Organizers of the memorial to the indigent of Ulster County are ready to take the next step: get the statue created by Trina Greene cast in bronze. New Paltz town historian Susan Stessin-Cohn and resident Fawn Tantillo intended on asking New Paltz Town Council members to release the grant money they’re holding onto for that purpose last week, but the meeting was not held due to a lack of a quorum. At the encouragement of deputy supervisor Dan Torres, they still provided an update on the memorial project and the history of the county fairgrounds site.
While the statue by Greene – who created the Sojourner Truth statue which stands in Esopus – is intended to commemorate those people who were sent to live and often die in the county poorhouse, the history of the site is darker still. The poorhouse was opened in 1828, but in the 1870s it was deemed an inappropriate place for children under 16 years of age. Those youth were separated from their parents, according to Stessin-Cohn, and sent west to be adopted by anyone with the means to feed them.
The site of the poorhouse was also where anyone who died without money for a funeral was buried, a practice which continued at least until the 1950s. Three decades later, when the county pool was built, many of those unmarked graves were discovered in the worst way possible. “Some of them still had hair,” said Stessin-Cohn. In her research since, she’s determined that thousands of people were buried in two areas on that land, but only one headstone has ever been found, for Rebecca McClang Brower.
“Aqueduct workers, anyone who didn’t have money was buried there,” Stessin-Cohn said. The burying ground served almost like a gruesome dust jacket to the tragic book which was the poorhouse itself, of which Stessin-Cohn simply said, “It was not a nice place to be.”
The grant money now in the town treasury came by way of assemblyman Kevin Cahill. It was awarded to the town due to the restrictions on the money imposed by state rules. Town officials are expected to release it once they have sufficient members present to do business. Sculptor Greene started working on the memorial piece, “Who’ll Weep for Me?,” before any source of funding was identified, Stessin-Cohn said, such was her enthusiasm for the project.
More information on the poorhouse memorial project can be found on a Facebook page maintained by Stessin-Cohn.