a photographer and public historian who helped with the film said in her interview for the documentary that the fact that there are no signs indicating the location of Pine Grove is, “Appalling.” She said she used to walk in the forest for years and had no idea it was a cemetery. She added that she hopes to get others involved, like possibly the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, to initiate a project using ground-probing radar to find the bodies.
Concerning the film’s director, Gayton, who is originally from Seattle, Washington, has a house in Bolivar. She ran a gallery in Harpers Ferry from 2011 to 2014 but closed the business.
“At that time, the federal government shut down twice. Buses stopped bringing in tourists,” she said.
Gayton has a diverse background, earning her bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and her law degree from George Mason University. She also has a condominium in Arlington, Virginia, where she still practices law.
That knowledge of the law, as well as her love of history and the arts, all come to play in the film. The shots of the town and surrounding areas are beautiful. She said she also has a devotion to the town.
“Harpers Ferry is a functioning town, not just part of the federal park. I’d like people to learn more about it,” Gayton said.
Anyone interested in reviewing or screening the film should email email@example.com.