Remembering when Erie's Old Polish Cemetery was Wiped Out
There is an old Polish cemetery on Merline Avenue in Erie. Merline Avenue is just off Peach Street near Liberty. There used to be many gravestones there. But, the property was neglected between the 1940s and the 1970s and it became an eyesore.
The cemetery was owned by Saint Mary of Czestochowa Church, which was located at East 21st and Wallace. The church, which was not associated with the Erie Catholic Diocese, closed in 1939. Upkeep of the cemetery abruptly ended. Throughout the following years, gravestones were uprooted and vandalized. The cemetery was overgrown with weeds. In 1972, Mayor Louis Tullio took action.
Tom Doyle’s grandparents are buried at the cemetery. He remembers the day Tullio leveled the old cemetery.
"A lot of Tullio's cronies were up there. They thought it was kind of ugly. So he sent his crew up there with a high lift and a dump truck and scraped all the stones off, picking up all the debris and they took and dumped it."
Doyle is still upset with Tullio for dumping the old gravestones. He remembers visiting the cemetery as a youngster. So as an adult he, along with local genealogist Dick Tefft, spent six years going through old obituaries on file at the library. They tried to identify all those buried at the old Polish cemetery. Their work resulted in a monument being placed at the site. The monument was financed by the Joyce Savocchio administration and was dedicated in 2001.
"We had a stone made for the very front of it,” says Doyle. “All the names that we could find that are buried there. There's probably many other people that are buried there that we have no records of."
Antoinette Pizzi and her brother Joe Chludzinski have been on a quest to find where three of their relatives are buried. They are carrying out the desire of their late father to find the graves of his three siblings...a 6-year old brother and 5-year old sister who died in 1918 of the Spanish Flu… and an infant brother who died a year later. Could it be that they are buried on Merline Avenue but not memorialized on the monument?
"We need to get a resolution on this because it was my father's wish,” says Antoinette.
Erie News Now will try to find some answers in part two of this story Friday at 6 p.m.