Old Shiloh Cemetery, one of the oldest in the state of Texas, continues to uphold a once common practice in American communities – that of an annual cemetery cleaning and pot luck supper.
The annual picnic began in 1853 after the land was donated to the community of Shiloh as “a special gift for the purpose of building a church house and that the said six acres of land not be used for any other purpose save that of burying the dead, which be a free grave yard for any and all that may choose to, or wish to, bury their dead at said grave yard.”
The annual cemetery cleaning and picnic tradition was born when Mrs. Susan Vaughn Pierce and “Granny” Jeffrey met with friends to clean the cemetery. Since the cemetery cleaning was an all day affair, the ladies packed and shared a hearty meal. This idea soon spread, and others brought lunches, and the “Shiloh Picnic” tradition began.
In the early days, members of the community would rise early and pack up their wagons with food, tools and cleaning supplies and head out to tend the grounds and graves of those interred there. This included pioneers, community members, soldiers and unmarked graves believed to be those of slaves.
Once the work was over, families would set out their pot luck dishes under the pine and oak tress and share in a communal meal. Music and gospel or hymnal singing was an important part of the day as well.
Two permanent concessions stands were even constructed at the cemetery. Home made ice cream made by ladies of the community were sold in five gallon freezers at the stands to raise money for the upkeep of the cemetery. In later years, when ice cream was commercially available, candy, popcorn and cold drinks were added and sold for a nickel. Hotdogs, hamburgers and sno cones were later, more modern additions.
Photographs via The Old Shiloh Cemetery website.