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Treatment of the men of 'forgotten acre' a borough blemish

The graves of merchant mariners and veterans have been neglected for almost a century in an abandoned plot in Oakwood

Monday, March 01, 2004

Through a hole in a fence at United Hebrew Cemetery, foreman John Bellamy leads a trio of intrepid adventurers into the woods, between thick brush and bramble, past burnt car wrecks and even a dilapidated treehouse.


Buried beneath the crumbling markers in sunken graves are merchant seamen and veterans who served their country in life but appear to be neglected in death.

They are the men of Oakwood's "forgotten acre," men who died alone between 1901 and 1937 in the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital, the current site of Bayley Seton Hospital in Clifton.


All he knew was they did not belong to the sprawling United Hebrew Cemetery. But in an area surrounded by burial grounds -- Ocean View, Mount Richmond and Frederick Douglass are all nearby -- it seemed likely the abandoned graves once had a home.

Back in 1901, as the buildings at the Clifton hospital began encroaching on its own patient graveyard, the Public Health Service contracted 1,000 graves in a separate section of Ocean View Cemetery in Oakwood for deceased sailors, many of whom died in quarantine from yellow fever or influenza.

With no perpetual care clause in the contract, at least 500 men were buried, and so it seems a century later, were largely forgotten.

Most had no Staten Island connection other than a notation on a death certificate listing the borough as their place of death. The oldest was 64, the youngest, 17.

Men like Nelson Johnson, age 28 when he died July 27, 1904, or George Lotmore, only 21 when he died on Nov. 8, 1918, probably a casualty of World War I. There's Alexander C. Sampson, 19 at the time of his death in 1920, and Patrick Blake, who was placed beneath marker 767 after dying at 29 on May 31, 1927.


"This has been an issue for a very long time," said Richard Dickenson, borough historian and president of the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries.

For Bellamy, a man who has made it his career to care for the dead, the men of the "forgotten acre" deserve more than what they have been given; they deserve a chance to rest in peace.

"It's a shame, a real shame," he said before clearing some brush away from the final resting place of Bruno Balles, who died March 29, 1928.

He was just 29.

Stephanie Slepian is a news reporter for the Advance. She may be reached at slepian @ siadvance . com.

Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved.

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