Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery
Mackinac State Park
Mackinac Island, Michigan 49757 Founded: mid-1820s Size: 1 acre Number of interments: Approximately 108 Open: Daily from sunrise to sunset Information: Contact Great Lakes National Cemetery, 4200 Belford Road, Holly, MI 48442. Telephone: (248) 328-0386
Just north of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula lies Mackinac Island, the number one tourist destination in the state. In 1898 the island banned motorized traffic, so the chief modes of transportation continue to be bicycles and horses. Horse-drawn tour carriages lecture about the island’s native history, the time it served as a hub in the fur trade, and the two battles fought on its soil during the War of 1812. Since those exciting days, the island has become a quiet, relaxing retreat where life moves at a slower pace.
The British founded Fort Mackinac on the Island in 1780. (It replaced the earlier, more-vulnerable Fort Michilimackinac on the mainland, which the British had taken from the French.) In 1796, America took over Fort Mackinac, but it was recaptured by the British in July 1812, during the first land engagement of the War of 1812. During a second battle, in 1814, Americans attacked but did not recapture the fort. It was eventually returned to the United States after the war. The fort remained active until 1895, by which time, Mackinac Island had grown from a fur trading outpost into a summer resort.
Behind the old fort, the small Post Cemetery lies in a slight depression, surrounded by a white picket fence. Regulation military headstones stand at attention in straight lines, joined by a variety of other markers.
Interments may have begun in the Post Cemetery in the mid-1820s. Records show that 40 American soldiers died at the fort after 1796, but only a dozen graves remained marked in 1835 when Dr. C. R. Gilman described the picket fence around the Post Cemetery and reported that a former post commander built it at his own expense.
Of the 108 known burials in the Post Cemetery, 76 have headstones labeled unknown. Phil Porter, in his Park Service pamphlet Mackinac Island’s Post Cemetery, blamed post commanders for the number of unknown soldiers. They kept poor records and didn’t maintain the site. Some of the unknowns have since been identified.
A sign outside the cemetery fence lists some of the people known to be interred there. German-born Civil War Private Ignatius Goldhofer came to Mackinaw Island in 1869. In 1872, his wife buried him in the Post Cemetery. Josiah and Mary Cowles buried two children here, leaving them behind when Lieutenant Cowles was stationed elsewhere. Also in the Post Cemetery lies civilian Edward Biddle, who’d served as village president, sheriff, and surveyor.
A lamb sleeps atop the monument for Willam A. and Frank M., sons of William and Matilda Marshall, aged “2 years, 4 months, 9 days” and “2 years, 3 months.” While it’s rare for wives to be allowed burial in military cemeteries, I don’t think I’d ever before seen children buried amidst the soldiers. Their presence testified to the isolation of inhabitants of the island. Their epitaph made me sad: “Short pain, short grief, dear babe’s (sic) were they, now joys, eternal and divine.”
The last military funeral on the island celebrated Private Coon Walters in 1891. Four years later, the U.S. army abandoned Fort Mackinac, leaving behind the military burial ground. The cemetery fell into disrepair until the Mackinac Island State Park Commission began maintenance in 1905.
This didn’t end the cemetery’s troubles. Caretakers in the early 20th century made mistakes on replacement headstones. Unfortunately, as in so many other graveyards, caretakers lined the markers up for ease of mowing. The headstones bear little connection to the bodies beneath the ground.
Still, memory of the soldiers and their families is kept alive by the ever-circling tour carriages. The cemetery is a very peaceful place to explore, once you get away from the bustle of the bike liveries and fudge shops on Mackinac Island’s main street.
Currently both the Park Service and the Bureau of Veteran Affairs oversee the cemetery. It stands with Arlington, Gettysburg, and the Punchbowl as one of four cemeteries in the United States who always fly their flags at half-mast.
I grew up on a farm between my grandmother’s house and the graveyard, which is named Bendle after its first caretaker. The names on the gravestones were familiar: Nichols, Carpenter, and Calkins were the names of roads in the area. I was an adult before I understood that the roads were named for tracks which originally led to the first farms in the area, settled by families that cleared the land and built old red barns that still stood. Like all children, I thought that Clayton Township has always existed, instead of having been organized as late as 1846.
The Lyons family, whose descendants still live out on Nichols Road, donated an acre of land to the fledgling community to serve as burial ground. Bendle Cemetery’s first occupant was one of Seth Hathaway’s children around 1838. That monument, if ever there was one, has vanished. The oldest existing tombstone remembers Albert Ottaway, less than a year old when he died in 1844.
That initial acre fascinated me when I first began to pay attention to graveyards. There I saw my first lamb on a child’s grave. Among the oldest monuments were a six-foot tree trunk with limbs lopped off dedicated to the Youell family and a “white bronze” metal obelisk for the Carpenters.
White bronze monuments are actually made of zinc. They were sold via a mail order catalog. Families ordered various plates, ornamented with symbols ranging from human figures to fraternal organization badges to the flaming urn above, to be assembled at the graveyard. These monuments can be identified by their lovely pale bluish gray color and the fact that they’re hollow. You can hear the difference when you tap one gently.
