On August 25th, 1823, Mary McConnell, wife of Teunis Vandeveer, died at the age of 28. Her body was laid to rest in the Second Presbyterian Church’s lot at the State Street Burying Grounds in Albany, NY. Laid to rest until 1868, that is.
When the City closed the old Burying Grounds to make way for Washington Park to be developed, her grave was one of 14,000 transferred to the Albany Rural Cemetery, which had been established in 1844.
Her headstone did not make the journey with her coffin until last fall.
About ten years ago, my neighbor near the Empire State Plaza mentioned that he had a headstone in his backyard. The stone, along with some marble fragments of other stones, had turned up while digging for a garden. I asked if I could see and photograph the headstone.
I was able to match the name on the stone to the inventory of graves prepared by the City’s Common Council before the mass transfer of graves. Mary was listed as being among those originally interred in the Second Presbyterian lot at the Burying Grounds. Those graves were relocated to Lot 6, Section 49 (commonly known as the Church Grounds since the relocated graves are arranged by congregation).
We don’t know why Mary’s headstone didn’t make it to Albany Rural Cemetery. In the past, headstones that fell from the wagons transporting them to the Cemetery were occasionally discovered along stretches of Henry Johnson, Northern, and Van Rensselaer Boulevards. The wagons carrying the dead and the headstones used those roads to access the Cemetery from the Burying Ground and, in fact, Van Rensselaer Boulevard had been initially laid out to improve access to the Cemetery and its new South Gate from the west and northwest areas of Albany. The garden where this stone was found is somewhat further east of those routes, though it is possible the wagon carrying Mary’s stone took a different route and the stone did indeed fall off.
It’s also possible the stone was stolen before it could be transported as it was not too uncommon for old cemeteries stones to be reused as pavers or doorsteps; there are stories of obelisks from the old St. John’s Cemetery on Delaware Avenue being repurposed as hitching posts and headstones from that particular burial ground have been found in the Albany’s South End where they were used to pave an alley between houses.
The block where her headstone was found was not developed until 1827 when Judge Alfred Conkling (father of Senator Roscoe Conkling) built a large country house with an orchard on the hills above what is now downtown Albany. Over the next few decades, both sides of the street gradually filled in with row houses.
Last summer, my neighbor’s house went on the market.
While I knew my neighbor had taken good care of the headstone all this time, I was unsure what the next owners might do with it or if they would mind having a gravestone in the garden. I felt it was time to bring Mary’s stone out to the Cemetery where it really belonged. I contact my neighbor and permission was granted for us to move Mary’s stone.
Last September, Christopher White (known to many as The Albany Gravedigger), David Eslinger (the Cemetery’s General Manager), and I went to my neighbor’s garden and retrieved the headstone.
It has since been cleaned and set upright along the south edge of the Second Presbyterian Church lot in Section 49.