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Life Arts    H3'ed 6/12/22

Voices of the Departed: Gravesite Mysteries of the Civil War and More

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OpEdNews visits with Alan Crawford and Jessica Boyd; Alan is Town of Newburgh Historian as well as President of the Rossville Cemetery Association, and Jessica is a writer, actor, and educator who specializes in historical reenactment. Both are based in New York's mid-Hudson Valley, and I met them because of a graveyard mystery.

Meryl Ann Butler: Thanks for visiting with OpEdNews, today, Alan. You have an exciting historical reenactment event coming up, but first let's start with some background. Due to your involvement with the Rossville Cemetery Association, you made some intriguing discoveries at the cemetery that led to your upcoming event, can you give us some background?

Alan Crawford, Town of Newburgh Historian; Pres. Rossville Cemetery Assn
Alan Crawford, Town of Newburgh Historian; Pres. Rossville Cemetery Assn
(Image by Alan Crawford)
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Alan Crawford: Sure! When I was provided the honor and opportunity to become the Town of Newburgh Historian, I recognized it as a means to begin documenting memories of people and places which are slowly fading away. Community members have stepped up and sent in requests for the history and background of various things in our town which I've used as a springboard for a series of weekly articles in The Mid Hudson Times, I'm in the Hudson Valley Edition.

About the same time, it was brought to my attention that the last members of the previous generation were looking to pass the task of keeping the Rossville Church and cemetery on to us "younger" people. A group of us decided to take this on based on the fact that we had family interred there and we've grown up admiring the grounds.

Rossville Church (founded 1831)  and one of its stained glass windows.
Rossville Church (founded 1831) and one of its stained glass windows.
(Image by Alan Crawford)
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We've held grave marker cleaning workshops, cleared the fences, and begun general upkeep on the structure. Our purpose is to help the community realize the impact the people resting there had on shaping our town.

Rossville Church Cemetery
Rossville Church Cemetery
(Image by Alan Crawford)
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While cleaning up the cemetery, we found gravestones for veterans of various wars, Native American Indians, and immigrants from England, Ireland and Scotland. I was surprised and delighted to discover the gravestone of my part-Native American ancestor, Mary Eliza Cloud St. John, hidden in the underbrush!

MAB: And I was surprised to discover that I am related to her, also--as well as to Civil War veteran Hezekiah Harris and his wife Catherine.

Gravestones of Mary Eliza Cloud St. John and her son before and after restoration
Gravestones of Mary Eliza Cloud St. John and her son before and after restoration
(Image by Alan Crawford)
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AC: Our graveyard includes community leaders and just simple, ordinary folks like you and me, a complete cross section of generations who settled this area spanning the time from the late 1700's to the 20th Century!

MAB: That's fascinating! How do you clean a gravestone?

AC: I was fortunate to be able to attend workshops sponsored by Orange County where I learned the technique and skill. It's not involved, just some time, the recommended cleaning solution, and a bit of elbow grease. Once cleaned, the condition of the stone will continue to whiten and brighten with exposure to UV light over the next few weeks, or even months. For example, the Mary Eliza Cloud and her son's stone.

MAB: Well, I have some family gravestones in another cemetery that need some help, so I will be paying attention to this! Can you give us some details on your upcoming event? And future plans?

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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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