For many months, volunteers associated with the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society have worked to beautify and remove weeds from the Wyckoff-Snediker Family Cemetery, a graveyard located near All Saints Episcopal Church that dates back to the late 1700s.
The efforts, conducted in cooperation with the church (formerly St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church), have been both successful and rewarding, according to Ed Wendell of the society — and led to some amazing discoveries along the way.
During their most recent cleanup of the 98th Street site on July 11, Wendell received word from Irene Scheid, who lives adjacent to the cemetery, that her family recently unearthed what appeared to be a tombstone from her backyard. Volunteers came by Scheid’s home to pick up the thin stone tablet marked with the initials “G.S.B.”
Through research, Wendell said, it was determined that the gravestone once marked the burial site of Garret S. Bennet, who died in 1825 and was interred at the Wyckoff-Snediker Cemetery. Wendell said the connection between the stone and cemetery was confirmed through a review of a cemetery survey conducted in 1919, which noted the extent of every graveyard “down to the square foot.”
Bennet’s grave was indicated in the 1919 survey, but the tombstone was listed as missing.
“It’s been out of the cemetery for at least 96 years, probably longer, and it ended up in this woman’s backyard,” Wendell said.
Not much is known about Bennet’s life other than the dates of his death and birth (in 1792, during George Washington’s first term as president) and the fact that several of his relatives, including daughter Ida, are also interred at Wyckoff-Snediker. They all died at young ages during the 1825 cholera epidemic that struck the area, according to Wendell.
Now that the century-old headstone mystery has been solved, Wendell noted it shouldn’t be too difficult to restore the headstone to Bennet’s grave. Along with clearing overgrowth and removing litter from the cemetery, volunteers have been restoring monuments that were either tipped or moved by vandals.
“We know where it’s supposed to go. We know where he is and we can finally put his tombstone back where it belongs,” he said.
Along from restoring a piece of neighborhood history, Wendell hopes that the cemetery — once beautification efforts are complete — could be transformed into a passive community space where local residents can sit in peace and quiet and enjoy nature. The society hopes to hold an “open house” in October revealing to the public the extent of their efforts to that point.
“We don’t want it to be a place for loud music or play — just a nice, quiet space,” Wendell said. “To have something like that a few feet off Jamaica Avenue would be really nice for the community.”