Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Thursday Evening, July 18, 1865
To those who have all their lives remained at home, or whose absences have been but the brief excursions of business or pleasure, the changes which have taken place in Catskill within the past twenty years, have, doubtless, been almost imperceptible, and it is probably difficult for them to recall the time when the place was materially different from what it now is. My visits to my native place within that time, have been few and limited in duration, seldom permitting more than a Sabbath’s sojourn, and yet I could discover, at each return, some striking change and improvement. Not, however, until my last visit, at the beginning of the present month, have I been allowed sufficient leisure to thoroughly perambulate the suburbs of the town, and that I did so, on the occasion, my feet still bear aching testimony.
To say that I was surprised, feebly conveys my feelings. East of Main street, and reaching to the banks of the Hudson, on every hand, palatial residences and pleasant cottages have sprung up like the palace of ALADDIN.—The ground where "we boys" played ball, is covered with neat houses and cultivated gardens; the rocky hill-side, where we went to gather the early birch twigs and sassafras, is now a thriving and extensive vineyard; the ponds on which we learned to skate, are level lawns; and where stunted pines, tangled undergrowth and straggling vines betrayed the sterility of the soil, flowers and fruits now bloom and ripen. While on the West side of the Catskill, where the barren hill-sides were baked by the Summer sun, and Tophet was typified by the smoke of burning kilns, handsome mansions and orchards present themselves to the vision.
But nowhere is the change more apparent than in and about "Our Cemetery." The rows of rough stakes which, twenty years ago, were driven by the road-side, have grown into a pleasant willow walk, and the clean shorn ground and carefully trimmed shrubbery give evidence to the respect and affection of the Villagers for the memories of the departed, and the excellent taste and unwearied industry of the individual to whom is entrusted the charge of this pleasant "city of the dead."
Standing at the Western bounds of the enclosure, I gaze upon the unsurpassed view of the Valley of the Catskill, the outlines of the perpetual mountains, the green fields, the groves, the orchards, and the thousand evidences of prosperity and refinement; and as I turn to where the with monuments rise from the green sward, and glisten in the sunlight, like opals set in emeralds; and as I strive to recall the forms and features of the old friends and companions who sleep below, and remember that they, too, in days gone by looked as lovingly as I do upon this landscape, of which the eye never wearies, I become as homesick as a child, and claim a share in the hopes of the poet:
"In all my wanderings round this world of care,
In all my griefs—and God has given my share—
I still had hopes, my latest hours to crown,
Amidst these pleasant scenes to sit me down;
And (as a hare whom hounds and horns pursue,
Pants to the place from whence, at first, she flew,)
I still had hopes, my long vexations past,
Here to return—and died at home at last."
But I find I am growing slightly sentimental, and as I only intended, to this brief paper, to advert to the changes which have taken place in Catskill, I proceed to note the manner of celebrating the Anniversary of American Independence in the "old burgh" at present, as compared with the "olden time."
The celebration, this year, as heralded in the Village papers and prodigious posters, was to be on a magnificent scale. All the F. F. C.’s were represented in the committees; bells were to be rung and cannons were to be fired at day-break; the procession was to be of almost interminable length, an to peregrate through all manner of streets; the order of exercises was to embrace prayers, praises, declarations, orations and benedictions; the soldiers were to be feasted, and the whole was to wind up in a pyrotechnic blaze of glory.
How far the programme was carried out, your readers probably all know. The bells, possibly, were rung, and the guns, possibly, were fired, but, if so, it must have been after the manner of the roaring of NICK BOTTOM’S lion, "gently as a sucking dove." For they utterly failed to rouse me from my slumbers at the Catskill House. Then, it was discovered that the President of the day had gone off to the Pine Orchard; then, the PARSONS refused to pray for any such "old fogy" institution as the Fourth of July, and it was feared that the programme would have to be executed without benefit of Clergy; then, the procession delayed moving until three-fourths of the spectators were tired to death, and the other quarter too blind to see well; then there was a row among the denizens of MOROCCO STREET and POVERTY HOLLOW, because the Caravan had omitted the traverse those avenues; then, "MEL’ OSBORN read a written Oration (which was said to be extremely eloquent and excessively patriotic); then, ‘Squire KING made an extemporaneous speech; then, the invalids were led off to Bumpie’s Hook, to feed, and then,--I left. It is hoped the fire-works were cracked off, in the evening, in a style corresponding to that in which they were cracked up in the programme.
