Mystery in the Cemetery

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a fascination with old cemeteries. Ancient roadside burial grounds have seen me stopping to check them out since the days I learned how to drive.
The school where I work is in the town of Gilboa, and the town itself doesn’t reallyexist anymore. It used to, until New York City bought huge tracts of land in the early 1900’s to establish its watershed. Gilboa, and a dozen other small towns like it, were bought up, razed to the ground, and flooded to create a massive reservoir system to supply the city of New York with drinking water. When this happens, towns have to exhume their cemeteries and relocate them.

Just up from the school, on the hill is the Gilboa Rural Cemetery, where locals are interred. In the back though, are hundreds of stones that mark the final resting places of the dead from the original cemeteries. The old section is a crowded and fascinating place.

Most of the stones there don’t even have names on them. They’re simply numbered. I did find out that records exist that correlate the numbers to names, but unless someone goes out of their way to find them, these people are pretty much going to be remembered by numbers until the stones crumble to dust and they are forgotten forever.

As interesting as the old section was, as I was leaving the cemetery, I came across another very old section. The stones here were in much better shape, some of them absolutely beautiful.

Like this one, memorial to a husband and wife.

I assumed that this part was the original section of this particular cemetery, and since others needed to be dug up and moved, the site of an existing cemetery seemed logical, so the numbered stones in the back joined the ones I was looking at now.

As I drove back down the hill and back to work, a series of four stones caught my eye. I don’t know what drew me to them, they were unremarkable in structure compared to the others around them. Still, despite their simple nature, I was compelled to stop the car and go take a look.

What I found was exactly the reason I love poking around these places. History. Mystery. Untold or forgotten human stories.

These four stones were immediately recognizable as a family plot. This much was obvious before I even read the names. The small stone on the left, is common in places like this. Infant mortality rates over a century ago were tragically high. I checked that one out first.

Watson. Son of David and Sarah Frazer

Moving to the right:

Willard Frazer, Son of David and Sarah Frazer
Emma Frazer, Daughter of David and Sarah Frazer

David Frazer

“Interesting” I thought.

A father and three children, no sign of the mother. Then I looked closely at the stones again. I had to dig in the earth at the base of Watson’s stone to read a date of death, 4/25/1870. The other three….All of them 1872.
Just a few weeks apart.

Willard, 20, Emma, 18, and David, their father, age 60, all died in the fall of 1872 between mid-October and late November.

There is no doubt in my mind that the three of them succumbed to some sort of illness. There isn’t much of an explanation otherwise. In a rural setting like this, any sort of blight and disease could easily take its toll on a family.

And here is where I was crushed by a wave of sadness as I tried to puzzle out their story in my head. In the spring of 1870, David and Sarah Frazer lost their youngest son, Little Watson. (Later records check found him to be two year old) Two years later, in the fall of 1872, Sarah may very well have watched an illness take from her her husband and two other children.

The absence of her stone here indicates to me that she survived whatever took her family, and left the area. Either alone, or perhaps with another surviving child. There isn’t any way of knowing. Burial records only tell so much.

She died elsewhere, Sarah. Impossible for me to tell where at this point, I don’t know if she died alone or if she remarried, or if she died amongst other family.

There are other possibilities I suppose, but in my mind, the most plausible theory is that she survived what took the members of her family, and left.

Somewhere out there is a tombstone for Sarah Frazer. The fact that it isn’t standing next to that of her husband David’s is saddening to me.

David’s is the last stone in the line alongside the road, but there is clearly enough space to his left, immediately roadside, for another stone. The blank space in the grass stands obvious, begging me to wonder what ever happened to Sarah Frazer, wife and mother.

Wherever you rest Sarah, I hope it is peacefully.


2 thoughts on “Mystery in the Cemetery

  1. Interesting story. You might find something out at When we come across an old cemetery in rural New England there is sometimes more info on that site.

    • Brilliant link, thank you!
      Unfortunately….I cannot find a record in NY state of any Sarah Frazer as indicated on the stone whose death dates are any time after 1868 (when the little one was born) but before the LATE 1800s, early 1900s. If she is buried in NY, there isn’t a record of it. And if she is buried out of state somewhere, I’ve got no way of linking what could be a hundred of the same names back to the family of three in Gilboa. It looks like this one will remain a mystery. I WILL keep that site in my back pocket though, thank you.

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