My first newspaper job was at The Citizen in Auburn, New York. We got a tip one day that said someone had dug up human bones in their backyard, along with the address. My editor asked if I could go check it out.
I remember it was raining and cold outside. I pulled up to the house and knocked on the door. People were there, but they didn’t come out. I could see some equipment in the backyard, which abutted a cemetery. Immediately I wondered if bodies can roll downhill underground. I also thought of the movie, “Poltergeist.”
I would follow this story for a while, ultimately finding out that these homeowners on Fitch Avenue had a whole unmarked graveyard in their backyard, filled with the bodies of state prison inmates from Auburn Correctional Facility. Auburn was the first place to use the electric chair.
I dug through newspaper archives and old land records. One chilling newspaper article talked about how prison staff would transport bodies at night, quicklime them and throw them in a pit. I read an account of a wife, who couldn’t afford to retrieve her husband’s body. She came to the cemetery to pay her respects, only to discover it was a mass, unmarked grave.
And now something similar has happened on Lake George, though this time with Revolutionary War soldiers’ remains.
In case you missed it, we ran this story in our latest issue of the magazine and posted it online.
In Auburn, the family was digging to put up a fence. In Lake George, a contractor was digging a foundation for a new building.
And then? Bones. Lots of bones. There are very few legal protections for unmarked graves.
But a few state staff and a ton of volunteers banded together to sort through these skeletons on Lake George. Now they’re trying to piece them back together at the New York State Museum lab.
They’ll eventually be reburied, but we’ll have to see when based on the pandemic.
From above, a volunteer operation of archaeologists sift through the remains of a Revolutionary War-era burial ground discovered in 2019 on Courtland Street in the Village of Lake George when a contractor was digging a foundation. Photo courtesy of the state Department of Environmental Conservation
Editor’s note: This first appeared in Gwen’s weekly “Adirondack Report” newsletter. Click here to sign up.