From cradle to grave

Historical Society offers look into cemeteries during recent tour


Cemeteries offer a unique view into the way the world once was: how long people lived, how they died, and how they were buried.

Inspired by New York State’s “Path Through History,” the Greater Patchogue Historical Society (GPHS) hosted a tour of West Main Street’s historic cemeteries, located just east of the former Lace Mill.  GPHS members, including Arlene Capobianco, Christopher Capobianco and Steve Lucas, escorted visitors and told them of local lore and legend.

The first thing to know about the cemetery, which most Patchogue residents know simply as Lakeview Cemetery is that it’s not alone. 

“One thing not a lot of people know is, there are five cemeteries located in here,” said Christopher Capobianco.

The five cemeteries are: Gerard Cemetery, Lakeview Cemetery, Rice Cemetery, Old Episcopal Cemetery and Union Cemetery. Now the land is legally considered abandoned, as per a title search done a few years back, and it falls under the auspices of Brookhaven Town’s Parks Department, who has agreed to maintain its landscaping.

Inside, the graves date back to the 1700s and host departed locals, including veterans who served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. In fact, 10 new Civil War-era headstones were replaced in recent years after GPHS made a request to the Veterans Administration. According to Chris Capobianco, the Veterans Administration will replace damaged headstones.

“What’s incredible is if you walk around the cemetery, you’ll see headstones from the Revolutionary War, all the way to recent burials,” said Jim Roselle, president of GPHS.

A bulk of the tour centered in Lakeview Cemetery, which was donated to the Episcopal Church by Ruth Newey Smith. Smith is part of a clan known as the four Smith sisters of Patchogue, who were wealthy, popular, famed locals 100 years ago.

In 1908, Smith commissioned a 20-foot monument meant to tell the history of her family. The monument represents charity, hope, faith and liberty, with each word etched into the five-ton statue. Tour-goers rallied around the shrine and learned of its meaning and its various names, including “the circle of remembrance.”

According to Roselle, one of the most notable headstones is the one that tells the story of Louis V. Place. The headstone is recent and contains an etching of a ship, flanked by photographs of two men. It also contains three full paragraphs describing the fateful event that led to a need for the headstone.

“On February 8, 1895 the Louis V. Place, a 163 foot, three-masted schooner succumbed to will and weather and freezing temperatures while transporting coal from Baltimore to New York.”

The headstone goes on to elaborate on the events of the freezing winter night: “The pounding snow and relentless waves immobilized the vessel and she became a floating iceberg. When help came, the deck of the Louis V. Place was a sheet of ice. Members of her crew froze to death while standing in the rigging.”

It goes on to say that the schooner was stranded east of the Lone Hill Life Saving Station and that people from all over came to see the wreckage. Four of the sailors aboard are buried in the plot below the headstone.

“Augusta Weeks, one of the four Smith sisters, donated the burial plots and covered the expenses of the sailors’ burials,” it reads, in conclusion.

Other notable cemetery residents are an additional group of sailors and a local poet. The five sailors died by drowning when they boarded the doomed schooner, Nahum Chapin, in January 1897, near Quogue. Elizabeth Oakes Smith, an early suffragette, is buried with her husband on the eastern portion of the cemetery.

GPHS is learning more and more about the cemetery in recent years. They now believe that a spot on the southwestern tip of the land was likely a potter’s field, which is an area where indigent people were buried. At the time, there was an obligation to have people buried and, if people were poor and had no family, it was up to the church to bury them. GPHS now estimates that up to 150 people were buried in a space that has only about six headstones. They came to this conclusion because of indents in the land that are clearly visible when roaming through the cemetery.


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