where it looks like there is nothing is always a pleasure. It’s especially delightful, at least for me, when the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is hallowed, precious and aged. Taking the trail through the sudden spring puddles in Tivoli, New York, I didn’t know what we would find.
Fleabane (a Shakespearean sounding daisy, though it’s native to North America) bloomed. Sore throat, fever and swelling are some of the folk remedies it offers.
All around were the wild flowers I’ve known all my life, multiflora roses that bloom a week or two in May, then offer nothing but thorns the rest of the year. An Asian plant, it was transported to America as a rootstock in the late 19thcentury for grafted rose cultivars, then used as natural fencing for cattle. Ouch!
Our guide: my brother Peter, who had tried three times to find this place, working off of near illegible old news clippings. He is nothing if not dogged.
Appearing out of nowhere like a woodland mirage was the cemetery. The local American Legion stalwarts found their way through the muck this Memorial Day to plant flags on the graves. To bushwack for a mile and find in the wilderness this startling scrap of history was a marvel.
This was known as the “smallpox” or “colored” graveyard, all of them deceased veterans. The stones date back to 1812, and even the most dedicated gravestone rubber would have a hard time making out some of the letters.
According to the confusing article we had, and examining the stones, there was someone named David Wool and someone else named Wool – perhaps they were father and son? Under our feet, a black Tivoli resident named Lewis Henry who had been honorably discharged in 1865 died in the Tivoli Hotel. “He had been suffering for a long time from various diseases and this winter slept in an old boat at the dock until his last few days.” We also saw simple, rough blocks of stone, embedded in grass also studded with flags. Somebody knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who was buried here once.
Long ago, victims of the pox and black soldiers were not dignified with a burial in the mainstream church cemetery and they wound up here. Some accounts have it that those with smallpox were sent down here to be tended until they died by black veterans in a “frame house”. It was a short trip from that frame house to the graveyard. Now we are honoring these dead in this very small corner of the world, even if we had to muddy their shoes to get there.
Leaving, we walked through the better tended cemetery a good mile away. A lucky bluebird dipped in front of our windshield. May everyone have someone to tend what Walt Whitman called “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.”