I spent this morning in my ancestral grounds of Enfield, New York…just above Cayuga’s waters…traipsing about the two old cemeteries in Enfield Center. They are still active…meaning they have open lots and current burials…handsome new stones that neither tilt nor mildew and glisten in the summer sun. But for the pioneer areas…Mother Nature is relentess and the presence of man is only embodied in the old epitaphs. In the four years since I began to visit these cemeteries, the odds against these old monuments being here for another generation continue to rise. My great great grandparents and my great grandparents are buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery. And my great great great grandmother, Elizabeth Weyburn Ingersoll. Samuel D. Purdy and his wife, Semantha Ingersoll rest at the very back of the cemetery down a forbidding slope, but their monuments still sit fairly upright…the eight foot obelisk is a mighty sight. More modestly…but more level and pristine sits the headstone of Elizabeth Weyburn, wife of Samuel Ingersoll, Jr. and daughter of Ovid and Ulysses pioneers Samuel Weyburn and Jane Bratton.
When my son, Mike, came with me a couple of years ago…he bullied his way down the overgrown slope and beat back the brush so we could visit their graves and lay a pink rose at each monument. Mother Nature has reclaimed this grandson’s rude path and the blackberries with their prickly sentinels once again guard the way. So I can only stand there from the high ground and zoom in with my camera to reassure myself that they are there for one more year.
I made my way down the Enfield Main Road to the Christian cemetery and walked up to the Van Dorn and Williams graves. They remain as always…darker with mildew and pollen…but still upright and facing East as the Christian burial tradition dictated, but I cannot say that others have fared so well. I still peek into the heavy brush at the back, but dare not enter…take a photograph or
two…and then head south to the old debris pile to make sure that Judah Baker’s Revolutionary War Medallion is still stuck amidst the brush…and his wife, Lydia’s broken stone still sits…slowly being covered by broken wood, leaves and dirt.
I wish I were twenty years younger with my strong body and hands and fearless heart. But I am a (gulp) senior citizen now and clearing and hauling brush and mending stone is for the next generation. If they will.
As I drove away…it occurred to me that these pioneers settled this land…made the first roads and maintained them…most new ones follow the old turnpikes….many bear their names…Applegate…Harvey…Van Dorn. Judah and Lydia Baker have a NYS historical marker at the road by Christian Cemetery. And yet we shrug sympathetically…”there is no money…I don’t have time….someone else will do it. Oh well…that’s how it goes…”. Townships are strapped and spread thin and have priorities…that’s a reality. The same holds true with cemetery associations. What to do to preserve our history and honor those that struggled so that we could be free and live in this most amazing country?
I had put off joining the DAR…the economy has a grip on my purse. I still have the original papers from 2008…dated the day before Leaman fell. But I think for me this might be the place to start…an organization that has in the past tackled these cemeteries…raising funds…getting grants…moving mountains to make sure our pioneer cemeteries continue to exist and stand as a testament to those that came before us.
I have told this story before…but it bears repeating. Years ago I found an old cemetery and began to push through the rusty gate when an old and faded sign caught my eye. It had hung on the gate at one time and had been as white as the snow. Its letters once coal black as a raven’s eye were weathered and worn and the words barely legible.
“As you are, I once was. As I am, you will be.”
I thought how poetic…it was as if the old sign whispered to me…the words as gray as a ghost. I never looked at a pioneer cemetery the same way again…or the history and lives these old cemeteries represent.
It may start with a five dollar donation and rustling up some high school kids and college kids who love and study history…but the journey has to begin somewhere and if I cannot heft a sickle….I will tug at someone’s conscience and grab a hold of their change purse.
It’s just one Starbuck’s coffee away from reality. And heck…THEY would approve…Starbucks were pioneer whalers….
What will you do to preserve history?
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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