Long Island Advance
Story By: NICOLE ALLEGREZZA
As the second annual Dia de los Muertos celebration approaches, the Greater Patchogue Foundation is preparing the Lakeview/Waverly Avenue cemetery area, which includes five individual cemeteries.
Thus far, the Town of Brookhaven has agreed to maintain and mow the properties, the county has allocated funds for improvements and the foundation has repaired and reinstalled their first headstone and expects to repair and replace more.
Usually, the town is responsible for bi-yearly maintenance of abandoned cemeteries. But after attending a sailor’s stone dedication in June, town supervisor Ed Romaine became interested in helping preserve the historical land. And so, earlier this summer, he agreed to maintain the cemetery properties year-round. “This is a very important part of history. We need to work with our neighbors. We saw a problem that we could remedy and we provided that service,” he said.
The expensive task requiring special equipment and a lot of weed-whacking work has since been added to the town parks department’s regular workload. The town began mowing the properties approximately bi-weekly and will continue until the winter months. Additionally, they have agreed to help the committee upright headstones that don’t need to be remounted on Monday evenings.
Also, earlier this year, Suffolk County Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) awarded the foundation a grant in the amount of $5,000 for lighting, irrigation and tombstone restoration. Currently, the electrical work is being completed and a mixture of spot and floodlights will adorn the cemetery in an effort to deter crime and vandalism.
According to Tom Ferb, committee member and village trustee, of the hundreds of headstones, there are about 125 graves belonging to soldiers from as far back as the Revolutionary War, most of which, according to committee chair Ralph Wright, are in need of repair. Each stone repair, depending on severity, ranges from about $500 to $1,000. “Some of the newer stones are in good shape, but a lot are in rougher shape. I would say about half need some sort of repair,” he said.
“It’s rare to walk by a stone that doesn’t need to be lifted,” added historian Lynn Davis.
In preparation for the event, the cemetery committee has restored the headstone of buried slave boy George W. Tims, which, according to Davis, is a rare find. “It identifies him as a colored boy and that he was ‘bound’ to A. Roe, the grandson of Austin Roe,” she said. The stone, she explained, was in pretty good condition but laid in the grass. It has since been restored and replanted in the ground at the original site for about $600.
Prior to the gala, the committee hopes to replace two more headstones, including Civil War veterans Eddison Day Hawkins’ and David Mott’s headstones, and then conduct an entire historic sweep of everyone buried there. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, she explained, has agreed to cover the cost to replace the stones and the committee will cover re-installation costs. (If any veterans’ stones are no longer readable or damaged, the VA is required to replace them through an application process.)
The ultimate goal is to repair/replace as many graves as possible and that’s where Dave Rogers, Patchogue VFW senior vice commander and member of the committee, got involved. The federal government, according to Davis, has a cutoff date, which is basically a point in time where an application no longer must be made by a descendent and an application could instead be made by a foundation on behalf of a veteran’s gravestone.
Documentation and location of the gravesite must be found and accurate, which can be tricky. But, the committee feels it is important to maintain the records for not only the people buried there, but in the name of history.
Recently, Rogers began collecting information from old maps of the Lakeview/Waverly Avenue cemeteries to locate the graves of every veteran and person buried there. “Traditionally, the VFW keeps track of the veterans buried there because we lay flags on Memorial Day, but a lot of the vets in their 80s and 90s don’t remember where the stones are,” he said.
In an effort to make the project easier, Rogers has decided to create a more accurate map of the gravesites and digitalize it. He hopes to have verbiage for each and every person buried there and to eventually place the map online as well as somewhere at the cemetery.
The gala will take place on Nov. 4 from 7-10 p.m. at the Patchogue Family YMCA. Tickets are currently on sale for $85 per person. To become a sponsor or purchase tickets, visit http://www.patchogue.com. For more information, call 631-207-1000.