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Oct 31, 2018 9:35 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Burying Ground Preservation Group Looks To Protect Historical Burial Grounds

Kurt Kahofer, center, and Zachary Studenroth at the Quogue Cemetery where their new group, the Burying Ground Preservation Group, helped preserve the site. JON WINKLER
Nov 2, 2018 2:10 PM

Around this time of year, a cemetery can be associated with the grim reality of death and the spooky atmosphere of Halloween.

But for the members of a newly formed nonprofit, cemeteries offer a glimpse into the history of the East End.

The Burying Ground Preservation Group, based in Sag Harbor, was formed earlier this year with a mission to restore older deteriorating headstones at burial grounds and preserve historical details about the people buried 6 feet under.

Not only does the group touch up broken markers of the long-deceased, it also submits photos and information about them to research databases and creates programs in collaboration with local historical societies to make the public more aware of the area’s history.

The group was founded by three experts in research and preservation: Zachary Studenroth, the former historian for both the town and village of Southampton; Kurt Kahofer, a New York State certified teacher for 23 years; and Joel Snodgrass, an expert in historic preservation.

Headstones and burial markers can often offer a glimpse into not just the death of the departed but how they lived their lives as well.

“We look at these stones as records of these people and their birth, death, marriage,” Mr. Studenroth said. “Sometimes it’ll say, ‘Drowned at sea.’ These are vital records and, in some cases where they’re lost, they may be the only record of that particular individual.”

“Sometimes, the only records that exist of people are monuments and graves,” Mr. Kahofer echoed on Tuesday. “Some files can be lost in fires, and when you find the only thing left, that’s worth preserving. We take burial grounds seriously in terms of protection.”

Mr. Studenroth said that the trio started talking about coming together to form the group about six months ago with the purpose of keeping the group as a nonprofit and to provide themselves as a service for local municipalities.

He explained that the group reached out to East End villages to find out which burial grounds had damaged headstones. As part of its process, the group will first perform a survey of the grounds and detail the stone types, dimensions, inscriptions and conditions of the tablets.

Once a comprehensive assessment is done to determine if the stones can be restored and are in fact cleaned of fungi and mold, the group takes heightened photographs of the stones to upload to informational databases and researches the people the stones commemorate to find out who they were and if they were of any historical significance to the community where they were buried.

Even after all of that work, the group works to create programs for the public to participate in and learn about their villages before determining what needs to be done to ensure consistent care to the stones over time. Mr. Kahofer said that after restoring headstones at the Quogue Cemetery this year, the group worked with the Quogue Historical Society to offer a tour of the historical stones in August.

“We had smatterings of people from Quogue looking at the stones of 10 people from various generations going stone to stone telling their story,” Mr. Kahofer said. “Some people might think the actual repair of stones is unimaginable, but people see the stone tools we use and are amazed to see that this can be done.”

Mr. Kahofer said that the group has two potential projects on their docket that could further expand their reach: one at an old family burial ground in Mamaroneck, where six stones are in need of repair, and another family burial ground in Syosset, where all the stones are down and broken.

As far as other future projects, Mr. Studenroth said that those who know of burial grounds in need of preservation can go to the group’s website at bgpg.org to contact them. But he and the group continue to point out the distinction between a cemetery and a burial ground.

“Most people think of these as just cemeteries,” Mr. Studenroth said last Friday. “A cemetery is for more recent stones—burying grounds are really the colonial sites vulnerable to deterioration. For one thing, they have been around for at least 100 years longer than the recent sites, so they are the ones that you can think of as being the historical places.

“It reflects the shift in religious belief that we don’t really die, we just go to an eternal rest. There’s a shift in the concept of death and how final it is.”

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By themarlinspike (250), southampton on Nov 2, 18 9:17 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By themarlinspike (250), southampton on Nov 3, 18 12:30 PM