Schenectady

Electric City Archives: After award for Schenectady’s Vale Cemetery, a look at cemetery’s most fascinating

201222Buell
PHOTOGRAPHER:

About 15 years ago, I got a little upset at work one day and quit.

I stormed out of the Gazette office and headed to the parking lot, only to remember that my automobile was up Maxon Road Extension a bit at Schenectady Auto Service; and unavailable. I started walking.

Since I was in no hurry to run home and tell my wonderful wife that her husband had just quit his job, my journey took me to Vale Cemetery. What a great place for reflection. In my solitude and the quiet and beauty of Vale Park, I came back to my senses. “Oh my God, I just quit my job!”

There were two messages waiting for me when I did get home, and suffice it to say that cooler heads prevailed and I was graciously welcomed back at the newspaper. I also never looked at Vale in quite the same way again.

Instead of just being all about solemnity, it was so much more. A history class, a nature walk, and maybe most of all a place to get your head together, to straighten out your thoughts and feelings. I felt like all those great minds and good souls interred within Vale we’re bringing a cloudy picture into focus.

I’m sure the spirit of Charles Proteus Steinmetz alone was probably enough to declutter my brain and set me on the right path. But if he needed any help, there are many more great intellects as well as kind hearts using Vale as their final resting place.

So it was no surprise to me when I heard that Vale Cemetery won a prestigious award earlier this month from a national trade Magazine, American Cemetery and Creation. Asked to write a story about it by the Gazette, my first phone call was to Dr. Bernie McEvoy, who just happened to be at Vale. No surprise there. For Bernie and his wife, Barbara, the caretaker’s cottage at Vale is their home away from home. Because of their dedication to the rebirth of Vale nearly two decades ago, they were both named patroons of the city by Mayor Gary B. McCarthy in 2009. Their work and that of countless other volunteers as well as the efforts of long-time superintendent Clark Adams and his staff continue to make Vale a very special place for all to enjoy.

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I decided to come up with a top ten list of prominent people buried at Vale – “Vale Notables” – and I asked city historian Chris Leonard to do the same and he was happy to oblige. It came as no surprise that Steinmetz, so much more to the city than just an electrical engineer at the General Electric Company, came out on top of the list. And again, these lists aren’t necessarily the top ten “most important” people in Vale, but the ten individuals Leonard and I find most fascinating.

As for our pecking order, in my opinion the list, with the exception of Steinmetz, is for the most part interchangeable. We only picked four of the same people, but had no objection to any of the names on either list. All are worthy, and feel free to ask us, ‘how could you guys leave out” this person or that one? Leonard liked my choice of William Coolidge, and I complimented him on his selection of two women, Virginia Sweet and Clarissa Putman.

I won’t mention anything more about the names on our lists, but hopefully every fourth grade teacher in the county will read this and come up with a few local history assignments for their students. Let’s keep honoring and looking into our history.

County Historian Bill Buell

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz
  • Ernst Alexanderson
  • William Coolidge
  • John Isaac DeGraff
  • Christopher Yates
  • Charles Lewis
  • Rev. Isaac Groot Duryee
  • Moses Viney
  • Eliphalet Nott
  • Carroll “Pink” Gardner

City Historian Chris Leonard

  • Charles Proteus Steinmetz
  • The Clute Brothers
  • Ernst Alexanderson
  • George Tompkins
  • Colonel Robert Furman
  • Virginia Sweet
  • Moses Viney
  • Allen Hyer Jackson
  • Carroll “Pink” Gardner
  • Clarissa Putman

Bill Buell is the Schenectady County historian and a retired reporter for The Daily Gazette. His Electric City Archives runs semi-regularly at DailyGazette.com

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