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Life Arts    H1'ed 5/29/22

Unraveling A Memorial Day Mystery

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Family of Hezekiah and Catherine Harris at their gravesite
Family of Hezekiah and Catherine Harris at their gravesite
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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I guess it all started on July 2, 1863, when my great-great-grandfather, Hezekiah Harris, died at Devil's Den in Gettysburg. He was 49.

I was just a kid when my grandmother gave me this photo of the family surrounding his and his wife, Catherine's, gravestone. Strangely, as soon as I saw the picture, I wanted to go to the gravesite, and I asked where it was located. "Somewhere in upstate NY" was all she knew.

The teen in the photo at front left is Franklin, Hezekiah and Catherine's grandson. He would become my grandfather. Franklin's mother is at far right, wearing an amazing hat.

After nearly 40 years of wondering about the location of this photo, about two weeks ago I found out that it was Rossville cemetery, in a small town near Newburgh, NY. I was excited to discover that it is only about 25 minutes from the family plot where my parents are buried, which I had already planned to visit this summer.

I found the general location of this cemetery on the internet, but the country-style address didn't seem specific enough to find easily. So I tracked down the area's historical society on Facebook thinking that might lead to answers.

It was after 1:00 am on May 22 when I posted the photo along with the details and a request for more info, such as the exact location of the cemetery, and whether it was overgrown or if it was still possible to see the gravestones. I hoped I might get a response by morning. I realized that I might be in luck, because May 22 was the birthday of my grandmother who had given me the photo!

Just as I started to close my laptop, I heard a ping. There was a FB message for me from the historian who is the moderator for the Facebook page! And even more surprising he said, "What an amazing photo! There is too much to tell you! You need to call me, I'm up now--we are cousins!"

And I had one of the most amazing 1:00 am phone conversations in my life with Alan, my new cousin!

It turns out that his historical group's current project was cleaning up this very cemetery - trimming the tall grass so the gravestones could be seen, and cleaning off the lichen so the words could be read. And to celebrate the completion of their hard work, they are hosting an upcoming celebration, with an actor playing the part of my great-great-grandmother, Catherine Griffin, in a historical reenactment!

Top: Two-century old Rossville, NY church in partial restoration, Bottom: restored Harris gravestone
Top: Two-century old Rossville, NY church in partial restoration, Bottom: restored Harris gravestone
(Image by Town of Newburgh Historian)
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And Alan told me, "I'm not your only cousin here, there are a bunch of us!"

So my upcoming visit to the cemeteries has become a lively adventure! And my newfound cousin will be showing me the Harris gravesite and introducing me to kinfolk.

I'll be bringing my stack of unlabeled family photos to see what other mysteries may unravel--stay tuned!

[06.06.22 Ed note: the event has been rescheduled for Sat. June 25, more info here.]

Event poster for June 25
Event poster for June 25
(Image by Rossville Cemetery Association)
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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)

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