Episode 32 “Boroughs of the Dead”: with Marie Carter,
Editor, writer, teacher, and tour guide.
When detectives and forensic scientists were called to investigate the Hart Island human remains, found littering its beach, none of them could have known they had been probably treading on additional mass graves, hidden beneath New York City’s parks, buildings, and sidewalks.
Hart island might be New York City’s largest mass grave, but it wasn’t the first. Join us on a tour of perhaps lesser known burial sites that stand quietly and nearly forgotten just beneath the crushing grind of growth and change.
by John Reynolds
The following is taken from a pamphlet entitled Forgotten Cemeteries of Almond written by the late John Reynolds.
The pamphlet begins: “In the quiet peace of Almond’s two cemeteries, Woodlawn, lying above the village on the eastern slope of Sand Hill, and Fairview just over the summit of the hill on the road to Angelica, most of Almond’s dead are buried. Here they sleep amid the beauty of wide-spreading maples, towering spruce, and well-kept spacious lawns. Some have large, impressive monuments, a status symbol for some early families; others have less ornate markers to establish their identity through eternity.
“Not all the dead of Almond’s earlier years are buried here. Customs were different then. Those who passed on when the town was young were laid to rest in family or neighborhood plots conveniently near their former homes where frequent visits could be made and care provided by those who survived them. Through the years, families of these so buried have moved or passed also to their eternal rest. Time, relentlessly, has erased them from memory. Very few, if any, are now living who remember.
“Consequently, several old cemeteries scattered about the town, almost without exception, represent neglect. They are, in most cases, completely obscured and guarded by an almost impenetrable bramble of wild rose and blackberry, interspersed with burdock and brush of all kinds. In some of these cemeteries, only a few of the gravestones remain upright; others lie flat, victims of time and weather, vandalism or burrowing woodchucks, and covered by a thick blanket of the ever-present myrtle. These cemeteries are so well hidden that only a comparatively few people are aware of their existence. Strangely too, they are not all confined to remote places but often lie very near well-traveled highways. This chapter is devoted to these forgotten cemeteries.”)
About a quarter of a mile back of the residence of Mrs. Mae Whitford – old near Town of Alfred lin) and to the right after passing through the “V” shaped cut in the glacial moraine, is a small family cemetery. Included among the few who are buried here is Silas Stillman. He was born in Rhode Island on June 6, 1780, and moved to Rensselaer County. In 1807, he accompanied Nathan Green, Clark Crandall, and Joseph Lanphear to Alfred. Two years later, he moved to Almond, where he had purchased 250 acres of unimproved land in the southern part of the town, near the town line.
In addition to being a farmer, Mr. Stillman was also a blacksmith and one of the first in the town. His shop was located near the present residence of Mae Whitford. His grandson, Horace Stillman, who was Almond’s grand old man, once said his grandfather performed a service vital to the early settlers by forging their necessities. In addition to the many small items, he made andirons for fireplaces and the swinging cranes that supported the heavy iron kettles over the fire in which the family cooking was done. Both horses and oxen were shod in this pioneer blacksmith shop. To shoe, an ox was quite an undertaking.
Mr. Stillman served as the first supervisor of the Town of Almond soon after its organization, having been elected at the first town meeting held April 1821. Mr. Stillman died on June 2, 1857, at the age of 76.
Another stone in this cemetery, part of which is missing, has been carried in some manner about fifteen feet away, but which fits into the base beside the grave of Silas. It reads: “(Name missing) Wife of Silas Stillman, Died Feb 23, 1859.” At this location there is a footstone with the initials R.S. inscribed upon it. This would identify it as the grave of Rebecca Stillman, the wife of Silas. The only other graves that can be identified here are those of Thomas Lewis, 1795-1808; Margaret, wife of Thomas, who died Oct. 4, 1851, aged 53 years; and their son, T. Menza Lewis, 1835-1853.
Another small family cemetery lies at some distance from the Karr Valley highway to the south and across the creek from the residence of Gary Foster on lands originally owned by the Rathbun family. This cemetery is now in a very wooded area and contains perhaps as many as twenty graves, only two of which are marked by other than fieldstones. One of these is badly weathered and is unreadable. The other was so badly flaked off that fragments bearing the inscription were recovered from around the base of the stone and pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. When completed sufficiently it read: “Lynda, wife of L. S. Rathbun, Died May 12, 1877, aged 31 years.”
Talking Hart island: A Podcast by Michael T Keene