The Ethnic Diversity of the Hill District

The Minersville Cemetery was the burying-ground of a German Lutheran congregation in the Hill District. But one corner of it is devoted to a wide variety of other ethnic groups. The Hill, which would become the legendary heart of African-American culture in Pittsburgh, was an extraordinary jumble of ethnicities a hundred years ago. The stone above is Slovak; the inscription is regrettably damaged, so that we cannot quite read the full name of the deceased.

Slovaks were often Lutheran, and might have attended the German Lutheran church; but here is a Greek tombstone for one Nikolaos Tapinos. There are other Greek monuments as well, suggesting that this corner of the cemetery was opened to the Lutherans’ Greek Orthodox neighbors.

Finally, here is an Arabic tombstone, the only one Father Pitt found in the cemetery. It probably belongs to a Lebanese or Syrian immigrant; there was a considerable Lebanese population in Pittsburgh a hundred years ago.

The Hill, which was very crowded and not very wealthy, seems to have been hit hard by the Spanish Flu pandemic. A quick look around the Minersville Cemetery shows a very large number of burials of young adults in 1918 and the next two years.

Georg Kirner Monument, Minersville Cemetery

In spite of the damaged statue, this is an unusually beautiful monument, and the inscriptions are very good examples of German stonecutting in Pittsburgh.

Georg Kirner
Born Hoeffingen, Baden,
April 17, 1831.
Died in Pittsburg
May 12, 1872.

The language does not seem to be standard German (note, for example, the spelling “Maÿ” rather than “Mai”). Is it some Alemannic dialect? Perhaps someone more familiar with German can help old Pa Pitt by identifying the dialect and translating the other inscriptions:

So leb denn wohl so zieh dahin
Die Erde wartet dein
Geh in des Todes stille Ruhe-Kammerein
Shlaf eine sanfte süse Ruh’
Die Hand der Liebe deckt dich zu,

In his transcription, Father Pitt has made the assumption that a horizontal line over an N or M doubles the letter.

Jeh empfand an deiner Seite
Lebensfroh der Erde Glück
Jinner geh mir dein Geleite
Einen frohen augenblick.

The base of the statue is marked “Mein Gatte” (“My Husband).” The statue is probably ordered from a monument-dealer’s catalogue, with the simple Gothic letters already on the base. They are not nearly as elegant as the beautiful lettering by the local stonecutter.

An update: Old Pa Pitt suspects that the dialect is some form of the Alemannic spoken in Baden.