Sepia Saturday 448: Seventh in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.
In addition to her career in education, my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George was active in civic projects in the Endwell, N.Y., community where she taught.
So in 1960, the same year she directed me and my classmates in her play about Endwell’s early settlers, Miss George was also hard at work on a committee to restore the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery where they were buried.
My fascination with cemeteries — which I share with many genealogists and family historians — took root during my year in Miss George’s class, where she held forth on the disgrace of a historic cemetery overgrown with weeds and neglected by the town.
A fascinating cemetery
Miss George gave us regular updates on the cemetery restoration efforts — and we wanted to see them for ourselves. Thus the small Hooper-Patterson Cemetery — rather than seeming a scary place haunted by ghosts — became a historically interesting destination that my classmates and I often rode to on our bicycles.
We also wanted to know more about the characters we portrayed in Miss George’s play — and as we read the tombstones we were surprised to discover many graves of children, some of whom had died when they were younger than us. An unforgettably sobering experience for a fourth grader!
A few years back, I contacted the Broome County Historical Society to see if they might have copies of Miss George’s plays. They did not — but instead they sent a copy of a small brochure titled “Endwell’s Early Days: A Profile,” which Miss George wrote in 1960.
When the brochure arrived I suddenly remembered having seen it as a child — with its careful sketch of the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery and tombstones, along with transcripts of each stone and a narrative history in the voice of settler Amos Patterson. Rereading it was like being in Miss George’s class all over again! (Click here to see the brochure.)
A collective restoration campaign
Probably because she loomed large in my fourth-grade life, I always thought Miss George was the catalyst of the cemetery restoration.
But according a May 25, 1960, article in Endicott Daily Bulletin, the Endwell Rotary Club (which my dad belonged to) and the Garden Club of Endwell were key players on the restoration committee.
“The project has included the replacing of tombstones, restoration of the cemetery fence, grading, and seeding of the lawn,” the article said. “The Garden Club expects to do some planting.”
The project was not without its challenges. According to the article, “Inclement weather has hindered the project schedule. The committee last Saturday found two sections of the cemetery fence in the Susquehanna River.” Nevertheless, the restoration moved ahead — as did publication of Miss George’s brochure.
“The restoration committee with assistance by Miss Helen George, a Hooper School teacher, is compiling a brochure which will include the location of each tombstone, and the inscription and history,” the Bulletin reported.
Restoration efforts continue
I pay a nostalgic visit the Hooper-Patterson Cemetery whenever I am in Endwell, usually for my high school reunion — and this year was no exception.
The cemetery overlooking the Susquehanna River still looks good — grass mowed and damaged tombstones propped up. No signs of the weedy neglect Miss George was so worked up about in 1960.
While researching this blog post, I made the happy discovery that the cemetery has inspired a new generation of volunteer restorationists to take up the task of keeping the grounds and stones in shape — after one of them happened upon the graveyard during a walk on River Road.
They’re raising funds, resetting pavers, clearing brush, trimming trees and doing what they can to keep the cemetery looking good — just like Miss George and her committee did when she was around. I’m sure she would be pleased.
Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
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