Schenectady County

GPS effort will make finding gravesites in Vale easier

At one time, anyone in Schenectady could tell a visitor how to find genius inventor Charles Steinmet
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At one time, anyone in Schenectady could tell a visitor how to find genius inventor Charles Steinmetz.

Just look for the house with the eerie blue glow, they said, describing what was the first house in the city with electricity.

Now, new technology will still help visitors find Steinmetz, one of the most famous Schenectadians buried in Vale Cemetery. There’s no spooky light, but GPS coordinates will lead visitors right to his gravesite.

A group of geocachers will spend Saturday marking the coordinates for more than 100 notable graves in Vale. The sponsors, who call themselves “the Geek Squad,” hope to find 127 graves Saturday. They’ve already found Steinmetz’s.

None of the graves are exactly hidden. Vale has catalogued every grave, by section. The only trouble is that each section is large — sometimes with hills and trees as well as many gravestones — and it can take more than an hour to find a particular grave.

Since 2007, volunteers have been gathering GPS coordinates for each grave, hoping to create a detailed map of the entire cemetery. It’s been slow going — only a few graves have been plotted.

So Vale Board of Trustees President Bernie McEvoy was delighted to encounter the geocachers in the cemetery this spring. They were searching for a container hidden at precise coordinates in the cemetery. As they followed their GPS devices around gravestones and trees, McEvoy saw great possibilities.

“The more GPS coordinates we can get, the easier it will be to find grandma’s grave,” he said. “Usually it’s look in the catalogue, here’s the section, draw them a little map, and then — usually I end up going out with them.”

The more he and the geocachers talked, the more they wanted to help. They’re now calling for anyone with handheld GPS devices to join them at 9 a.m. Saturday to locate the stones of the famous and infamous throughout the cemetery.

They’ll take a photograph and record the coordinates for each one.

Although the 127 stones on Vale’s list of notable graves make up a tiny portion of the total buried, McEvoy said it would be the perfect place to start.

“The commonest request we get is to go see Steinmetz,” he said. “This is really going to be a nice thing.”

The geocachers are eager because they fell in love with the cemetery and want to see more of it.

“It’s cool. It’s a really nice old cemetery,” said geocacher Whendi Muhlenbruck. “They have some really cool stones. There’s a stone that’s shaped like a tree!”

Actually, there are several of those. The Fraternal Order of the Woodsmen of America — who did not have to be woodsmen any more than the Elks had to like deer — buried some of its members with the distinctive image of its lodge.

“They had burial insurance, so if you’re a working guy killed in a factory and the widow doesn’t know how to afford to bury you, it’s: ‘Don’t worry ma’am, the brothers are taking care of it,’ ” McEvoy said. “Some of them even had a health plan. There were lodges that had Italian doctors that took care of their members all through the Depression.”

It’s those details that make history fascinating, Muhlenbruck said.

“You don’t learn that in school,” she said. “But this is more pertinent to the people in the area.”

She plans to leave a geocache near one of the tree-shaped stones as well as locating more famous graves.

“Geocaching takes you to places you wouldn’t normally go to. Little-known places that only the locals know about — hidden little waterfalls, little trail systems,” she said. “I’m going to do a geocache over there to bring people to see it.”

She already has 12 geocachers signed up to help locate graves Saturday and she’s hoping for many more, so that each group could focus on one section and search for three to four graves.

If it goes well, she may be back.

“I think it’d be cool to do the whole cemetery,” she said. “But you’d need to get more people interested in it. You’d need a lot of people. It’s a big cemetery.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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