- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

DREXEL HILL, Pa. (AP) - One of the nation’s first quarantine stations had been transformed into a playground for the wealthy, and the dead buried on the property were no longer welcome.

Nobody wanted to play baseball on top of the departed. So, in 1900, the bodies were dug up and moved out.

Until last year, the final resting place of the immigrants who sailed to the United States in the 1800s but died at the Lazaretto in Tinicum Township, Delaware County, was the subject of informed speculation. No one was certain until Megan Harris’ work.

“When I actually found something, I thought I was going to cry,” said Harris, archivist at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.

In dusty cardboard boxes, tucked away in the basement of the cemetery headquarters, Harris found lists of names and burial certificates. Among them: James Hall, the Lazaretto’s first physician. Hall died shortly after work on the Lazaretto began in 1799.

In addition to the quarantine station and cemetery, the Lazaretto, named after St. Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers, included a hospital.

Hall and at least 120 others once buried on the grounds of the place where immigrants and slaves were examined for contagious diseases, and quarantined before being cleared to enter the country, were reinterred in an unmarked mass grave in Arlington’s Silverbrook section.

Harris’ discovery confirmed what had been mentioned in newspaper stories from the turn of the century.

“Being able to go someplace and see the location personalizes the history, makes it more real,” said David Barnes, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is writing a book about the Lazaretto.

In April, a new obelisk-shape stone marking the graves will be unveiled. On the stone will be the words “The dead are not truly dead until we forget them,” a quotation from Barb Selletti, a genealogist who has researched the Lazaretto. The ceremony will take place in the same month in which, records say, the bodies were disinterred in 1900.

By then, the Lazaretto had been closed and sold. The quarantine station, hospital, and cemetery, a facility through which thousands had passed, was on its way to a series of reinventions. The property along the Delaware River became a yacht club, a pilot-training base, a seaplane landing station, and a magnet for paranormal investigators.

The 215-year-old building is slated to become the new headquarters for Tinicum’s municipal government and police department. Plans for a $5 million to $6 million restoration are underway, said Barnes, a member of the Lazaretto Preservation Association of Tinicum Township. About $2.5 million has been raised.

Barnes and Selletti, along with Selletti’s husband, Tony, suspect that the cemetery was situated on a northeast patch of the Lazaretto’s original 10 acres. But the location remains unclear, Barnes said.

The Sellettis asked Arlington Cemetery president Gary Buss about starting an investigation. The couple had become interested in the quarantine station after discovering it as part of their hobby of paranormal investigation.

Arlington is on grounds once owned by abolitionist Thomas Garrett, whose home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. More than 90,000 people are buried on the cemetery’s 135 acres.

Founded in 1895, Arlington is part of the rural cemetery movement - the period of moving the dead away from city centers, said preservationist Aaron Wunsch, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The then-president of Arlington, J. Lewis Good, also served as president of the Philadelphia Board of Health, Harris said, a link that may explain how the Lazaretto’s dead ended up at Arlington.

(One list of names Harris found was written on the back of a payroll sheet for the Philadelphia health department.)

The Lazaretto was the first stop for slaves and immigrants. The families of those who died and were buried there probably were unaware of their relatives’ fate or could not afford to move the bodies once they were buried.

Harris has since scoured archives, historical societies, and the Internet to find out about immigrants such as Margaret McDonald and Henry Fraley, whose burial certificates say they were buried at the Lazaretto and later interred at Arlington. Selletti is also researching the names.

“These people were important to someone,” she said. “We’re hoping that we can find some distant relatives who will be happy to know that they’ve been found and they have a place.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1s2ndf7

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com

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