Tombstone Tuesday–Johannes Rapp

Johannes Rapp, Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

This is the sole tombstone in the Harmonist Cemetery, located in the town of Harmony, Butler County, Pennsylvania. The marker is inscribed, as translated:

Here lies and rests the body of
Johannes Rapp
Born 19 Dec 1783
Died 27 July 1812

The clay on potter’s wheel
awaits that dissolution reveals
the precious salt of new,
joyously resurrected life.

No, this is not my usual Tombstone Tuesday post. This is not a west central Ohio tombstone.  

At first glance you would not recognize this area is a burial ground, the final resting place for nearly 100 people. The Harmonist Cemetery looks like a flat grassy area, enclosed by an old limestone wall. The enclosed area is roughly 80 x 140 feet.

Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

You enter the cemetery through the unique revolving stone gate on the east side. The arch above the stone gate bears an inscription that is no longer legible.

Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

There is only one tombstone in the cemetery, that of Johannes Rapp, the son of Harmony Society founder George Rapp. The lone tombstone is leaning against the inner south wall.

Johannes Rapp tombstone, Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

The weekend before last we traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, where I gave my Rocks of Ages tombstone talk at the 20th anniversary meeting of the Middle Lancaster Historic Records Committee. My cousin Linda, who lives in Harmony, invited me to speak to the group, who met in a beautifully renovated old one-room schoolhouse. We stayed with Linda a couple days and also had a very nice visit with her mother [my aunt Ruth], who will celebrate her 100th birthday next month.

Karen & Linda, Harmonist Cemetery, 2019.

The weather was very nice when we arrived and Linda was our guide on a walking tour around Harmony. It is a beautiful historic town with many nice old buildings. For years Linda and Ruth have been involved in the Harmony Historical Society and Museum, which preserves the history of the Harmonites.

Historical marker, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

The historical sign by the Harmony Museum gives a brief history of the town:

Harmony. First home of Harmony Society, founded 1804, by George Rapp and German followers. In 1814 moved to New Harmony, Indiana, and settled at Economy in present Ambridge, Beaver County, in 1825.

George Rapp, from Wuerttemberg, came to America seeking religious freedom for himself and his followers, called Harmonists. The group was a communal society.

In 1814 the Harmonists sold the town of Harmony to the Mennonites and moved to Indiana Territory, where they founded town of New Harmony, along the Wabash River. They moved back to Pennsylvania in 1824 and founded the town of Economy, but since they chose a celibate lifestyle, they eventually died out. The Mennonite community lasted in Harmony until 1904.

But what about this cemetery with only one tombstone?

The Harmonists’ funeral services were simple and brief. They prayed over the body and sprinkled the body with flower petals to symbolize eternal life. Then they buried the body without marking it with a tombstone.

About 100 Harmonists are buried in the Harmonist Cemetery but only one has a tombstone. That one tombstone records the life and death of Johannes Rapp, son of the Society’s founder George Rapp. The marker leans against the south wall and does not really mark his grave.

The marker was donated by a non-Harmonist after Johannes Rapp was killed in an industrial accident in 1812. The Society reluctantly accepted the donation. 

Revolving gate, Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

Revolving gate, Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

In 1869 the Mennonites built the limestone wall around the Harmonite Cemetery. The entrance to the cemetery is a very unique revolving stone gate, symbolizing the soul’s entrance into the afterlife. The gate weighs about a ton but will open with moderate pressure. Supposedly the gate will open with just one finger, but my cousin Linda had to apply a little more pressure to open it.

Johannes Rapp, Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

On the historical sign by Rapp’s the tombstone:

Surveyor Johannes Georg Rapp was the only son of Harmony Society founder Johann Georg Rapp. His wedding to Johana Diem was performed in Harmony by his father Nov. 15, 1807. Their daughter Gertrude was born Aug. 31, 1808. Johannes died of tuberculosis two years after he “strained himself, and injured his breasts” while helping to put grain in the attic granary of the Society store on the diamond. This stone, origin unknown, is the sole exception to the Society practice of not marking graves. It previously faced east about eight feet from here and, after breaking, was moved against the wall before the mid-1930s. The inscribed poem’s “salt” is an alchemistic reference to the body and wisdom. A core principal of alchemy, the medieval science and philosophy significant to Georg Rapp, was the concept of transmutation—gold from lead, health from illness, youth from old age. [The tombstone inscription is written.]

Sign outside Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)

Sign outside the cemetery entrance, as translated:

The Harmony Society covered its unmarked graves with rocks and fenced the cemetery. Elias Zeigler was paid $6,030 in 1869 to wall it with stones quarried from a hillside near the Little Connoquenessing, a mile to the northeast, that were shaped and laid by Charles, Jacob and George Cable. The unique Mosaic tablets gate weight more than a ton. Exposure had obliterated German inscriptions above the gate.

Across Top:
Here rest 100 members of the Harmony Society who died from 1805 to 1815

Center Panel:
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall awaken me from the earth. Job 19:25

Blessed and Holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; over such the second death hath no power but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Revelation 20:6

Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life

Left Arch:
I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me shall live though he die. (John 11:25

Right Arch:
The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be transfigured. 1 Corinthians 15:52

Arch above revolving gate, Harmonist Cemetery, Harmony, PA. (2019 photo by Karen)


    • Clif Marshall on April 30, 2024 at 8:29 pm
    • Reply

    Did Johannes have any children besides Gertrude?

    1. As far as I know Gertrude was his only child.

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