The previously unmarked grave of Mary Livingston Ingersoll, mother of Robert G. Ingersoll, had a grave marker placed on it last week and a dedicatory ceremony is scheduled for May 30.
BY Jason Emerson
Mary Livingston Ingersoll died in Cazenovia in 1835 when her son, Robert Green Ingersoll, was three years old. She was 36. Robert Ingersoll, later known as “The Great Agnostic,” went on to become one of the leading orators of the post-Civil War era and the foremost star of the freethought movement — his mother was buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which became lost in time.
In December 2015, the unmarked grave of Mary Ingersoll was located in South Cemetery in Cazenovia due to the coordinated efforts of Cazenovia officials and the director of the Ingersoll Institute and, on Memorial Day, a dedicatory event for her newly marked grave will take place.
“This has long been an object of curiosity for me [and] I’m pretty excited we have been able to do this,” said Tom Flynn, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, N.Y. “It’s always been known that Robert’s mother died in Cazenovia and the family left shortly after, but otherwise not a lot was known.”
According to information on freethought-trail.org, which offers information on a collection of locations in West-Central New York important to the history of freethought, the Ingersoll family moved to Cazenovia shortly before Mary’s death, so that the Rev. John Ingersoll (her husband, and Robert’s father) could preach at Cazenovia’s Free Church, a future site of the 1850 Cazenovia Fugitive Slave Law Convention. Upon Mary’s death, Rev. Ingersoll could not afford a proper burial and Luther Myrick, a long-established local abolitionist preacher of more substantial means, offered a gravesite in his family plot in South Cemetery, then a private graveyard, which is located on Number Nine Road two miles south of the village.
Mary Livingston was buried in an unmarked grave; before long, Rev. Ingersoll and his four children moved on to another liberal church, the Congregational church at Hampton (now Westmoreland, in Oneida County). With time, knowledge of the location of Mary’s grave was lost.
In 2014, the Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee, custodian of the Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, started looking into the mystery of exactly where Mary Ingersoll was buried.
“So I came to Cazenovia one day and started asking questions,” Flynn said. “Someone seemed to remember she was probably in South Cemetery.”
Flynn began working with Cazenovia Town Historian Sara Chevako and Town Highway Superintendent Tim Hunt (South Cemetery is owned by the town of Cazenovia) and, based on Chevako’s research, began to narrow the search.
An examination of town records found the precise location of Luther Myrick’s family plot, one of the northeasternmost plots located due west of a large, unmarked potters field in South Cemetery. While today the Myrick plot contains two mostly illegible headstones, records suggest that Myrick’s two sons are buried there.
On Dec. 23, 2015, the plot was examined using ground-penetrating radar by the company New York Leak Detection and, in addition to the two bodies that were expected to be there, the radar found a third, unmarked grave, said Hunt.
“Everybody put the pieces together and found where she was buried,” Hunt said. “It was a real group, community effort.”
Once the discovery was made, the Ingersoll Committee undertook a fundraising campaign and commissioned a headstone to be made and placed on Mary Ingersoll’s grave. The stone was erected last week in South Cemetery and will be dedicated on Memorial Day with a ceremony at the cemetery featuring local dignitaries, special remarks and lunch at the Lincklaen House.
“All of this information [to find the grave] had been sitting in file drawers in Cazenovia for years, but nobody ever knew it,” Flynn said. “This discovery was all thanks to Sara Chevako, Tim Hunt and an outsider with a curious itch [Flynn].”
The Mary Livingstone Ingersoll gravesite is now a stop on the Freethought Trail as one of the Robert G. Ingersoll-related historic sites. This is the second Trail stop in Cazenovia, the other being the location of the Fugitive Slave Law Convention of 1850 on Sullivan Street.
For more information on Robert G. Ingersoll and the Freethought Trail, visit freethought-trail.org or secularhumanism.org/Ingersoll.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.