YORK, Pa. (WHTM) – A “new” tombstone was uncovered at the First Presbyterian Church of York this week. While digging up a brick walkway that meanders through the churchyard, a volunteer grounds worker uncovered the buried stone that dates back to 1793.
There are 178 people buried at the cemetery, or so church leaders thought until this week.
“I was really really excited. Everybody thought I was crazy,” Cindy Lobach, the church archivist, said.
A 200-year-old mystery uncovered by accident.
“The tombstone belongs to Elizabeth Smith Kelly. Elizabeth was the daughter of James Smith, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence,” Lobach said.
She was their third daughter of five children and would eventually marry James Kelly. The man buried next to where her headstone was found.
“A number of years later, James Kelly then married Elizabeth’s sister Mary, another daughter of James Smith and Eleanor,” Lobach said.
For Lobach, it was a special find. She wrote a book three years ago about the cemetery and those buried in it as part of a research project. She knows information about everyone in the churchyard.
“I was so excited. I was like, ‘oh my gosh it’s James Kelly. That’s his other wife, his first wife,” Lobach said.
Lobach knew that three of the Kelly children were buried in this cemetery, but no one knew where the other two were until now.
“My guess is there are more people buried not only in our churchyard but other cemeteries that no one knows about,” Lobach said.
What remains a mystery is how and when the headstone ended up underneath the pile of bricks. Was it an accident or intentional?
“No one really knows how long that brick walkway has been there, so we’re not sure how long it’s been where it is or if it was somewhere else before. We don’t really know,” Lobach said.
The church plans to build a foundation for the headstone and return it back to the cemetery.