Catskill Cemetery Papers
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
February 24, 1865
Not far from the center of what was "the old ground," but which is now comprised in the Southerly portion of the present enlarged Cemetery lot is a small area of sunken earth, which, at my last visit, I found covered with brambles and stunted bushes. No marble monuments indicated the separate sepulchres of those whose are laid there—no kind hands remove the straggling undergrowth, or plant flowers to mark their lonely graves; and, perhaps, never since their burial, have surviving friends revisited the lone spot to drop a tear to their memories. "They are clean forgotten, and out of mind," Yet here the rays of Summer sun creep in among the matted grass and tangled weeds, and lie warm as upon the more conspicuous graves of those about them—here, the birds of Spring sing as sweetly, and here Winter spreads its snowy covering as smoothly over the sunken surface of their narrow beds, as over the protuberant tombs of their illustrious neighbors in death. In this spot rest the poor and lowly, those of the lineage of LAZARUS, who on earth lacked the good things of life.
More than forty years ago our Village held numerous specimens of this class, and some of them, perhaps, deserve a more diffuse notice than the remark that they existed and died. Those who have attained to my age, in reverting to the olden times, cannot easily avoid associating in their recollections of Catskill, such characters as SIMON SMITH, JOE GARRISH, JOE WILLIAMS, SAM. STEWART, and a long list of others (whom I purpose to mention hereafter) the very "Dolph Heyligns" and Rip Van Winkles" of the town.
When I first knew SIMON SMITH (though he was not an old man then) he had evidently passed the age of work. I think he was the laziest person I ever knew—laziness limped in his laggard gait, and was stamped (or rather painted) in every lineament of his rubicund countenance—indeed, he was to lazy to follow the example of his apostolic namesake, and "go-a-fishing." Hour by hour of the long Summer days he would lounge on the stoops or boxes, or the side-walk, only shifting his position to keep in the shade; and, in Winter, he was the first in the morning and the last at night to toast his shins at the Grocery fire.
His favorite resort, however, was the store of good old Major HAWLEY. I believe the Major really liked Simon, and he frequently gave him good advice, mixed with small changes. Simon liked the Major, too, but most he liked the "arger," as he termed it. It mattered but little what was the subject—Politics, Religion, Law or Metaphysics were all the same to him, for he probably knew nothing of either. Yet, I have known him to hold an argument for hours together, to his own entire satisfaction, if not to the discomfiture of his antagonist; and I well remember that once, when the Major gave him a silver quarter, and advised him to spent it for meat for this family, instead of liquor, Simon proposed to "arger the pint." Insisting that "rum was cheaper than meat, because it had no bones in it."
Simon, at last, wasted away, slowly and lazily, as he had lived, and was gathered to his fathers. If he did no great good in the world, he did no great harm, and he left children who, I believe, have held respectable if not prominent positions in the communities in which they resided.
JOE WILLIAMS was, a long ago as I can remember, a resident of the town poor house, when that institution was located in the old Court House, near the Jail. I never knew him to pursue any other vocation than to peddle, from a basket, such commodities as shad, candies, bull heads, cakes, and cigars at two for a cent. He was an inoffensive man, and, to use his own expressive language, (the English a little twisted,) he had "always tried to live a useless life, and if he did anything wrong he was willing to be recommended for it." (I shall speak more in estenso of this character hereafter.)
SAM. STEWART lived neighbor to Simon Smith, in Poverty Hollow. My recollection of him is not very clear, but I remember that he, like Williams, sometimes peddled, though in a more exalted range, and, like him too, sometimes wrenched the vernacular. He had a ricketty old horse and a crazy wagon, and carried fish and clams into the country. I remember but one important event in his life, which was an accident which befell him on one of his peddling tours. It seems Sam was quietly snoozing on his load, when the old horse, tempted by the grass which bordered the highway, strayed from the road and capsized the wagon. Sam’s head struck a stone, or a clam struck his head, and he was brought home with a good-sized aperture in his cranium, was subjected to the trepanning process, and, to the astonishment of everybody recovered. Soon after he got about again, he gave me a full account of the accident, and avowed his belief that he would have died had not the doctor japanned him.
JOE GARRISH was also an inmate of the poor house, both in this town and after it was removed to Cairo, as a County institution. Joe was a sort of bird of passage, though his migrations were not very extensive. In the Spring he would haul a little upon the landline of a fishing net; in the Fall he would inflate bladders at the slaughter-house, and when cold weather set in he would hibernate at the County House. One day, in the latter part of April, after the last snow had melted for the mountains, (a sure indication that Shad had began to run up the River,) I met Joe in the street, and inquired what had brought him to town. He replied that he had got leave "for to come down, for to fish, for to get some money, for to buy some clothes, for to go to Newark, for to see his mother." Some of your readers will remember an attorney and, whilom, a Justice of the Peace, who sprinkled his speeches very liberally with these double prepositions, but I think Joe Garrish could "ring in" forty for tos to a dozen of the squire’s.
SAM STEELE was another original character, but of rather higher grade. He would work, and work steadily, too, at his trade of tinker, for a long time, when he would suddenly eease from his labors, pack his old seal-skin portmanteau with his tools, and his skin with whisky, and perambulate the streets for about forty-eight hours, preparatory to his departure from the Village. He would, sometimes, be gone for a year, when he would re-appear as suddenly as he left, repeat his two days’ peregrinations between the Point and BROSNAHAM’S, and resume his work.
At one of these revisitations, I ventured to enquire where he had been during his absence. He said that he had been living with the Shakers at Niskayuna. To my further enquiry why he had not remained with them, he answered that he never left the community until sleeping on the Mohawk flats and drinking cold water, "caused the frogs to croak in his belly," excepting once, when he was ejected by the fraternity because he was so slow in hoeing corn that the shade of his broad-brimmed hat killed the plants.
The names of many others of this class came crowding upon my memory, but having quite filled up my privileged space in your paper, I must defer to some other time any notice of their characteristics or eccentricities.
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