Thursday, May 27, 2010

Vale Cemetery

Vale Cemetery 

This photo above is the entrance to the Vale Cemetery. The cemetery had its first burial in 1857, and has buried several notables over its years.  The age and inhabitants of this cemetery make it a unique and historic burial ground. It is still in use today, and is a large part of Schenectady and the city's history.

The cemetery has a superintendent named Chuck Adams, and knows every single person and where they are buried at Vale.

One of the most interesting and historical parts of the cemetery is the African American plot.  Back in the day when blacks were not treated correctly, they called the plot the "colored plot."  Someone obviously had been offended by that name so they changed it to the "African American plot." When I asked when the first black person was buried at Vale, there was no definite answer.  The bodies in the plot were moved from another part of the cemetery in 1888, and the plot is now sectioned off by miniature trees called Arborvitaes. The head of the board told me that the trees were simply to show where the blacks are located, but it seemed strange to me that there was only a barrier for the blacks.  To me this seems as though there could be some divide between the blacks and the whites that are buried in the cemetery.  It is known that the blacks are buried next to the poorest people in the cemetery.  This seems to be a stereotypical situation and probably began when slavery was still going on and blacks were treated unequally.  Below is a photo of the old "colored plot" cards that they used to document the people buried in the cemetery.

Below is a photo of the African American Plot:

In 1888 the colored cemetery was brought here; last year a burial happened so it is still used to this day. Moses Viney, a runaway slave from Eastern Maryland, who has historical significance to Union College, is buried at Vale, Viney was born in 1817 and died in 1908. Union College students put a brand new gravestone in for him in honor of his work at Union for the Colleges president.

Other notable African Americans that are buried here are Jared Jackson, who was a black Civil War soldier, and R.P.G. Wright, an important figure of the Underground Railroad.  His son was the first black to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Other figures of the Underground Railroad who are buried at Vale include  Hannah Dana, Frances Dana, and John Wendell.

Amongst the African American Plot, there is a section of the cemetery that was sold to the city that has a Jewish section.  Just looking around outside of their section, it appears that there are not a large number of Jews buried in Vale Cemetery. It may be that they are not as well represented because there has not been as many requests for burial in the African American plot in recent years, in the city of Schenectady and surrounding areas.  The African American plot however is extremely accessible since the city is populated with primarily blacks at this time.  The cemetery itself, although they put a large emphasis on blacks, is filled with many white people that have had an impact on society as inventors, soldiers, or in other ways.   Schenectady's population has changed dramatically over the years, and you can see that through the different graves that are in Vale Cemetery.

Below are other pictures of the cemetery that I thought were aesthetically pleasing as well as important to see the largeness and age of the cemetery itself.

Some names such as Vandyke, Gillespie, Steinmetz, and others would ring a bell as you drive around the cemetery. Some of stones the date back to the mid 1800's and as late as 2008.

This cemetery is a good example of Public History, because demographics really influence a city's history.  If you take enough time to observe each and every grave stone, the cemetery helps you understand how the society has changed over the years, and what kinds of birth and death rates were in the city and surrounding areas.  It is also a good example of Public History because there was a change in the name of the African American Plot which can link to slavery and the inequality they faced in earlier years.  Overall this was an amazing experience. It was a beautiful day outside, and the leaves were blowing and I was able to grasp a sense of what Schenectady is today and what it used to be like, and how it is filled with rich history by its people that are buried just right around the corner from here. 

No comments:

Post a Comment