Mysterious headstone leads Woodstock history buffs down a rabbit hole

(Photo by Violet Snow)

The mystery began with a stray tombstone, found leaning against the north fence of the Woodstock Cemetery on Rock City Road. The faded, lichen-encrusted lettering, when closely studied, appears to read: 

BORN MARCH 26, 1840
DIED [illegible] 1892

Moses was clearly a Civil War veteran, but where did he live, where was he buried, and how did his headstone end up in the wrong place? Keepers of local history collaborated to ferret out bits of his story, including a connection to the displacement of Olive graves before the creation of the Ashokan Reservoir.


In the fall of 2018, consultant Joe Ferrannini of Grave Stone Matters, hired to help preserve the stones of the Woodstock Cemetery, noticed the out-of-place tombstone. He brought it to the attention of Teri Reynolds, chair of the Woodstock Cemetery Task Force, which was appointed last year when the town government was required by state law to take over the graveyard from the cemetery association that no longer had funds to maintain it. There was no record of a Moses Carlile having been buried in the cemetery.

Reynolds contacted the New York State Military Museum and Veteran Research Center, where staff discovered that Moses was originally from Neversink, in Sullivan County. He enlisted in Company C of the 4th New York Cavalry in September 1861, five months after the start of the Civil War. He was discharged due to illness but later rejoined and served to the end of the war. 

Paul Vanwagenen, vice president of the Ulster County Civil War Round Table, was the next source to be consulted. The Round Table meets in Kingston once every two months, for lectures and discussion on Civil War-related subjects. Vanwagenen is a Navy veteran and comes from a Dutch family that settled in New Paltz in the 1600s. Their descendants moved to Woodstock in 1941. Vanwagenen’s friend and Round Table treasurer Tom O’Neil searched around online and came up with details of Moses’ life.

After the death of his first wife and two of their three children in Neversink, Moses married Mary Ann Hornbeck of Shokan in 1885 and moved to Olive. Their only child, John, was born in 1886, but both of his parents were dead by 1901, when he turned 15. John eventually moved to Delaware County, worked on the railroad, died unmarried at the age of 59, and was buried in his local cemetery in East Meredith.

Reynolds turned to Woodstock town historian Richard Heppner for information on cemeteries in Olive, where Moses and Mary Ann would have been buried. The town’s records include a list of residents from a census, which included Moses Carlile, a farmer, and referred to his death, with no further information. Heppner knew that when New York City was preparing to flood Olive villages to create the Ashokan Reservoir in the early 1900s, bodies in the graveyards were dug up and moved to cemeteries in other towns. Online he found a list of “Ashoka Removals” to Woodstock, compiled in 1930 by Dr. J. Wilson Poucher and Byron J. Terwilliger. Two of the entries state:

“William Carlile – 4th Cavalry N.Y.V. [New York Volunteers], March 26, 1840 – March 13, 1892.

“Mary A. Hornbeck Carlile – Wife of William Carlile, 1853 – 1901.”

Reynolds surmises that William was a family name or middle name that Moses was using at the time, since all the other details correspond to known information. 

According to historian Bob Steuding’s book Last of the Handmade Dams, New York City paid a family or friend $15 to conduct a disinterment, plus $5 for removal and resetting of a headstone. This amount, pitiful even in the economy of that period, was later contested and was increased in some cases.

Heppner also knew that the Evergreen Cemetery, across the street from the Woodstock Cemetery and adjacent to the Artists Cemetery, had taken some of the Ashokan remains. Halfway up Evergreen’s hill, Reynolds found a tall, elaborate monument to Moses Carlile and Mary Ann Hornbeck, obviously more recent in origin than the stone found last fall.

When Vanwagenen suggested Reynolds try the phone book, she found a Carlile in the southern part of the county. A descendant of Moses’ brother, he told her to call his niece in Colorado. Tina Carlile, who had compiled the information O’Neil found online, was excited to hear about her great-great-great-uncle’s headstone. Tina’s parents, still living in Shokan, have been contacted and are interested in resetting the stone next to Moses and Mary Ann’s monument at Evergreen.

One mystery remains. How did the gravestone end up in the Woodstock Cemetery? It hasn’t been there long enough to create an impression in the earth, as stones will do after a few years. 

“I have not encountered traveling headstones before,” said Heppner. But a town employee told Reynolds that when people buy a property and stumble across an old gravestone, perhaps partly buried in the ground, their tendency is to drop it off at a cemetery. Maybe when Moses was moved to Woodstock, his original headstone was set aside and lost, only to be rediscovered in the past year. 

Reynolds has found the process of researching Carlile’s life and honoring his service as a Civil War veteran “gratifying and energizing.” She hopes the Woodstock Cemetery Task Force will be able, with financial and volunteer help, to honor those who are part of Woodstock history by restoring or repairing their tombstones. The operation of the cemetery is not supported by taxes but by funds transferred from the association that had charge of the grounds from its establishment in 1835 through last year, when the town took over. Income also comes from the purchase of plots. The task force is appealing for donations to save and restore some of the older tombstones, add plantings to enhance the property, and install benches for visitors.

Checks may be made out to the Woodstock Cemetery Fund (with the word “cemetery” written on the note line) and sent to Town of Woodstock, 45 Comeau Drive, Woodstock NY 12498.

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