Finn’s Point National Cemetery is small—a couple of walled acres near the town of Pennsville in Salem County. It gets its name from the colony of Finnish Americans who once settled in the area. The cemetery was created in 1875 for the reburial in a mass grave of the remains of 2,436 Confederate soldiers.
Most of the doomed Confederates had been captured at Gettysburg and died while imprisoned at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, a mile offshore. Pea Patch got its name as the result of an 18th-century ship getting stuck on an island shoal. Supposedly, the crew freed the ship by dumping its load of peas on the island, some of which sprouted.
As for the prison, 12,000 Confederates were housed there in horrible conditions in facilities adequate for 4,000. “Fort Delaware is to the South what Andersonville is to the North, a cesspool of misery…and disease,” wrote the federal inspector of prisons.
The names of the dead appear on bronze plates affixed to the base of an 85-foot obelisk. Each Memorial Day, the Confederate Daughters of America show up with a sizeable Confederate flag. Federal law allows the flag to be displayed at Confederate memorials that one day of the year. (This Yankee feels strange knowing that Confederates are honored in our state.)
But it gets stranger. Not far from the Confederate monument, 13 German World War II soldiers are buried, their graves marked with handsome marble stones. “Confederates and Nazis in a New Jersey cemetery?!” I exclaimed to no one in particular. Looking at the names on the tombstones, I noticed that some were Germanic, others distinctly Slavic. It turns out that some of the 13 were Russian turncoats who had joined the Nazi forces. Allied forces captured the 13 and sent them to work at Fort Dix. On June 29, 1945, the Russian Nazis learned that they would be repatriated to Russia the next day. Fearing that they would be tortured and executed, there was a riot. Two were critically wounded. Three hung themselves. There are various dates on the tombstones, but three have June 29, 1945, as the date of death; two others have early July of that year.
As if this graveyard were not sufficiently creepy, here is one more detail. On May 9, 1997, a serial killer named Andrew Cunanon, demanding the cemetery caretaker’s pickup truck, shot and killed him. (Cunanon, it turned out, also murdered designer Gianni Versace.)
I asked a woman in Pennsville if she had ever visited Finn’s Point, “Oh no,” she replied. “I would never go there. That place is haunted.” Maybe she was right.
Michael Aaron Rockland is writing a book about the Delaware River titled The Other Jersey Shore.Click here to leave a comment