DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU LIVE in Columbia County, you may have passed by this spot dozens of times. It’s located just a few feet from Center Hill Road near the Nelson family’s former farmhouse, opposite the old farm’s silo, near where the road forks to the left to go to Copake Lake and the right to go to Craryville.
Mary died just a few weeks after she turned 5, two months before the Civil War broke out. I wondered after I took the photo, What did she die of? I knew that in the 1860s mortality among young children was much higher in the United States than it is now. I wondered too, how did her parents handle Mary’s death? Somehow, despite the fact that it happened so long ago, I felt a profound sadness.
I was also curious, puzzled about why Mary’s grave stands alone and so close to the road. I knew that the intersection was redesigned about eight years ago. So perhaps the grave once was more sheltered. And maybe there are others nearby whose stones, unlike Mary’s have not survived. But it’s unsettling that Mary who, had she lived could have been the great great grandmother of someone living today, has come to rest so alone for eternity.
I realize that we’ll all be alone one day, nevertheless, it’s the solitude of her grave that brings Mary’s once existence to our attention. Thinking of you, little child.
The day after I posted the above on my Copake History Facebook page, Susan Mulvey posted additional information about Mary’s family. Her parents, George and Elizabeth Ann Williams Lampman, had a second daughter, Sarah, born three years after Mary. Mary’s father died two years before she did.
Another person, Cathy Lee Nilsson, weighed in. Cathy wrote that it’s at her house that the grave is located. Thirty years ago when she and her husband first bought the house, they found broken portions of other headstones and marble bases scattered about the property. She also wrote that at one point the county plowed over Mary’s grave, (presumably in the snow which hid the headstone) breaking it. Cathy’s husband lovingly restored the grave, drilling out the old supports and enforcing it with rebar.
Finally, Cathy reports, “For several years an angelic soul has been putting flowers on Mary’s grave.”
By now, my feelings had changed a bit. Even just the photo of the tombstone conveys a little more sadness than I normally get from looking at gravestones. But my initial impression of a solitary grave has given way to the realization that although the other tombstones are gone, Mary’s relatives’ graves are likely still nearby. Add to that the roles of the angelic soul to which Cathy referred and of Cathy’s husband, in looking out for the grave. Call me sentimental. I plead guilty.
Historian and author Howard Blue, lives in Copake and has just completed his second book, “Kidnapped: The Abduction of Peter Weinberger”. A version of this story originally appeared with replication on his Copake History Facebook page.