Day #2: August 19, 2012
Sister and Brother: Myron Holly and Sarah Eliza (Sally) Whitney
Forgotten children of General Parkhurst and Celinda Whitney
There are the little ones in Oakwood. The ones who were put to sleep one last time under soft blankets of grass. Today was for the little ones. Specifically two babies--Myron and Sarah—for today their little common grave was uncovered. Almost two hundred years old, it was in beautiful condition. Lying flat on its back and covered in a neat layer of dirt and grass, the single stone commemorating the lives of two of the Whitney children, has been nestled under the watchful eyes of their older sister, Asenath, for a very long time.
Unlike their esteemed sisters and their brother, Solon, these two Whitney children had no islands named for them. They didn’t live long enough to make it across the water that fateful day in 1816 when the ice jam encasing the raging Niagara River made it possible to cross to those magical islands at the edge of the world. However, they lived long enough to leave their names etched onto a stone at Oakwood Cemetery.
Dorothy Rolling was here again today—our historian and the energy behind many of the new discoveries within the Town of Niagara section of the cemetery—Dorothy always has a special fondness for the babies that she finds. It wasn’t uncommon for children to die young and many were buried hastily in single graves. She is often sidetracked from her work as she seeks out more information on “her babies.” Perhaps they didn’t grow to adulthood but their spirits tug at her heartstrings more than any of the others.
And it was all an accident that they were found today. Pete Ames brought his shovel in the Edsonmobile as we drove to the site of Asenath’s grave. He likes to tie up loose ends and thought maybe the little piece of stone peeking out beside her grave could possibly belong to Asenath’s dashing husband, Count Kowalewska (who died in Havana, Cuba). It was all to be a little “happily ever after” for us if we had indeed found the count’s grave. But as Pete sliced away the blanket of grass that had encroached upon the marble (there was only a small block viewable) it was immediately evident that this grave belonged to someone else. Dorothy’s interest was further heightened when she saw those fateful words: children of Parkhurst and Celinda Whitney. This was the grave of other lesser known, forgotten children.
At this time we are not exactly sure how these children died. According to a genealogy record little Sally (Sarah Eliza) was born on March 10, 1814, and died on July 31, 1815. Her older brother, Myron Holley Whitney, was born September 10, 1810, and died on August 12, 1815. With deaths just a few weeks apart it might be surmised they both died from the same illness. Their brother (the namesake of Little Brother island) was born only a few months later on October 7. Poor Celinda was heavy with child as she buried her only living son and her baby daughter. It must have been the most tragic time of her life. For no matter how many children women lost, it was never something to be taken lightly—as many modern people seem to think. Diaries and notes and histories from times past reveal women screaming over their children’s graves. Grieving the rest of their lives. Refusing to carry on. Filled with sadness until the peace of their own deaths. The loss of a loved one is always tragic. Interestingly, Solon Myron Napoleon Whitney, born a few months later had “Myron” added to his name probably in honor of the little brother he would never know.
And so we left the little grave today, uncovered, warming in the sun. A whole city of ants had made their home in the mounds of dirt that hid little Myron and Sally from the world. They dashed about, busy and confused, as Pete removed the layers of grass. I’m sure by now they have found another happy home. Life goes on. And thanks to a man with a shovel and a local historian, passersby can stop and pause at the grave of two little children from Niagara who had been forgotten for far too long.