Museums are not the only places that preserve artifacts and keep history alive. A wealth of information on local family lineages can be found in the cemetery at the Old Burying Ground, right next to the Village Green in Bedford Village.
There is a ongoing effort to maintain these precious artifacts—the earliest grave marker dates back to 1700—with a seminar and a workshop that will instruct volunteers in the art of cleaning, restoring and documenting information about the grave markers.
The seminar will held on Thursday, May 19, hosted by the and sponsored by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network. Invited are local historians, educators, librarians, genealogists, and community members who are interested in learning the steps necessary to preserve a vanishing heritage.
According to Bedford's historian, John Stockbridge, there are approximately 30 cemeteries in the town, many of which exist on privately-owned or landlocked property. The town cares for eight cemeteries including the Old Burying Ground, but does not preserve and restore the gravestones.
“From the standpoint of history, the town’s stories are wrapped up in the people who lived here,” Stockbridge says. “With every stone, there is a story. And the curious can come learn about families and what happened in the earliest days of Bedford Village,” he says of the upcoming workshops.
Kerry Sclafani, who is the regional coordinator of the Hudson Valley Documentation Heritage Program, says her organization’s mission is to help advance the work of history-keepers in the greater Hudson Valley—to help preserve historic house museums, heritage centers, archives, libraries and historic sites including cemeteries.
“We want to raise awareness about how vitally important it is that these stones are preserved,” she says. “The workshop’s conservator will teach volunteers how to re-set and repair stones and there will be a discussion about the laws that govern cemeteries.”
Stockbridge, who is also the president of the Friends of Bedford Burying Grounds, will speak about Bedford’s historic cemeteries.
“Many of the stones are broken and need repair,” adds Stockbridge. “We need volunteers with gloves on, to take part.”
He describes a noted Bedford couple, Dr. Peter Fleming and his wife, Sarah MacDonald, who lie in the Old Burying Ground. “They were both from prominent families in early Bedford—Fleming served in the Revolutionary War, as the Town Supervisor and as the first Bedford Commissioner of Schools, among other things. The couple lived in a building that is currently part of the Bedford Post.”
The workshop—a roll-up-your-sleeves restoration effort at the Old Burying Ground, will take place on Saturday, May 21 and is sponsored by the Friends of Bedford Burying Grounds. Volunteers are needed from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., to tend to the Flemings' and other antique grave stones.
Pat Raftery, librarian of the Westchester Historical Society, will soon release a book which narrates some of the stories revealed by cemetary gravestones. He shared with Patch an excerpt about three Bedford children who died in a gunpowder explosion in 1818. Raftery writes that the disaster took place in Bedford Village and was recounted by William Jay, son of Supreme Court Justice John Jay, in his diary.
The children’s graves are at the Old Burying Grounds—one stone reads:
Ah death couldst thou not spare
This youthful bloom
But summoned him so early to the tomb
The lovely youth his parents hope is gone
The beauteous flower is nipped before its bloom