By Matthew Colon
On July 12th, the Newburgh Historical Society and St. George’s Episcopal Church are leading a walking tour of St. George’s Cemetery. It is a collaborative effort that involved many people to plan what will be a wonderful event. Four tour guides will lead members of the public for a half mile walk through one of Newburgh’s remarkable cemeteries. Along the way, the history of Newburgh will be told through the stories of select citizens from the American Revolution through the present.
It all started when Catherine Costello, chairperson of the St. George’s Cemetery Committee, invited me to join others on a tour she was leading on All Saint’s Day, November 1st of last year. It was a great opportunity considering the cemetery is only opened by appointment. It was drizzling and I was glad I remembered to bring my umbrella along, but it was cold and I had to repeatedly switch hands holding the umbrella to keep them from freezing.
How could anyone enjoy any tour under those conditions? But I did. The stories that Catherine related were more than interesting. Within that 7.5 acre cemetery I heard the stories of writers, soldiers, lovers, leaders, entertainers and community-minded citizens. So, I continued to switch hands, ignored the cold and listened in.
One interesting figure interred there was a world famous lion tamer named Isaac A. Van Amburgh, who once received a gift of a gold watch from Queen Victoria! A childhood friend wrote about him as adult, “I felt myself in the presence of more than an ordinary man.”
I knew that the Society would be delighted to co-coordinate a tour with the Cemetery Committee. After the holidays, I joined the Committee during a monthly meeting and we got started. Initially, we discussed what each organization would get out of the partnership, what the roles would be and how we would meet our goal to expose the public to the great stories within St. George’s cemetery.
Along the way, cleanups took place and during one event volunteer cadets from the Military Academy at West Point uncovered a long lost stone. Trips were made to the cemetery to discuss logistics, decide on a route and determine what headstones would be included on the tour. At one time we collected 63 points of interest. We were able to whittle it down to 21 points. The interpretive guide is now complete.
The library volunteers, Camille Corallo, Mary Durbin, and Patricia Favata, were instrumental in helping with research and reviewing our work.
Last Sunday, the cemetery was opened again for the tour guides to complete a practice walk through. It was raining and I was reminded of my first experience on tour last November. We paid attention to the time and marked corrections to the guide as we went along. Although my notes smeared in the rain and my shoes and clothes were damp, the Society and the Committee have created something wonderful.
Andrew Jackson Downing, a landscape architect and Newburgh native, once wrote about public cemeteries, “The great attraction of these cemeteries…lies in the natural beauty of the sites, and in the tasteful and harmonious embellishment of these sites by art.”
St. George’s Cemetery is a beautiful site, indeed.
Join members of the Historical Society and St. George’s Episcopal Church as we walk through the historic St. George’s Cemetery, pointing out notable figures of Newburgh’s past. Discover how these former citizens contributed to a vibrant Newburgh. Refreshments will be provided by the St. George’s Cemetery Committee. For more information→