Elizabeth C. Maser Thorn was born in Germany in 1832. She and her family arrived in America in 1854, making their way from Ellis Island to Gettysburg, PA. Elizabeth’s future husband Peter had arrived in America from Germany two years prior. He was working for the North American Mining Company in its copper mine located on High Street. The main entrance was two doors west of Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church under the old church convent. On September 1, 1855, Peter and Elizabeth were married.
On the same day as their wedding, the cornerstone was laid for the new Gatehouse and Lodge of the town’s Evergreen Cemetery. Construction was completed in November of that year. In February of 1856, Peter was chosen as the “Keeper of the Cemetery,” and he, Elizabeth, and her parents moved into the Gatehouse.
On August 1, 1862, Peter and nearly 150 Adams County men enlisted in the 138th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and served for almost three years. Elizabeth and her father were left to care for the cemetery and care for their sons. Until June of 1863, life as a cemetery caretaker was fairly normal. Elizabeth averaged five burials per month. However, things turned dramatically worse following the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. On July 2, Elizabeth and her family were forced to abandon the Gatehouse as the hand-to-hand fighting commenced there. The family returned to find their food and possessions had been stolen and dead bodies lying everywhere.
As acting caretaker of the cemetery, Elizabeth was ordered to begin burying the dead. A grueling task on its own, things were made even more challenging at Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Men were enlisted to help, but one by one, they disappeared, unable to bear the gruesome work.
In November 1863, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Rose Meade. The child faced many health challenges and died at the age of 14. Elizabeth always felt that the stress of the battle and her work burying the fallen soldiers affected her unborn daughter.
After the Battle
Elizabeth’s husband returned from the war safely after Appomattox. The couple stayed at the cemetery, with Peter resuming his caretaker duties until 1875. Both Peter and Elizabeth passed away in 1907 and are buried in the Evergreen Cemetery, where they served.
On November 16, 2002, the statue sculpted by Ron Tunison, and known as the Gettysburg Women’s Civil War Memorial. was dedicated near the Gatehouse at Evergreen Cemetery. The Gettysburg Women’s Memorial stands as a tribute to the women of Gettysburg who served and suffered because of the war. It depicts a tired, overworked, and six-months pregnant Elizabeth Thorn wiping her brow while attending to her burial duties.