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Flags Marking Veterans Graves Supported by New Flag Holders,
Thanks to Donations by Local Veterans Groups and Local Volunteer Fire Departments

Local veterans groups and firehouses pitched in with donations that helped Rockland Cemetery purchase 1,000 flag holders to secure the stars and stripes that honor the graves of nearly a thousand veterans from the Civil War all the way up to Afghanistan and Iraq and volunteer fire fighters.
Rockland Cemetery, which is located at 201 Kings Highway, Sparkill, New York, overlooks the village of Piermont, New York. The cemetery, which opened in 1847, sits on 155 acres of land with a remarkable 75 percent of space remaining open. The remaining 25 percent contains about 13,000 graves.
“Families, veterans groups and local fire departments have long honored the men and women who served in our nation’s armed forces and our communities with flags to mark their graves,” said Jackie Curtiss, Cemetery Manager of Rockland Cemetery. “The problem was that many of the flags that were placed in the ground were easily dislodged by wind, heavy rain and snow storms throughout the year.”
She said that although she and the cemetery’s small team of groundskeepers continually righted the flags that were knocked over, it was an impossible task to keep up with. She noticed that some of the flags at graveside were held in place by beautiful flag holders, such as the Marine Corps flag holder. These flag holders were simply pushed into the ground with a flag placed in them. They stayed in place summer and winter. That gave her the idea to look online for inexpensive flag holders to hold the flags at other graves. There were none. What she found were mostly prohibitively expensive flag holders. Looking further, she found flag holders that were more affordable, but beyond the cemetery’s budget to buy in quantity.
Nevertheless, she purchased several of these flag holders in the autumn of 2016 and placed them graveside and inserted the flags that already stood at the graves of several veterans to see how they would stand up to the winter weather. “They worked perfectly,” she said. “We wanted to buy them in quantity for all of the veterans’ and volunteer fire fighters graves that were marked by flags”
Rockland Cemetery turned to local veterans groups and firehouses for help because they are the ones who remember their fallen comrades each year by marking their graves with small flags. Those groups responded generously and Rockland Cemetery thanks:
• New City Memorial Post VFW Post No 6749
• James H. Anderson Post 1199 American Legion
• Empire Hose Company # 1, Piermont
• John M. Perry Post 1044 American Legion
• Pearl River Memorial Post 7370 VFW
• Pearl River Fire Department
• Korean War Veterans Association
“We probably have 2,500 veterans buried here and we are undertaking research of our earlier paper records to find those veterans who date back possibly to the Civil War,” said Tim Temple, Treasurer of Rockland Cemetery. “We were pleased with the donations we received from local groups. The people who placed flags here graveside were quite pleased with the new flag holders that keep the flags standing in place.”
While the cemetery itself never places flags at graveside, it will make these flag holders available to loved ones and to local groups that wish to place flags now and in the future. With less than 100 of the original purchase left, the cemetery will make another bulk purchase in the near future. Anyone wishing to make a donation toward the purchase of new flag holders can call Rockland Cemetery at (845) 359-0172.

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Rockland Cemetery: Hidden Gem Overlooking the Hudson

Written by Ron Derven 

Many county residents are probably familiar with its name, but less know its location and still fewer have actually visited historic Rockland Cemetery, which sits atop Mount Nebo in Orangeburg, New York with grand vistas of the Hudson River stretching to Hook Mountain on the left and Tallman Mountain on the right with the quaint Village of Piermont about 600 feet below it.

The cemetery sits on 155 acres of land and although it was founded in 1847 and has been used continuously to the present, approximately 75 percent of the land remains open space with some of it heavily wooded. The remaining 25 percent is carefully tended land where 13,000 people have been buried.

Rockland Cemetery was founded by Dr. Eleazar Lord. He was a greatly accomplished man being the first President of the Erie Railroad and a noted educator and author.      Dr. Lord envisioned this gracefully place as a prominent final resting place for New York area residents. There was also talk at the time of making Rockland Cemetery America’s national cemetery, an honor that was eventually bestowed on Arlington Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia at the height of the Civil War in 1864.

