Wednesday, July 6, 2016

All Cemeteries Deserve Respect

Today I’m delivering a public service announcement about the An-Jo fields behind the old Social Services Building on Davison Road. Let me start off by saying that I love having baseball fields over there. When I was a kid, we used to have practice on one of the fields over there for Lockport Little League. Of course, back then the fields weren’t as nice as they are now. Plus, throughout the summer, we can hear the cheers of spectators as their children excel at America’s pastime. It is one of the finest sounds of summer.
I’m not sure how many of you are aware that just to the north of the fields is a cemetery. The burial ground boundaries are denoted by four corner markers and there are two stones. One denotes the area as “Niagara County Infirmary Cemetery 1915-1960,” while the other says “In Memory of the Children.” There are more than just children buried there. Newborns to centenarians all share a common, final resting spot.

Prior to the establishment of the Davison Road campus, both the Poor House and its cemetery were located on Niagara Street, almost directly across the street from the Niagara County Sherriff’s Department. There are over a thousand people buried there in unmarked plots. Beginning in 1915, people who died at the Poor Farm (Niagara County Infirmary) and could not afford their own burials were buried in the new cemetery on Davison Road.

There are over 1300 people buried in this cemetery. According to the burial register, there are 1,349 graves. However, babies and stillbirths were buried atop previous interments, and are not listed as separate burials. The number is definitely higher than 1,349. The cemetery at the new Infirmary took its first interment March 11, 1915. Forty-five years and over a thousand burials later, the cemetery took its last body in June 1960.

The graves are unmarked, although there used to be wooden markers with the number of the grave on them. Of course, over time, these markers rotted and disappeared. They were replaced with a numbered aluminum marker. These were mostly stolen, though an example can be found at the Niagara County Historian’s Office. In all likelihood, more markers remain in the cemetery, but probably have sunk well into the ground.

So, why mention all this? In taking walks around the Infirmary grounds while my children ride bikes around the building (it’s got a great sidewalk for small kids learning to ride), I have taken time to visit the nameless individuals who lie forgotten in unmarked graves. Considering most people don’t even realize they are there, it is the least I could do. In my visits, and through discussions with some who go to the baseball games, I have learned that people who bring or walk their dogs use this area as a “dumping” ground. I’ve seen the evidence firsthand, and scraped it off my shoes.

I find it highly disrespectful to allow this to happen. Granted, most people are genuinely unaware. Hence, this article. Those buried in this cemetery could not fend for themselves. They were mostly forgotten by their neighbors and communities. When they died, they were buried in relative anonymity without the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the funerals of people with the means to do so. Just because they lived their final days in the Poor House and died penniless doesn’t mean they warrant a lack of respect.

Imagine going to the cemetery to visit your mother’s and father’s graves and having to dodge canine excrement in order to take a few moments of reverence at their stone. How would you feel towards such a lack of respect? What would your ancestors feel knowing that people cared so little that they would let their animals do such a thing on their graves?

I urge dog walkers, baseball players, walkers, or nature enthusiasts to please consider respecting the people buried in this cemetery. If your dog has a call of nature, the very least would be to pick it up just as you would during a walk through your neighborhood. At the best, take some time to remember that the people who are buried in these plots, lived, loved, worked, breathed and died. Some only took a few breaths in this world. Others lived a lifetime we can only imagine.

Craig Bacon respects the graves of everyone, known and unknown.