The silent storytellers in my neighborhood

Fayetteville Manlius cemetery

One section of my neighborhood cemetery.

On my daily walks I’ve been detouring through a nearby cemetery, a very old graveyard with some headstones from the 1800s.

The inscriptions are fascinating to read, and I try to picture the people behind the names and imagine the lives they led.

Hundreds of  simple stone markers are here among dozens of elaborate monuments. Some of the oldest stones are faded, with names and dates difficult to read; more than a few have toppled, not from vandalism but from decay and from tree roots pushing up over the decades.

On each visit I try to take the time to venture into a section I haven’t visited previously. There’s always a new and interesting find. (As a bonus, I’ve also come across a local bagpiper who uses the cemetery to rehearse, which I think is very cool.)


Charlie Morgan — died at 17 years, 2 months and 5 days.

One particularly poignant marker is for 17-year-old Charlie Morgan, who “accidentally shot himself” in 1856. I haven’t been able to find out anything about him from local records, but I intend to keep trying.

Every section of the cemetery is graced with military markers, including a massive 25-foot high, 24-ton monument honoring more than 100 local men killed in the Civil War, or who died of disease attributed to their wounds.

On a recent visit, I spotted a World War I marker for U.S. Marine Clarence Dennis, killed in France in the horrific, weeks-long battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918. The battle cost the lives of 10,000 Marines but repelled the Germans’ advance on Paris.


Clarence Ashley Dennis: “I will give the best there is in me — even though it means death.”

These discoveries are a good reminder of how hard life was for those who came before us. They’re also an ideal way to put things into perspective, to step back and assess what I’m doing with my life and how to go about what I still want to accomplish. There is much to do.

Ultimately, as much as I appreciate cemeteries, I’m not going to end up in one.

I’m a registered organ donor and will be cremated, my ashes destined for several locations important to me — including the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass. A commemorative brick will be placed in a Memory Garden in my village. That’s it. The simpler, the better.

But after many explorations of my neighborhood cemetery, I’ve decided to make an additional final request of my three sons — to spread some of my ashes here as well. And to have a bagpiper play when they do so.


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
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6 Responses to The silent storytellers in my neighborhood

  1. Ed Griffin-Nolan says:

    That’s the Irish – one eye always on the finish line! Nice piece, Jim.


  2. Great post. I’m so glad I found your blog. I’ve always tried to picture the lives I read about on gravestones. Great take on it.


  3. Mark Murphy says:

    Very good piece, Jim. I’ve often had similar thoughts when visiting cemeteries.


  4. Mary Kane says:

    I will not end up in a cemetery either. Organ donor, then I want to donate myself to Cornell or whoever will take me for research. Whatever is left they can cremate and I too have locations to “visit”. “…dust to dust you shall return..”. I LOVE Cemetary walks- all the untold of stories….


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Upstate has an anatomical gift program to benefit our students. More than 200 people donate their bodies each year, and the students put on a ceremony every spring in Hendricks Chapel to thank the donors and their families.


  5. trippybeth says:

    I love cemeteries too, and like you, don’t want to spend eternity in one. I want anything of any use harvested from my body, then cremate me. If a funeral pyre was legal in KY, I’d prefer that!!


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