Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Scouts Clean 200 year old Somers Family Cemetery
By STEVE PRISAMENT
Wednesday, 08 June 2011 11:04
Current of Somers Point
GALLOWAY – He's not sure exactly where, but Collin Wiener's Eagle Scout project has helped clear a place for Master Commandant Richard Somers' final resting place.
The Troop 77 Scout spent some time wondering what his project was going to be.
Then his father, a Navy veteran of Iraq, went to the local Veterans Administration office and asked if they had any projects on their agenda.
Collin, son of Jeanine and Brian Wiener, was immediately directed to the Somers Cemetery in Somers Point.
It needed some help as it is only cared for by volunteers, VFW members, and members of the Somers Point Historical Society – specifically Sally Hastings, director of the society, according to Collin Wiener.
"It sparked my interest because he was on the news," said Wiener, 16.
The project was special to all the participants because they were aware of Somers' story.
On Sept. 4, 1804, Somers assumed command of the USS Intrepid, which had been fitted out as a "floating volcano" to be sailed into Tripoli Harbor, Libya, and blown up in the midst of a pirate fleet under the walls of the city. But as she was getting under way the ship exploded prematurely, killing Somers and his entire crew of volunteers.
Somers is buried in a mass grave near Tripoli.
In 2004, the New Jersey state Assembly passed two resolutions calling for the return of his remains. Now the United States Congress is passing similar resolutions.
Through the work of Wiener and his fellow Scouts, the local cemetery is ready and waiting.
"We were seven Scouts, one parent and one scoutmaster," Wiener said. "We cleaned up and constructed a set of railings. I was amazed. One of our scoutmasters, Dave Vedral, works in carpentry."
The soon-to-be Eagle said he learned a lot about Richard Somers and also learned a lot reading the gravestones in the cemetery, which is hidden under tall trees along Somers Point-Mays Landing Road and is not well known except to those who live in the neighboring Greate Bay Villas.
The burial ground is the resting place of descendents of John Somers, founder of the Somerset Plantation that grew to be Somers Point, and has more than 30 stone markers, Wiener said. Some display inscriptions from the mid-1700s, while some remain mysterious as to their dates.
"I learned a lot reading the gravestones," he said. "They were really interesting."
The Absegami High School sophomore who swims and plays lacrosse said the development of a nearby golf course, homes, and a townhouse complex have left the cemetery untouched.
"The site deteriorated over time despite occasional maintenance work, and the decline was evident, from fallen or vandalized headstones to the damage to fences from overgrown vegetation," he said.
Officially, no one owns the land.
Historical Society President Hastings said the deed is still in the name of the Somers family and that the recent volunteer efforts have improved its appearance.
The team was led by Wiener and Vedrel.
The group cleared weeds, removed several large tarps full of leaves, cleaned the adjacent roadway and constructed railings to a set of previously constructed steps.
"The experience taught me a lot about responsibility, planning, and leading," Wiener said.
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