Abiding in Cochecton
October 23, 2013 —
“The rural cemeteries… were America’s first public parks. They were intended from the beginning to be places of resort, not only for those who had friends or relatives buried there, but for the general public as well.”
—John F. Sears, “Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions of the Nineteenth Century”
TOWN OF COCHECTON, NY — Records of the past carved in stone, cemeteries are of special interest to historians, genealogists and poets. Grave markers and monuments and the information and poetry contained thereon speak volumes about the lives of those interred. Wonderful places for meditation, contemplation and recreation, cemeteries serve to commemorate those who came before us, remind us that life on this plane is temporal and console us with the knowledge that present trials will surely pass away.
The word “cemetery” means “sleeping place” in Greek. Scholars argue that its entry into American language heralded an age in which death was no longer considered final, thus making it important that families remain together in perpetuity. Family plots and whole cemeteries dedicated to one extended family became the fashion in 19th century rural America. But there were also other significant differences between rural cemeteries and their city counterparts. Instead of the fancy marble and granite monuments and mausoleums of city cemeteries, rural cemeteries boasted unostentatious local stone markers and natural monuments: grass, trees, shrubs and flowers.
If you’re interested in visiting some out-of-the-way cemeteries containing graves that date back two or more centuries, here are four worth viewing in the Town of Cochecton.
Lake Huntington Presbyterian Cemetery
Heading west on Route 116, just past the old Cochecton Town Hall, the white wooden sign announcing this cemetery is visible from the road, but the cemetery itself is not. A fairly steep uphill climb brings it into view. This semi-manicured cemetery (covered with tall grass and with more than one grave sporting a tree) contains 19th and 20th century graves and quite a few unadorned sandstone and fieldstone markers and obelisk-style monuments from the early part of the 19th century. Although weathering and lichen growth have made many of the inscriptions difficult to read, it’s still fairly easy to see that most of those residing here either died in youth or lived to fairly ripe old age. One woman lived 97 years. Sometimes whole families perished within days of each other. And, at a time when the climate was considerably colder and central heating was as yet unknown, most people died in winter.