An Unexpected Visit to a Heavenly Resting Place - Oakwood Cemetery

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Just when we think we've seen it all, we find out we haven't.  Certainly no one really believes they've seen it all in the literal sense, and realistically speaking, life isn't long enough for anyone to really see all there is to see.  Once in a while though we are lucky enough to happen upon something in life that we never thought we wanted to see but once we saw it, we immediately felt grateful we did.  That is what happened to us yesterday when we paid an impromptu visit to the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY.

Founded in 1848, Oakwood Cemetery  (a nonsectarian cemetery) was designed by Philadelphia engineer, John C. Sidney with the help of Garnett Douglass Baltimore, the first African American to earn a degree from RPI.    The 352 acre property is long and thin, running north and south along Oakwood Avenue in Lansingburgh.  Although Sidney was the engineer, it was John Boetchner who gave Oakwood its charm.  Boetchner incorporated rare and foreign plants to fill the rolling hills and flowing lawns making it look more like a beautiful park than a cemetery.  The cemetery features four man-made lakes, two residential structures, a chapel, a crematorium, 24 mausoleums, about 60,000 graves and about 29 miles of winding roads throughout the cemetery.  I was shocked to learn that last fact, but then again, we spent nearly two hours exploring the cemetery.  We would have stayed much longer had the sun not set.  The cemetery offers a famous panoramic view of the Hudson River Valley that is said to be the "most concentrated and complete overview of American history anywhere in America" (Wikipedia)

While Oakwood is the resting place for a number of notable people, perhaps the most well known is Uncle Sam, Samuel Wilson.  Other notables include educators Amos Eaton and Emma Willard, financiers and business leaders George M. Phelps and Russell Sage, community founders Abraham Lansing and Jacob Vanderheyden, and civil war heroes Rice C. Bull, Joseph Bradford Carr, William H. Freeman, George H. Thomas, and John Ellis Wool.  Fourteen members of the House of Representatives are also buried here.  While all those distinguished people certainly make Oakwood impressive, what I loved about it was the elaborately sculpted and carved exquisite for the time.  Unlike other cemeteries of the time where stones are normally very thin and simple, so many of the gravestones here are massive, thick and ornate.  Many towering, reaching to the sky, some holding intricate human forms with expressive faces.  Oakwood Cemetery is the 'museum' of resting places, at least in upstate New York.  It was Oakwood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The cemetery on its own is probably beautiful at any season, but it was particularly breathtaking yesterday with the blazing foliage.  The mature trees, setting sun, hawks hovering above, even a lone deer pausing upon our approach all made for something out of a beautifully penned novel.  I'm not sure I could imagine a setting more peaceful.  It's no surprise we saw a large number of folks walking their dogs.  One car came through with it's passenger window open and a hound-type dog riding shotgun, head out the window, howling the entire visit....for a good 15 minutes.  I couldn't help but wonder why, perhaps he knows someone laid to rest here?  If only dogs could talk!

The only thing that could compete with the scenery may have been the mausoleums scattered throughout.  I admit I'm no cemetery expert, but Oakwood Cemetery is definitely the most beautiful I've ever seen.

The largest structure on the property is the Gardner Earl Chapel and Crematorium. The chapel's namesake, Gardner Earl, was the son of a wealthy Troy shirt collar maker, William S. Earl.  Gardner learned about cremation when he visited Europe and left a bequest to be cremated upon his death.  Sadly Gardner died young and because cremation was not yet popular in the U.S., his parents took his body to Buffalo to be cremated.  When they returned, they hired Albert Fuller, a well known Albany architect and "asked him to make the building the most modern, artistically beautiful and enduringly strong crematory in the world."  He succeeded and hopefully I can dedicate another post to just the chapel.

Beautiful, right? I'm both thrilled and ashamed to say this is only a fraction of the photos I took. I will be posting a complete collection of them on Facebook in a day or so.  I apologize for the seemingly endless scrolling this photo-packed post caused.  I hope in the end you found it worthwhile.  Neither John nor I are 'cemetery' people.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't want to be taking up space someplace for all of eternity and the idea of cremation seems even more appealing after visiting Oakwood Cemetery.  I might be making an appointment for a tour of the crematorium soon to check it out.  Regardless of how you feel about where your remains will be after you've passed, you've got to admit Oakwood is a beautiful place.  Thanks for coming along for another adventure at Life As I See It.  You never know where the road will lead, but you know for sure I'll have photos to document where we've been.  Have a great week.  I'll leave you with this quote:
 "Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to keep the faults of his friends." 
- Henry Ward Beecher

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