Dr. Lord brought the Erie Railroad to this area, along with its passengers envisioning a great hub of commerce along the river. He was even instrumental in getting the Hudson River hamlet of Tappan Landing renamed as Piermont. But all of the activity he envisioned for the area was never to be. The state of New Jersey belated okayed a charter giving the Erie Railroad permission to create a connection from Suffern, New York, directly to Jersey City, New Jersey, which served Manhattan with ferry service.

This in effect pushed Rockland Cemetery and Piermont into obscurity. But obscurity has its benefits as it turns out. The Village of Piermont today is a magnificent small village of several thousand people with last-century brick buildings in town and a delightful mix of old and new single-family homes rambling up the side of the mountain behind the village all the way to the border of the cemetery. As for Rockland Cemetery, it remains to this day a place of natural beauty, seclusion and tranquility, as one writer put it, that should be visited by all Rocklanders

“We welcome visitors here,” said Jackie Curtiss, Office Manager at Rockland Cemetery. Treasurer Tim Temple added that there are a series of roads and trails throughout the cemetery, headstones dating back before the Civil War and there is even a branch of the Appalachian Trail that comes through the property.

TheCrewFor all of its beauty and well-tended look, remarkably, the 155-acre cemetery has only four full-time employees that handle burials, scheduling and the grounds keeping that is necessary. Instead of hiring additional staff this summer Rockland Cemetery has contracted out some of its ground maintenance so that the staff can work on some short term and long term projects. Jackie said that the cemetery is non-sectarian and veteran friendly. A tour of the cemetery will reveal numerous American flags placed caringly at certain graves to honor our war dead.

“These are the gravesites of veterans and date all the way back to the Civil War,” said Treasurer Temple. “We have local veterans groups and local fire departments that help us maintain these graves and honor those who gave so much for our country.” Jackie said that Rockland Cemetery of seeking to purchase about 1,000 flag holders, small devices that are pressed into the ground, to help hold all of the American Flags upright. Veterans groups and fire departments have willingly donated money to this cause, but the cemetery needs to raise more money to make this important purchase.

“We take care of the weeding and grass cutting, but the families maintain the headstones,” said Superintendent Jody Leote. “When we come in in the morning, we never know what to expect, especially if there has been a big storm the night before. Naturally, massive storms like Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy are a major challenge,” said the superintendent, but “we work quickly to get everything in order.”

In a typical year, Rockland Cemetery will handle between 175 to 220 burials. During some weeks as many as eight funerals are scheduled, but these are carefully schedule to give each family time at the grave side.

The cemetery is continually busy preserving the old, but also upgrading the grounds and its technical systems to meet the needs of the future. It has a five-year program underway to upgrade the miles of roads and trails that snake through the grounds. Another program that has been launched is an effort to digitalize all of its records. With the cemetery having opened 170 years ago in 1847, original handwritten documents have aged and it is time to computerize everything to preserve it for future generations. Jackie has been busy the last two years organizing those old records as well as hand-drawn site maps of the cemetery. She is working with a company to put all of these documents into digital files.

In organizing and compiling these records, Jackie is often able to help people find lost loved ones and to help others learn more about their roots. One touching example that Jackie related was a call she received from a woman whose elder father had been trying to find his older brother for most of his life.

The woman’s father and his older brother had been placed in an orphanage when they were young children. When the older brother reached a certain age and was able to leave the orphanage, he promised his younger brother, the woman’s father, that he would return one day to take him out of the orphanage.

Jackie searched her records and also did a walking search of a section of the cemetery and found a family plot with the same name. On further research, it turned out that the older brother had been buried at Rockland Cemetery In addition to giving the daughter the good news, Jackie was also able to place the daughter in contact with another living family member that had purchased the plot.