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Of a potter’s field, mass exhumation and a Figian cannibal’s reburial

pennparka6542-300x190Before York High School could be built at the turn of the 20th century, a cemetery for the indigent – Potters Field – had to be moved. So that major exhumation project became what was probably the biggest re-burial project on York County’s record. But what went up came down. The school was demolished about 7 decades after its groundbreaking, and St. Patrick’s school and church uses the site today as a parking lot. (See another photo of the magnificent school below). Also of interest: Can Penn Park become grand again? and York County’s best-known exhumation and What’s the story of the fenced-in cemetery on the hilltop near I-83?

When York borough acquired Penn Park from the Penn heirs in 1816, it received two lots of ground for a potter’s field.

In 1897, the school district looked to build a new high school on that field, at the corner of South George and College Avenue. The district received the necessary approvals, George Prowell wrote in his 1907 history, and a new potter’s field was purchased in North York.

The bodies were exhumed and moved there, Prowell wrote, with a small endowment left over for the care of that lot.

That potter’s field remains atop a hill in North York today, about 120 years later.

So far, this story is true, courtesy of Prowell’s massive history.

From this point on, maybe not so.

A York Sunday News column in 2006 told about a haunted York tour. Now we all know that haunted tour narratives can be embellished to fit the occasion. We’re fortunate they never caught on here, as they have in Gettysburg.

Anyway, the column opined:

“For history buffs, outside the York County Judicial Center — which is on the site of the former Penn Hotel, which was built on the site of the former Pennsylvania House hotel — there will be the story of the dwarf cannibal from Fiji who died while touring with a B.T. Barnum show when it stopped in York. The deceased main attraction was buried in York City’s Potters Field — later the site of the original York High School (later Hannah Penn Junior High) across from Penn Park.”

Well, this cannibal story actually lays in the area of myth, according to the book “Cannibal Fictions.” Even in the day – in 1872 – one York newspaper reported the death; another debunked it. (Read the back and forth at Circus Scrap Book).

So the Figian cannibal might be resting in peace in North York.

But probably not.

York High School submittedA close-up of York High, later Hannah Penn Junior High School.