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Protecting our history: Whose responsibility is it?

I was searching for a topic on which to write when my phone rang early one morning this week. It was a call from 911 asking me to meet a Monroe County Deputy Sheriff at the Pioneer Cemetery. That cemetery, for those of you who may not know the Town of Pittsford as well as some of the natives, is located at the convergence of Mendon, Mendon Center, and Stone Roads, at an area known as the Milepost. It is a very old cemetery with the first burial in 1797. Many of the community's notable and involved citizens have found their final resting place among the large trees and near the venerable schoolhouse, the first in what has become Monroe County.

I was called by the sheriff's department because it was reported that numerous tombstones were toppled. Evidently some revelers were enjoying a spring evening by cavorting around the pioneers. Unfortunately, the neighbor who reported the incident in the morning did not report the noise and disruption heard at midnight of the day before. Perhaps if that had been the case, those tombstones now lying on the ground might have remained upright. Whose responsibility was it?

It boggles the mind to contemplate why anyone would take pleasure in vandalizing a quiet place where early settlers were buried. Many of these people were involved in the organization of this community and planting the seeds of the town and village that we have here today. Names of people like Lusk, Stone, Barker, Ray, are among those people buried there - names of people who came to this western New York area to establish homes and farms - safe places in which to establish roots and raise their children; hopefully a place where one could live in quiet peace and take pride in their new community. The early settlers were committed to education and culture. Very early in Pittsford's life a school was established as well as a library. Those parents wished to instill a sense of value in their offspring and leave the place they had established to a generation who would follow in the footsteps of those upstanding men and women. Do not the parents of today wish to establish those same values: Whose responsibility is it?

Now there are markers and stones that had been standing on foundations lying in the grass. It was no small feat to topple some of those markers. One has a date of death of 1812. Are there any family members living here today who will call an expert to mend and stand the expense of raising that stone? Whose responsibility is it?

The Pioneer Cemetery is officially closed for burials and has been turned over to the town for maintenance such as mowing and removing debris and trimming around the gravestones. They do a remarkable job and it has always been a source of pride for many of the members of our community to walk or drive by the white fence and admire the way it is kept. During national holidays flags are placed by members of the American Legion to bring attention to the patriotic feelings of the citizens. Whose responsibility would it be if the Town Board members felt it was too expensive to care for the grounds at the cemetery, or if the Legion members felt it was no longer necessary to place those flags? Who would care and who would take on the responsibility?

Today a fourth grade class from one of Pittsford's elementary schools was in that cemetery. They were being instructed about the beginnings of their town and what it was like to live here in the 1800's. I would hope those teachers and adults were pointing out the notable names of people who have gone before and help to establish a sense of ownership in the community by those youngsters. Perhaps if enough adults and children can feel the sense of pride, no more cemeteries would be desecrated and exuberant youth would find a more appropriate place to celebrate the Rites of Spring and end of school. And perhaps the homeowner who observed what was taking place in that cemetery would take the initiative to call the authorities and ask that those young people be disbursed before any of this damage was done.

Whose responsibility is it?