Graveyard horror in the middle of New Jersey's largest city

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- The trees, weeds and debris resemble any junk yard spread across the nation, but with a closer look, you realize the field of rubbish and sunken landscape is part of a sad and painful history in the central ward of New Jersey's largest city.

The Woodland Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 80,000 souls, many of them of German ancestry who came to this country in the 1800s in search of a better life and became part of the industrial revolution that made the city of Newark a powerful economic center.

The toppled tombstones tell the story of people who fought in the War of 1812, the Civil War and in Vietnam. They gave their lives, but the remains and their stories have been forgotten.

The cemetery covers a sprawling 36 acres and through the overgrown weeds, some family members walk along the old carriage roads to find some evidence of their family's past.

Phillip Koether is a New York City architect who has spent countless hours researching his ancestors and learned one of his family members had assisted Thomas Edison in one of his many discoveries.

Koether had to trample some high grass and weeds to find the grave of his great-great grandmother and the more than a dozen other family members stacked two and three deep on their burial plot.

"Oh my God," he said, approaching the site and seeing it for the first time in years.

The headstone was knocked over, and he had to clean off the slab in order to read the name etched in the stone.

At least 55 percent of the graveyard looks like a wasteland. The other portion has been maintained with little funding by a group of volunteers who make up the cemetery board.

They have reopened the cemetery for burials but struggle because the overall condition of the property is shameful.

Warren Vincentz tries to help in the upkeep because of his love of history and family, in hopes that someone will care about the forgotten loved ones. It took him and his son nearly three years to clear the plot of land where his ancestors are buried. It looks like a garden spot surrounded by a jungle.

The cemetery is privately owned and does not get any assistance from the city, state or federal government.

Woodland is one of about 100 cemeteries in New Jersey said to be in horrible condition.

The Newark site is the largest in the state, with the most prolific history.
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