Fare thee well to the Hopper Projects.

I went up to the Hopper cemeteries today to get a sense of closure.  Four years ago, a student showed me the Hopper Family Cemetery in Mahwah, across the road from the college.  At the time, I was going through old cemeteries in eastern PA working on my family genealogies, and found that old cemeteries, previously sort of “creepy” to me, had become a source of art and history and even a sanctuary.  Thus began my foray into “taphophilia.”  
A little later, Grave Matters was started up as a sort of collection of photos of old and new cemeteries; a working platform for my contributions to Find a Grave; and a central hub that has led to several other projects.  Through it all, I often returned to the Hoppers, and then discovered the nearby “slave” cemetery (in the days of segregation and slavery, all “coloreds” were buried separately, this included freedmen and mixed [Dutch-Anglo/Afro/Native]), then later the Hopper Cemetery in Oakland (SO much gratitude to the neighbor who helped on this site!!) then other Hoppers in nearby Wyckoff.
My involvement has offered me opportunities to speak to the college and Mahwah Museum and local DAR chapters.  I have had the opportunity to speak to others and hopefully inspire those who are local to take more interest in preserving their local burial grounds – of which there are many tucked away in curious places – and in turn been inspired by their interest and common passion.
Alas, the time has come for me to accept some changes as I will not be working at the college for the foreseeable future. While I am still hoping to be involved in at least one project currently cooking behind the scenes concerning the “Slave Cemetery” I am going to refocus my efforts to projects closer to home (Hunterdon and Warren NJ and Northampton PA).  It is somewhat difficult to explain what and how much the secluded Hopper cemeteries have meant to me, how these sites have endured so much over almost 3 centuries – from passive neglect to hostile vandalism and the encroachment of suburbia – stirs a sort of inspiration.  Most who visit this page would probably understand.

So, here are a few parting pics.
Hopper Family Cemetery in Mahwah.

The “Slave Cemetery”

In Oakland, David was reset today.  Pay no attention to the little drip: it was tidies up.

And then Sarah got some attention….



In a few weeks I will have to go back up and get some of the clamps back: I did not have time to stay to be sure the fixes would stay, so,….. it’s not goodbye, just fare thee well.  And thank you all for supporting Grave Matters.

Stay tuned for more local projects!

Warren County Alms House

County house started as a community shelter work farm sort of deal, then continued on to even become a youth shelter. Started in 1830 to 1994, then abandoned for 10 years. It now serves as the office locations for Warren County Health Dept.
County House Cemetery is down the road and has a single obelisk marker. Upon closer inspection it has over a hundred flat markers (some were clearly upright, but flattened evidently for ease of grounds keeping, but the stones are also sinking as a result) of various residents. These are a few that I was able to easily unearth. I plan a later “expedition.”
For more info: http://www.mtoliveweekly.com/NC/0/847.html

Upon discussion with some other local historians, it appears there may be over 5000 burials Including George Andrews, who was the last man hanged at Belvidere Courthouse June 13, 1895 for murder, his grave is unmarked. It also appears the graves may have been all turned up at one point to make room for new “arrivals.”



The Changewater Murders

Changewater, NJ is perhaps the oldest and most successful village in the township of what is now Washington N.J. dating to before 1754 when the township was created. The village ultimately became the site of several industries including an iron forge, a flour mill, a picture frame factory, a woolen factory and even a snuff factory.
It is also the site of the crime of the century.
At least that’s what they called it in 1843. Four of the primary participants in this drama are members of the Parke family: siblings John B. Parke, Maria Parke Castner, Abner Parke, and their nephew Peter Parke (the son of David Parke). On the night of May 1, 1843 local farmer John Castner (37) was lured from this house in Changewater. At a place some hundred yards from the door he was bludgeoned to death with what may have been a hatchet. The perpetrators of this heinous crime then, evidently with the intent of robbery, proceeded to enter the home where they, not content with the blood they had shed thus far with stained hatchets, murdered Castner’s wife, Maria Parke Castner (42), his daughter Mary (aged only 3), and his brother in law who was also the owner of the house, John B. Parke (64). They also attacked a farm hand, Jesse Force, whom they left for dead, but who fortunately survived. Castner’s two sons, Victor (aged 10) and John (age 6 or 7) were spared, because the cot they were sleeping on was hidden between the opened door and the wall of the common room. The four victims’ graves are in Mansfield Cemetery where their remarkably well preserved markers stand side by side bearing witness to the crime that ushered them to the hereafter.

