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Pine Plains Cemetery celebrates its bicentennial

Sue Greenhagen, left, describes the Civil War-era grave markers at Pine Plains Cemetery in Clay during the cemetery's bicentennial celebration while town historian Dorothy Heller listens.

Sue Greenhagen, left, describes the Civil War-era grave markers at Pine Plains Cemetery in Clay during the cemetery's bicentennial celebration while town historian Dorothy Heller listens. Jill Romano

— This past Saturday, Pine Plains Cemetery in the town of Clay celebrated its 200 anniversary with a ceremony that drew about 60 people. The cemetery, one of the oldest businesses still in operation in Onondaga County, has seen nearly 10,000 burials, and it is the resting place of veterans from every war in which the United States has taken part.

The town has a big stake in the cemetery. The very first burial, which took place in 1812, was of Peter Young, one of the original founders of the town of Clay.

“He fell out of a tree,” said Dorothy Heller, the town historian.

Similar acknowledgements of the cemetery’s importance for the town and its history were made by public officials invited to the ceremony. U.S. Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle did not personally attend, but sent a spokesperson on her behalf to deliver a written address, saying, “[The Pine Plains Cemetery] has contributed greatly to our rich history.”

The main event of the anniversary celebration was the tour through the burial sites of the 52 Civil War veterans. Sue Greenhagen, historian and Daughter of the Union Veterans, was present to supplement the tour with fascinating detail about the everyday trials of a Civil War soldier. Tourists learned that more men died in the Civil War of disease, or what is termed “other causes,” than of battle wounds. Of the half million New Yorkers who went to war, 27,000 died of “other” and just under 20,000 died in battle. Historians learn of the sicknesses and trials suffered by the soldiers from the letters they sent home to their families, which they did often.

“We know all about the generals,” said Greenhagen. “Now, we need to learn about the common soldier.”

She encouraged anyone who is in possession of any Civil War era letters to contact their town historian.

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