The Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery was founded in the late 1700s and had endured several long periods of neglect since it was deactivated around 1900. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society launched an effort to restore and maintain the cemetery back in July 2014 when the cemetery looked like this:
The grounds were overgrown, there were dead trees laying all over the place, there were trees and growing roots dangerously close to old tombstones; there were weeds and there was a lot of garbage. It was not safe to walk, nor was it a space you could allow the community to visit. When the church temporarily closed down and reopened as All Saints with a new pastor (Fr. Whitmire), it also had a new attitude towards the cemetery and its place in the community. Fr. Whitmire welcomed the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society into the cemetery and soon many volunteers followed, including a lot of students from St. Thomas the Apostle's Woodhaven History Club. And today, the cemetery is in much better shape.
After a long winter, and a few months where weather made it impossible to work, here is what the cemetery looks like:
The 2017 cleanup season started in early April when we gathered up the remained of the leaves leftover from last year.
Last year was the first year that we began composting leaves (instead of filling plastic bags and throwing them into a landfill) and it was so successful we continued the practice. We built makeshift containers out of sticks and fencing and dumped the leaves within. The containers were full in November 2016 but when we arrived in April of this year, they were all low. Most of the leaves had decomposed over the winter and the nutrients returned to the earth.
There were still enough leaves that we were able to fill up the containers pretty quickly. Some people used rakes, others used snow shovels (great for lifting and dumping large piles of leaves), while others just picked up large armfulls of leaves.
The group took a pause to pose next to a full container. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has won grants in 2015 and 2016 from the Citizen's Committee of New York City -- and we're happy to announce that we have won another grant in 2017 that will be going towards our Museum of Woodhaven History.
On Earth Day, we made use of the plastic garbage bags by using them to fill up with leaves and carry them over to the composting bins.
Patty Eggers, a teacher at St. Thomas the Apostle and a volunteer at the cemetery since the start of this project, gave the kids in attendance a special Earth Day lesson in composting.
Then we moved to the back corner and raked out the leaves in preparation for planting some fresh grass. This back corner was the focus of the project in 2016, turning over the earth and removing rocks and roots and preparing the land for this day.
There were many willing hands to clear the land of leaves.
And then, the volunteers came together to start the process of planting grass seeds.
Afterwards, we raked the seeds into the earth, and with dark clouds overhead, we knew they would be getting water real soon.
Flashback! This was how this back corner looked when we began. A fallen tree had knocked down a neighbor's fence at some point (the house was since sold and the new owners put up a nice new white fence). But all of that debris and all of those trees and roots needed to be removed. And in the midst of all of that is a very large fallen tree.
Here is the same corner in the Fall of 2016 -- the ground is clear and once we cover with grass, we'll be able to mow this section. A side note about those 2 gravestones in the foreground -- Hannah and John Van Dine, a brother and sister who died about 52 years apart, she as a young girl and he as an old man. Looks like her tombstone was erected at the same time as his. But it's interesting to think of these two little kids, brother and sister -- she dies young and he probably stands right at that spot, mourning her death. Perhaps he even visited her at this very spot over the course of his long life. But then he dies and is laid to rest directly next to his sister.
And here is that same corner today - after a lot of hard work by many people!
The final act of Earth Day was to plant some flowers. We chose Lilies because in the early 1900s, the land that the church would eventually be built upon was covered in them. In fact, for a number of years, St. Matthew's had the nickname "The Church of the Lilies."
The flower pots were put aside to await the rain (if you look at the ground you can see it had already started by the time we were wrapping up). We put the kids' names on each pot so they can see how their flowers look over the upcoming weeks and months. We'll use them to decorate the place and give it a bit of color.
And here's our smiling group! The cleanups are always fun days, please consider coming out to a future one!
If you have any comments, or would like to suggest other projects, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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Photos by Joey Wendell