Saturday, August 01, 2009

Elizabeth Oakes-Smith Project

As part of my work in youth ministry, I connect teens with community service projects in the village of Patchogue, NY. One project that I have taken a personal interest in is the maintenance and beautification of Lakeview Cemetery. Over the course of the past four years the Cemetery Restoration Committee headed by Steven Gill has continued the work of retired town historian Mr. H. Henke (who cleaned the place himself for about a decade), restoring dozens of damaged headstones, creating an iron replica of the original front entrance gate, and improving the landscape of this historic, sacred ground through tireless volunteer work. The land is the burial ground to veterans going back to the Revolutionary War, slaves, politicians, and early settlers of Long Island.

Loren Finds a Cool Old Book
The Lakeview Cemetery is rich in local history, and recently I got to know one of its inhabitants better through her writings. I came across the autobiography of Elizabeth Oakes-Smith, a one-time famous poet, abolitionist and women's rights lecturer in the Long Island history room of my local library. Luckily, there was one extra copy in storage that I was able to borrow.

Having weeded and raked near and around this grave that appeared to belong to an interesting writer, I was curious to learn more about her. The Restoration Committee restored Mrs. Smith's headstone which was cracked in half and partially buried. They also cleared a large bush that was blocking the plot. I felt like an archaeologist when the librarian handed me Selections From the Autobiography of Elizabeth Oakes Prince Smith, written in the late 1800's. I was glued to it, and promptly ordered one of her novels from a publisher who reproduces antique texts. Truly excited, I took that book home and pretty much devoured it mentally. Reading it was like sitting on a nice old woman's porch and listening to her amazing life experiences. Mrs. Oakes-Smith's friends included writers Poe, Emerson, Longfellow, and prominent politicians of her day. She witnessed battles of the War of 1812 as a child in Portland, Maine. Oakes-Smith was raised a Puritan and struggled to come to terms with those beliefs. She was betrothed and married at 16 years old to a man almost 20 years older, and had six children. She was a popular poet and novelist, also writing essays on women's rights and the injustice of slavery. Oakes-Smith lectured on these subjects throughout the East Coast of the United States. She remembered the political and social climate that led to and existed throughout the Civil War. What a fascinating, brave, wonderful woman, who lived right in my own town! I had an idea to try and bring some attention to her writings and her interesting life.

Legend has it that her home called "The Willows" once stood on the front of the cemetery property, and I've read accounts online that people who worked at the nearby lace mill were fearful of passing it at night. I'm not sure why; if I met her I'd high-five this ghost for being so awesome in life. Seriously, it is really fun to hear the local legends about Lakeview Cemetery, and there are several spooky campfire stories circulating even today. The only things that have caused me to scream and run there are blood thirsty mosquitoes and an occasional spider.

The lace mill was demolished in the 1990's, and there is now a YMCA being built next door to the cemetery. Patchogue Village is being transformed by some very exciting building projects aimed at revitalizing Main Street. Currently we have a local government that is committed to preserving the historic charm of this South Shore town with the vision of bringing it back to its former glory. The restoration of Lakeview Cemetery is part of that community effort.

Presentation on the Life and Literary Works of Elizabeth Oakes-Smith

So now I'm working on a presentation about Oakes-Smith that I plan to bring to my public library. I'm hoping that they will let me share it with the community. I asked the committee if I could do some gardening around the graves of Mrs. Oakes-Smith and her husband, Seba Smith, (a popular political satirist and writer). Mr. Gill told me about the Adopt a Plot program, and I promptly adopted two very cool dead people. Tomorrow I'll be at Lakeview in the morning with some youth group volunteers planting and mulching around the plot. It's tiny, but I was thinking that if more people adopted plots in Lakeview it would be a beautiful garden showcase in our village. What a wonderful way to celebrate and honor our rich local history that has been neglected and forgotten in past years.

The Adopt a Plot Garden Project

This seemed like a fun thing to do since I love to garden. I'll post some after pictures of the plantings when I get a chance, but below is a silent video of the plot that I took in order to plan out the gardening project. I ended up getting drought tolerant plants: black eyed susans, lavender, stone crop and an interesting bush with purple funnel-shaped flowers called candlesticks-very gothic. Then I got some low iron fencing for a small border, and mulch from my own garden.

The above video and pictures of Lake View Cemetery I took myself. The image of EOS is from T. Scherman's website
This garden project and more info on Elizabeth Oakes-Smith is to be continued...
Above is the before gardening picture and below is the after Sunday picture update.
Six teenagers helped me with this project.


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Wow Loren, this is really interesting. You did a nice job with the pictures to go with the writing as well. I do hope they go for your proposal.

Karrie said...

What a neat story! I can't wait to read about the, er, story that comes out of it.

Kimberly said...

wow, this is one of the most interesting posts I've ever read. how fascinating how one thing leads to another. Thank you for sharing with us all the information you uncovered, and what a great contribution you are making to your community!

Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


Loren Christie

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