All the white bronze cemetery monuments in the U.S. were made by Monumental Bronze Company, which operated a subsidiary in Detroit from 1881-1885. (The Carpenters were buried in 1891, 1899, and 1902, so it’s unlikely the monument above was made in Detroit.) Zinc never really caught on, since people often thought it looked cheap compared to stone. The white bronze monument business lasted only 40 years, closing down in 1914. Strangely enough, these “cheap” monuments survive, just as crisp and beautiful as the day they were assembled.
I’ve read a lot of books about cemeteries and it’s rare that I find one as full of new ideas as this one. This is an amazing book, accessible even to someone who went into it with little understanding of the history and theory of the art of landscaping.
Rather than tracing the Western graveyard to Pere Lachaise, Worpole traces it back to the Etruscan tombs of Italy, a necropolis that still stands, built on a very human scale. Worpole makes a case that architecture was invented to create tombs so that we could honor our ancestors. Then he follows his theory into the present, when cremation leaves us without a corpse to honor. How can landscape or architecture build a connection to something that isn’t there?
He looks to man-made landscapes for answers. Worpole is obsessed with the garden at Derek Jarman’s cottage between the nuclear power station and the sea at Dungeness, which Jarman fashioned out of native plants and sea wrack. He’s equally fascinated by the Stockholm Woodland Cemetery, a back-to-nature burial ground where the graves melt into the forest. He contrasts those two modern landscapes to the modernist cemeteries in Barcelona and Treviso, Italy and to World War monuments in Britain and France. The archetypes are available, he shows, if someone would only make use of them.
This review isn’t doing justice to the book, which gave me so much new food for thought that it will take me a while to assimilate it all. If you have any knowledge of cemetery history — or any desire to hear about some new graveyards that haven’t made the grand tour, I encourage you to track down this book.
The Old Dutch Burying Ground
Albany Post Road (U.S. Route 9), one mile north of Tarrytown
Sleepy Hollow, New York 10591
Telephone: (914) 631-4497 Founded: Approximately 1640, two generations prior to 1685, when the church was built. Size: 5 acres Number of interments: approximately 1700 Open: The Burying Ground is open year-round. The Church is closed between Christmas Eve and June, when it reopens for tours.
“Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts…allege that the body of the trooper, having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of the battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.” — The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
An historic plaque in the Old Dutch Burying Ground describes the place as “one of America’s oldest cemeteries,” containing Dutch tenant farmers and their huisvrows (housewives? – it was undefined on the sign), Revolutionary War soldiers, and the characters of Washington Irving’s tale.
Many of the markers were made from rust-red sandstone instead of the gray slate used in the contemporaneous Massachusetts burial grounds. One of my favorite markers stood on the grave of James Barnerd. His epitaph indicated he’d been a sailor: “The Boisterous Winds and Neputns (sic) Waves have Tost me too and fro. By Gods decree you Plainly See I am Harbourd here Below”. I loved the carver’s creative spelling. Barnerd was 48 when he “departed this life” in 1768. Though discolored by exhaust from the street nearby, Barnerd’s sandstone marker was brightened by a cherub with sagging jowls. Above the cherub’s head floated something like a lotus blossom, probably a tongue of divine fire.
Red Sandstone marker in the Old Dutch Burying Ground
Some of the sandstone markers have flaked and slivered until none of their inscriptions remained. I wondered if the deceased’s next of kin would have seen that as appropriate: just as their loved ones dissolved into the ground, the stones that remembered them crumbled to dust. I don’t think these markers had been intended to carry names three centuries into the future. It is only since the American centennial in 1876 that all soldiers of the Revolution were lionized as patriots worth remembering, even if they had only been foot soldiers.
My husband Mason laughed at me for lingering over the Revolution-era graves. The Dutch settlers’ graves clung to the skirts of the church. Those were truly old. Even though the words were Dutch, the epitaphs ran to familiar patterns: “Hier Leyt Begraven…” or “Here lyes Buried.”
Frederick Philipse, the first lord of the nearby manor of Philipsburg, built the little church for his tenants in 1685. The bricks had been shipped from Holland, since the American brickworks weren’t yet up to the task. Writing in the 19th century, Irving called the building “The Old Dutch Church” and the name stuck. In his tale inspired by the names in the graveyard, the yellow stone and brick building had been whitewashed. The burial ground, probably dating back to 1640, preceded its church by two generations.
Many of the graves had little metal signs poked into their dirt. I expected those would mark the graves of Ichabod Crane and the others, but that turned out not to be the case. The signs had been placed by the Tarrytown DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution — descendants of Revolutionary soldiers), the modern-day Friends of the Cemetery, and by the Grand Army of the Republic (survivors of the Civil War), whose markers must have been nearly 100 years old themselves. The last Civil War veteran is long in his grave himself.
We searched and searched the sandstone tablets. Mason found the Crane family graves, but none of them named Ichabod. Eventually, I located Catriena Van Tessel, who died November 10, 1706. Although the rest of her epitaph was in Dutch, nothing seemed to connect her to Irving’s story.
At the time of my visit, the Friends of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground offered tours on weekends from May to October. This may no longer be the case, since the tours aren’t mentioned on their web site (link below). You can however rent an iPad tour from the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, which continues to hold Sunday services and organ concerts in the Old Dutch Church. That link is also below.
“To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace.” — Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
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