Standing at Mary's Grave
I generally wait until the forces of nature turn down the heat before I take vacation days. That’s why I was up in Schroon Lake last week.
Actually, the sun was still on its July and August game plan. It was plenty warm in the Adirondacks, and I was fortunate to have packed my swimming shorts — does anyone call them trunks anymore? — along with a bunch of books, a bunch of beers, and a bunch of briquettes. They all came in handy for evening cookouts on the beach at my little resort, the fabulous Schroon Lake Place.
As I have never been able to start pouring down beer at 1 p.m., even on vacation days, I had my bicycle with me and some trips planned. It’s always kind of relaxing to cycle north on roads that get more crowded with pine trees and less crowded with cars and trucks the farther you go.
And it seems whenever I’m in Essex County, I always stop by the small cemetery in North Hudson. It’s 7.3 miles north of Schroon Lake’s busy Main Street, and this time it took me 35 minutes to get there on the pedals. I must be slowing down — I know they haven’t moved the cemetery farther north.
The yard is on the right side of the road, one half hidden behind a row of bushy, 15-foot tall evergreen trees and the other half — which is not all that populated — behind a white, industrial-strength fence. I’ve been kind of curious about old cemeteries since I interviewed Robert V. Wells, a Union College professor who has studied local gardens of stone. Think it was Dr. Wells who years ago told me cemeteries really are history books you can walk through instead of page through.
And yeah, I was kind of spooked the first time I saw Mary Crookshank’s grave. Mary was only 25 when she died on Feb. 21, 1831. Her five-foot-tall gravestone identified her as the “consort of Russel Root,” and the carved words and numbers are still sharp and clear 181 years after the marker was placed into the earth.
One hundred and eighty-one years! Mary had been committed to the ground 30 years before the start of the Civil War. Candle lamps and lanterns, horse-drawn carriages, long guns and long dresses were parts of her time, and would remain staples in America for another 80 years or so. Must have been something, living in Mary’s era. Cold winters with heavy blankets, candlelight and a roaring fire every night; hot summers with little relief from the heat — although I’m sure our Adirondack cousins cooled off in the lakes and streams.
What really grabbed me about Mary was her perpetual message to passersby. The words are carved into the bottom of the stone: “Look ye here, as you pass by; so you are now, so once was I; As I am now, so you must be; Prepare for death, & follow me.”
Just spooky, huh? A person dead and gone reminds a hapless bicyclist that fate and destiny have plans for humanity ... a big finish awaits us all.
Mary got a raw deal, as does anyone who passes away at such a young age. But if you explore the company Mary keeps these days, her husband also endured hard times. Mary was Russell Root's first wife (his first name is spelled incorrectly on Mary's stone), and they had a daughter Eunice, who was born in 1825 and died during her teenage years in 1842. Root married another woman, Rutheda Russell, but she passed away in 1834 at around age 23.
Old Russell, who was born June 25, 1798, eventually married Samantha Washbond, who was 17 years his junior. This union lasted the longest, as the two were still together when Russell joined his earlier consorts on Oct. 20, 1873 at age 75. Samantha — she never remarried — died April 6, 1896. She was 80.
I rarely see any cars pass by the place, and have never seen another stranger in the cemetery when I make my afternoon visits. There are more recent stones in the place, and recent floral memorials in the dirt. But I wonder if anyone visits Mary and her family.
I’ve probably visited eight or 10 times over the years. This time out, I noticed Mary’s stone was tilting a little to the right. And there was a grasshopper perched on the “A” of “Mary” that I had to gently flick away with a stick when I began taking pictures. No respect for the dead. But I guess the cemetery belongs more to that damn grasshopper than it does to me or anyone else.
I suppose if someone had told Mary Crookshank Root, maybe as she was spending her final days in 1831, that someone would make occasional visits to her grave in the far-off days of the 21st century, she might have found the fact kind of neat.
I think it’s kind of neat myself.