Winter 1997

 
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A Visit to Fairview Cemetery

in Naples, NY

by

Beth Flory

It was a good thing to do on a solitary, sunny October afternoon while the wind blew down walnuts, leaves crackled underfoot and church bells chimed in the distance. Without planning to, I stepped into the old cemetery to check on my ancestors and to look at gravestones and see what they could tell me.

Some have epitaphs, many of which sound familiar to anyone accustomed to poking about in 18th and 19th century graveyards. The words reflect what the departed loved ones, or their grieving families might have said.

A husband and wife who died in the 1840s turned death and loss into images of comfort and ease:

Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are
Whilst on his breast I lean my head
And breathe my life out sweetly there

While many cling to the hope of heaven, others despair. The epitaph for Irving Holcomb, drowned in 1863 at the age of 16, is bleak and terse:

I yield my life to a watery grave

Resignation, along with a warning to the living to mend their ways, is in the message of Jonathan Lee who died in 1812:

Go home my friends
Forbear your tears
I must lie here
Til Christ appears
Repent in time
Whilst time you have
There's no repentance
In the grave

Dr. Silas Newcomb, dead in 1810, sounds a tired and hopeless note:

Thousands of journeys night and day
I've traveled weary on my way
To heal the sick but now I've gone
A journey never to return

An old man? No, he was 35.

Although many children sickened and died, the frequency of death's visits did not make them any easier to bear. Heartache without consolation is in the verse for a nine year old:

Clearly tis hard to give thee up
To sever ties so dear
It almost breaks my lonely heart
To go and leave thee here

Little Jennie Branby, my own great-great aunt's baby, has a tiny stone with room only for a hand which points upward in a mute expression of hope. Both Isadore Standish, who was 3 in 1850, and Emma Pierce, who died in 1861 at 21/2 are remembered with:

Not in the graveyard
Not in the grave
In the arms of her savior
Our darling we have laid

Fairview's most imposing monument is that of Col. William Clark who was 83 when he died in 1825. The size of his stone allows for an abbreviated biography:

Col. Clark emigrated from Berkshire, Mass to Naples, New York in 1791. He was one of the first Justices of the Peace in Ontario County and for 31 years a benevolent and useful citizen.

And there's a veteran of the War of 1812: Jacob Sutton, 1790 - 1876, was a Private in Swift's Regiment, New York Militia.

Christopher Wheeler has one of those oddities, a hollow metal monument of the type that enjoyed something of a vogue with Victorians. There is at least one in Rose Ridge which I, as a child, liked to tap gently to hear the rather spooky hollow echo.

The northwest corner of the cemetery appears empty except for one gravestone in the back. This area is said to be the potter's field where society's unfortunates received anonymous burial.

Outside the iron gate people passed to and from their good lunches; cars and trucks sped by under the same blue sky and autumn sun once so dear to William and Silas, Jacob, Jonathan and the others. Sometimes they are remembered by those who venture into the old cemetery to ponder the mystery of their own brief sojourns in the world.

1996, Beth Flory
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