Last week, I took the opportunity to drive to nearby Utica, NY, to visit the Forest Hill Cemetery in the city. Utica is an amazingly historic town, and walking through Forest Hill Cemetery is like stepping back in time. Many of New York State’s most notable citizens are buried here. I won’t list them all! but I’ll show you a few of the sites we found. Behind Forest Hill Cemetery is the Roscoe Conkling Park. I’d never even known this place was there! What a beautiful park, and it sits perched on a high hill overlooking the city in the valley below. Breathtaking. I took photos– keep reading.
Forest Hill Cemetery was founded in 1850. It is a huge plot of land, established when people were becoming more aware of sanitation for urban areas. It’s a beautiful cemetery. The Gothic-style gate opens into several small park-like islands.
I found the old resting place of the Oneida Stone, that famed stone of the Oneida Indian Nation! It was taken from the Oneidas in 1849 and placed here during the cemetery’s opening ceremony. The stone has been returned to the Oneidas since 1974. According to Anthony Wonderley in his book, Oneida Iroquois Folklore, Myth, and History, the stone now sits at the Oneida Nation council house, on their historic land given to them after the American Revolution (on the old Honyoust tract).
The cemetery, like I’ve said, is filled with the buried remains of hundreds of luminaries from New York State history. New York State governor and Utica native Horatio Seymour is buried here.
Roscoe Conkling, a long-term Utica mayor and national figure, is buried here, too.
Also among those resting here are James Schoolcraft Sherman (vice-president under William Taft), John Adams’ granddaughter, John Jay’s personal secretary, Jedidiah Sanger (who founded New Hartford, NY), Moses Bagg (an influential merchant) and local philanthropists James Watson, Thomas Proctor, Alfred Munson, and Rachel and Maria Williams. I also found a few famous folks from the American Revolution, including Captain Benjamin Walker who was an aide of George Washington and Baron von Steuben (who is buried north of here and whose memorial site we have visited).
And we also saw the burial site of Amariah Brigham, that groundbreaking doctor who believed mentally ill patients could be treated, and began his practice at the very famous Utica Insane Asylum. The link will take you to my post about that, and this link is my post about our visit there.
One thing that caught our eye was a very peculiar memorial in the more “modern” section of the cemetery. I’d never seen anything like it.
I did some reading and this is a memorial to Justus Henry Rathbone of Utica. He founded the Knights of Pythias, and became extremely influential in politics and business. The Knights of Pythias sounded occultic to me (the oracles at Delphi in Greece worshiped the fortune-telling snake, Pythias)! I did some quick research and found that the Knights of Pythias is from the Greek myth Damon and Pythias. Huh. Wikipedia says this of Rathbone:
Justin H. Rathbone was the founder of the international fraternal order of the Knights of Pythias. He was born October 29, 1839 in New York. He graduated from Colgate University and attended Carlisle Seminary. He was a music composer and actor. In 1863 he moved to Washington D.C. as a government clerk in the Treasury Department, where he founded the Knights of Pythias on February 19, 1864. Rathbone wrote the ritual for the Knights of Pythias which is based on the mythological friendship of Damon and Pythias. He died in 1889.
It was a very interesting visit, and I don’t think I even scratched the surface of all the history to be discovered. I’ll have more about our visit to the Roscoe Conkling Park up the hill, and about the Oneida Stone, in future posts.