‘Tis the Christmas season, but Southampton’s (haunted?) cemeteries, with centuries-old grave markers, delight both historians and Halloween enthusiasts year-round. However, thanks to the town’s unique cemetery records, a young, restless spirit may now feel a little more at peace.
Donald Boland, 78, found young Samuel E. Robinson, Jr.’s gravestone on his Noyac Road property when he purchased his home in the early 1980s. Robinson died at the age of nine years, five months and 17 days. Unsure of what to do with the old marker, he put it in his backyard, assuming that Robinson was buried near the property line.
But, as the decades passed, the stone’s random placement continued to bother Boland. In August, he read an article about Southampton Town’s comprehensive cemetery website, which is devoted to identifying head markers in 10 of the town-owned, historic graveyards. [expand]
Boland contacted Zachary Studenroth, now the town’s Architectural Historian, who was mentioned in the story. After conducting research on the town’s database, Studenroth was able to determine the exact location of the headstone in Squires Burying Ground in Hampton Bays.
The marker was returned to Robinson’s burying place with a ceremony last month. Though little is known about his life, historians were able to determine that Robinson was buried near his mother, father and brother. Meticulous details recorded about Samuel, Jr.’s mother, Jane Robinson, and her gravesite on the website even noted: “Extra loose footstone unrelated. No nearby marker to relate to it.” The random stone was, in fact, a part of her son’s grave marker.
As the oldest settlement in New York state (sorry Southold, but for the purposes of this article Southampton is going to win this argument), Southampton has thousands of grave markers in its cemeteries, some of which date back to the mid-17th century. In 2002 the Southampton Town Landmark and Historic Districts Board began to draw attention to the graveyards, as they first sought to identify all of the cemeteries in the town.
The survey, spearheaded by Studenroth, identified 48 cemeteries in total, with 10 being town-owned.
Two years later, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania came to the East End to conduct a more thorough study of the 10 town-owned burial grounds. They photographed and recorded the inscription, condition and exact location of each gravestone.
Soon after, a Cemetery Task Force was commissioned in the hamlet of Hampton Bays and, along with the Administrator of the Cemetery Project Roger Tollefsen, they were charged with transferring the University of Pennsylvania’s data onto a user-friendly website.
The site was funded through Sundy Schermeyer, the Southampton Town Clerk, and is available through the town’s website. It can also be directly accessed at www. hgsdb.info.
In addition to listing all of the information collected about the nearly 2,000 gravesites, it includes notes from the Daughters of the American Revolution records.
“There has been a lot of effort and time dedicated to this,” says Schermeyer. She notes how the project has evolved, and sees potential for its expansion in the future.
In Robinson’s case, however, historians are still stumped as to how the gravestone traveled nearly 10 miles from Hampton Bays to Noyac Road. Perhaps that is a question for the Ghost of Christmas Past.