Ultimately charged with the crime was the brother of John B. and Maria, Abner Parke. Their nephew Peter Parke along with local men Joseph Carter Jr. and Henry Hummer were also indicted. The trial took place in the Warren County seat of Belvidere Courthouse from which news dispatches went out by stage coach daily to Newark and New York City, so great was the interest in such a bloody crime. Initially, Peter was acquitted of his uncle John’s death, but was ultimately convicted in the death of John Castner. Some have raised questions about the accuracy of this given Castner’s physical strength and Parke’s slight build.
He and his co defendant Joseph Carter were finally convicted of some or all of the four murders and sentenced to death. Abner Parke, whom many people at the time believed had more than a little to do with the crime, either in its planning or its application, was acquitted along with Henry Hummer for lack of evidence.

Peter Parke (32), a shoemaker of Washington town and married with three children, continued to plead his innocence of the crimes right up to the moment before he and Joseph Carter were hanged in front of Belvidere Courthouse on August 22, 1845. Theirs was the first public hanging of Warren County, NJ. Joseph Carter (32) was also married and left behind at least two children. The sheriff used a woefully short drop (perhaps only 6″, both men took between 20 and 30 minutes to expire.

Abner Parke appears to have soon after skipped out of the area, dying perhaps as late as 1874 in Ohio. His leaving and the reportedly circumstantial evidence with which the condemned were convicted raises speculation as to whether or not justice was served or miscarried that late summer day of 1845. The grave of Abner’s wife, Lydia Bowlby Parke, who died fourteen years before the murders in 1829, is in the same cemetery as the victims, but in an abandoned section that is overgrown with weeds and brambles.

Peter Parke and Joseph Carter, being convicted murderers, were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground. Following old tradition, the bodies of the condemned were interred on a crossroads, in this case by what later became a railroad cut for the Warren Rail Road (the crossroads went over the cut over what became known as Murderer’s Bridge) about a mile north from the site of the murders for which they were executed. The site was also owned by Joseph Carter’s father, being part of the family farm. He too was buried there upon his death, but later it is reported his body was moved.
Today, the crossroad is the intersection of NJ routes 632 and 651, or where McCullough and Changewater Rd intersect the Asbury – Anderson Rd. The site is known, discretely though ominously enough for being immediately flanked by a residential area, as The Murderers’ Crossroads Burial Ground. Two temporary tags mark the men’s resting place: their original stone markers and a low stone wall long gone. some contest if the markers are accurate, pointing out that the road and railroad had changed positions over the decades: the graves may actually be UNDER the road, or the bodies may also have been secretly moved at a later date.

The house that John B. Parke owned and was murdered in still stands, though with some later additions (the stone section to the rear of the current structure is the original house). The story is well documented though in what may typically be described only as esoteric tomes (for eg: THE CHANGEWATER MURDERS: CASE CLOSED by Robert and Sharon Meeker of Budd Lake, NJ) and various under-circulated periodicals.
As a result, almost one hundred sixty eight years later, the story of the Changewater Murders is not exactly overwhelming with any of the media saturation of the modern age. But it has all the hallmarks of any modern day murder story. Instead of screaming commercial saturated sound bytes or streaming video however, the story is only told through the seemingly hidden transcripts of local history sites. These are neither flashy nor attention grabbing, but seem instead as silent as the stones for the dead themselves: only heard by those who are lucky enough to just happen to listen549260_565341556809278_249090657_n.

Walkway is prepared for May 3rd Public Tour of the Swackhammer Site!



Warren County historian John O’Brien will offer tours of the Lebanon “Swackhammer” Church site and a tour of its historic cemetery on May 3rd at 10am and 2pm.  A walkway has been installed to make the site safe and accessible. For details, contact Victor Hoffman at 908-638-5249