Newburgh - In the last couple of weeks, the remains of 11 more individuals have been found at the courthouse construction site on the grounds of the former Broadway School, where part of an African-American cemetery was once located. This brings the total to date to 17.
With input from the Courthouse Burial Ground Working Group, the City has decided that all those who are found will be removed until they can be re-interred at a later date on the grounds of the new courthouse.
At their first meeting, the Working Group formed subcommittees for research and site documentation, spiritual healing, and commemoration of the site, and plans are being developed for the creation of this final resting place and memorial, and for a community ceremony to honor those interred on the site.
Douglas Mackey of the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), Dirk Marcucci of Landmark Archeology, and Dr. Kenneth C. Nystrom, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at SUNY New Paltz have been advising City officials and the Working Group.
Dr. Nystrom is taking temporary custody of remains until construction is finished, and it is expected that he will also receive those previously sent to the Medical Examiner’s office. In addition, the New York State Museum has offered their assistance if needed.
The first three sets of remains found in late March were sent to the Medical Examiner’s office. Upon receiving confirmation that they came from a historic burial ground, and after conferring with SHPO, the City sought an archeological firm to oversee excavations. On May 1, three more sets were found under the supervision of Landmark Archeology, and secured on site until the City met with SHPO and the advisory group.
Prior to the removal of remains, members of the advisory group spirituality subcommittee and local clergy have gathered at the site, along with City officials, staff and representatives from the archeological team, for a brief spiritual ceremony to recognize those who have been found, and those who are working with them.
As recommended by SHPO, the City is moving forward with excavation of the parking lot area in a systematic way to locate as many graves as possible- how many that will be is unknown.
Early newspaper accounts state that bones were found in the 1870s when Robinson Avenue (Route 9W) was built, and again in the early 1900s during the construction of Broadway School. These reports indicate that the earlier remains were to be re-interred at Woodlawn Cemetery; and those found when the school was built would go to the Alms House Cemetery on Snake Hill. How many were actually moved is also unknown.
“We do not want future generations to have to revisit this, and to wonder as we have, why this historic burial ground, and those buried here, received so little respect,” said City Manager Jean-Ann McGrane. “We cannot undo the wrongs of the past, but we can do the right thing now to insure that all those interred here rest with the dignity and honor they deserve.”
Rev. Stephen Ruelke, who is also City Assessor and liaison with the courthouse project said, “It is indeed important that we do justice here. I awoke this morning with the words of Ezekiel ringing in my ear. The part about where God takes Ezekiel to the valley of the dry bones and asks, “Mortal, can these bones live?” Ezekiel demurred, saying something to the effect of “Lord, only you know.”
“Now here we are about 2,800 years after Ezekiel, and by Grace, we have found friends who had been forgotten, buried under asphalt and concrete and such in their own valley. God asks and the bones speak to us…they live…they call us to be God’s compassion, and in so doing, to become more fully alive ourselves.”