So much for the Fourth of July, 1865. And if the exhibition shall ever be repeated, "may I be there to see," if for not other pleasure than to take my old friends by the hand, and to see another bevy of country girls, dressed in the national colors; red cheeks, white frocks and blue woolen stockings.
Reverting to the past, my earliest, and most indistinct recollection is of double celebration of the day at Catskill. Party spirit ran high, and the two political divisions were so much embittered against each other, that they could not mingle their patriotism, even on the national holiday. Each party had a procession (by different routes). Each had an Oration, (the Federalists at the Presbyterian Meeting-House, and the Republicans, or Democrats, at the Court House,) and it is to be presumed that each had a public dinner, though I don’t remember where. Nor do I recollect who were the Orators of the day. The names of JAMES POWERS, MOSES I. CANTINE and THOMAS P. GROSVENOR are floating in my mind, but I cannot specificate.
Usually, however, in the "good old days" which I love to remember, the day was ushered in by the "drowsy tinklings" of the Court House and Academy bells, and the thunders of Captain STOCKING’S six and nine-pounders. A military parade took place in the forenoon, and by two o’clock, P. M., the whole male population were ready to sit down to a substantial dinner at BOTSFORD’S, or CHANDLER’S or DONNELLY’S, or CROSWELL’S. But not until after the cloth was removed, and the Clergymen had retired, did the Fourth of July fairly begin. Then came the speeches, the toasts, and the songs. It is true that the sentiments were not always the most chaste, nor the songs exactly such as would be selected by a church choir, yet they were generally patriotic, always humorous, and invariably received with clamorous applause. I venture to say there are none, now living, who mingled in those festivities, who will ever forget the stories of the elder FRANK BOTSFORD and NOAH LINSEY, or the songs of "Scratch me here, " by Captain BARENTJE DUBOIS, of "John Anderson my Jo,’ by HAND VAN GORDEN, "The Parson and his ale-cask," by MACKEY CROSWELL, with its rollicking chorus of "Down, derry, down, " or the hundred others "which were wont to set the table in a roar." These parties usually broke up at an early hour of the evening, and there was little need of fire-works to taper off with, as each individual was supposed to be able to see more stars than Astronomy tells of.
For many years, the celebration of this Anniversary fell into desuetude. The uniformed companies (the Artillery, which I first recollect as being under the command of JARED STOCKING, and the Union Volunteers, under ISAAC DUBOIS or DAVID G. ABEEL,) became partially, if not entirely disbanded, patriotism became inert, and the citizens of Catskill seemed perfectly willing to accept the blessings of Liberty, without fatiguing themselves by any very vociferous thanksgiving for the benefaction.
For a long time after this, the only observance of the day was by the "Turtle Club." This association was formed about twenty-five years ago, and held its first regale of turtle soup and salmagundi, I believe, at Fox Creek. At each return of the "glorious Fourth." The day was religiously (if not piously) observed by the Club, up to the time when I left Catskill. Whether the organization is yet in existence, I cannot say, but I know no good reason why it should not be, for the members have been wonderfully spared; in fact, I do not remember to have heard of the death of more than one or two of all those who congregated at the first "feast of good things." The Turtle, or Tortoise, is said to be a long-lived animal, and it is possible that its flesh (especially when converted into soup) is conducent to longevity. At any rate, at my last visit to Catskill, I met many of the original members, and they seemed to wear as well as the garments of the Israelites in their exodus. There was "CHARLES FOX," somewhat dried, but tender yet, Cashier COOKE, "DAVE" DUNHAM, "YELLY" HOWELL, "DICK" BREASTED, and many others; while it is not long since I heard from "GUS." ROGERS, and it was but yesterday that I was visited by "GIL." LUSK.
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But I have, somehow, got pretty well into the present generation, and have wandered a long way from "the dead of Our Cemetery." The hour is late, I am growing drowsy, and I will conclude this rambling paper with the promise that I will hereafter adhere more closely to the purpose for which these poor Sketches were commenced—the revival of the memories of the old inhabitants of Catskill.