Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gated Communities of W. C.

     I won't be trick or treating in an Obama mask this year. The risk of scaring to death a Democratic candidate running for office is just too great. Instead my nod to Halloween will be this photo tour of a few Washington County cemeteries.
     Why are graveyards considered frightening? And why do so many of them have fences and gates? For most people in Washington County the thing they fear most is getting their property/school tax bill.   Still, when I'm out for an evening jog on Binninger Road from Eagleville or along River Road in Fort Miller, with dusk settling and a little foggy mist creeping out of the woods, my pace always picks up as I pass the tombstones.


     Here's a peaceful spot on County 61 just up the hill from Battenville.

     Eagleville is an oldie with internments from 1795. It's a simple opening in the surrounding woods. Curiously, the stones are placed perpendicular to the dirt road. And what a wonderful road it is. Binninger is my favorite running route in all of Washington County. Tree shaded and stone walled with classic country homes, a quaint crossing of Steele Brook and the cemetery, of course. Park down by the covered bridge and enjoy this outing on foot. Extra points if you walk it after dark on a full moon night.

     The Moravian Cemetery is a pastoral gem, with its enclosing stone wall and (missing) gate. Being located in beautiful Camden Valley doesn't hurt. The sheep in the pasture across the road add to the charm. Philip Embury, the father of American Methodism, was interred here in 1773 then moved several times until he ended up in Cambridge. The Moravians are a protestant sect that came to America from Germany around 1735. Abraham Bininger established a mission of the church, and this cemetery on his farm here in Camden near the Vermont border.

     A small group of stones commands this knoll along County 62 near the intersection of Kenyon Hill Road in the Town of Jackson.

     Fort Miller's Riverside is a personal favorite. I've logged a lot of miles from the Rt. 4 bridge up
River Road thru the hamlet and past the cemetery. It's lovely during the day with two large catalpa trees along the road and tall pines towards the back. But I always seem to hit it at dusk when it spooks me out. It's aptly named because the Hudson is right behind it. Always wanted waterfront property? My advice is to walk to the back of Riverside and be careful what you wish for.

Jane McCrea - How not to rest in peace

     Jane   McCrea is the diva of local historical lore. She was a young woman who died during a skirmish between American patriots and Indians attached to British General Burgoyne's army. There is some uncertainty but she was probably murdered by the Indians and was definitely scalped by them. Her death incited many in the colonies to fight the British and was a factor in Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga several months later.
     For Jane, her violent death on July 25, 1777 was the beginning of a long, strange journey. Depending on the accuracy of various accounts she was buried and dug up four or five times and not all of her made it to her final grave. You can visit the sites of this macabre story in and around Fort Edward and Halloween seems like the perfect time to do it.

     This was Jane's brother's house on the west side of the river below Fort Edward. She was staying here in relative safety until family discord over the war caused her to leave.

     The historical marker calls this the Jane McCrea House. Was this where she was staying with Sarah McNeil when they were abducted? They were taken towards the hill where the high school is today. Somewhere in what was then a wooded area she was killed and perhaps buried for a short time. Presumably the Stewarts Shop next to the house wasn't there in 1777.

A short time after her death she was apparently dug up and floated down the Hudson with the intent of burying her on her brother's farm. The family didn't agree to this so she was interred on the east side of the river near where Blackhouse Road joins Rt. 4. There is a marker here beside the road and a small enclosed lot with a monument to an American soldier who died on the same day as McCrea. His name was Tobias Van Veghten.

     In 1822 McCrea was exhumed and moved to the State Street Cemetery in Fort Edward. Supposedly her remains were placed on top of her old friend Sarah McNeil's vault. Eventually she was dug up again in 1852 to make room for the Champlain Canal then under construction. This time she moved up the hill beyond her murder and original burial site to Union Cemetery along Rt. 4 across from the Washington County offices.

     In 2003 a forensic exhumation was conducted by archeologist David Starbuck. Although there were few remains left it was discovered that two bodies had been buried together, presumably McCrea and McNeil. McCrea's skull and many bones were missing, probably taken by souvenir hunters at a previous disinterment. Today you can see the monuments within an iron fence enclosure, gated and padlocked, just inside the entrance to Union Cemetery. Side by side are stones honoring Jane McCrea,  Sarah McNeil and Duncan Campbell.

     Cemeteries are where we remember those who've come and gone before us. But they also serve as visible landscape reminders of deeper truths about the human condition, about how grateful we should be for this blessed, fragile gift. Life itself is the real trick or treat. Happy Halloween to you all.

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