I forgot two things about research: it’s very exhausting, and there’s never enough time to get everything done that could be done.
As Marnell and I stumbled out of our AirBnB this morning before 6am with our luggage, I wasn’t sure I could survive the rigors of another day of detective work. Things I had never expected to do in my research had me drained. Tramping through a cemetery in the rain, climbing through the woods with two strangers, navigating tall wet weeds in another cemetery, trying to decide whether to squeeze under the padlock of a locked gate or dashing through the door to get on the ferry and barely making it.
So my coffee was barely taking effect yet when we arrived at the Moravian cemetery in Bethlehem to meet our guide, historian Peter Hoover.
(Apparently Peter Hoover has a passion for researching cemeteries. Just last Friday he suffered a broken rib and a bad abrasion to the right arm pursuing a cemetery on a hill. So I’m not the only crazy researcher on the planet.)
Because we had allowed extra time for our commute from Staten Island, we arrived early at the Moravian cemetery in Bethlehem (not to be confused with Nisky Hill cemetery), to look for the grave of Captain Garrison.
I had the printout from Find a Grave, but all it gave me was an image of a stone nearly covered in dirt, with no legible words. Section A, Row 1. His son was Section A, Row 6, also illegible. His wife was Section C, Row 1.
In the misty morning, I wandered among the flat markers while Marnell took a nap because he stayed up late last night finishing work. I could find none of the graves, but neither did I know how the sections were divided.
Peter Hoover and his friend arrived. Marnell joined the search. We determined the system of the graves and found the marker for Mrs. Garrison, still easy to read. But the marker for the captain could not be found and by the appearance of the online shot, we wouldn’t know if we did find it. The son seemed to be the same, but Marnell shot some photos of a few stones that looked about like the online photo.
Two hundred and fifty years ago that Captain Garrison was lowered in the ground in 1781…
I wandered down the row alone. 1780. 1781. These men had died at the same time, so surely he would be one of these unreadable stones. I was sad, but I would need to be content with not knowing.
I stopped under a tree and looked at the tree pieces scattered in the muddy earth. Perhaps the stone on the print out had been under a tree, and that’s why the person had needed to scrape it clean.
Is that a stone there? I wondered.
I could see just a hint of gray. I scraped with my shoe and found stone.
“I’m checking this one under the tree,” I called to the others. “It’s in the right place in time.”
I picked up a short stick and used it to peel back the layers of mud. Legible letters and numbers appeared… 1781! His year of death. My heart beat faster… 1701! His year of birth.
The three men had walked over.
“Oh I think this is a B,” I said as I uncovered letters.
There is no B in Garrison.
“Wait, maybe it’s another R!”
There they were, two R’s etched side by side in stone. With a few quick motions, I cleared the top.
Completely legible in the flat, nearly 250-year old stone.
“That’s it!” cried Peter Hoover. “Oh this is so wonderful. You found it!”
With the help of an old credit card of Marnell’s, and ideas from everyone, we cleared it more thoroughly.
There, under the tree which almost certainly was not there yet, a man was laid to rest from a life of sin, a life of trials, a life of redemption and joy.
We wished for sand to make the words more legible, and chalk to search for the wording on his son’s grave. But like I said, there’s never enough time. The research is never done.
Later, we ate in the Sun Inn, where George Washington stayed three times. We scanned important documents and saw impressive architecture and artifacts and an ancient fire engine.
But finding the captain’s grave was the moment that made my exhaustion go away, and I heartily agreed with Peter Hoover’s decision to thank God for it on the very spot.