A Solitary Child in the Woods


You won’t find it in the guidebooks.  You probably won’t find it at all without sitting in a dusty room of a Historical Society and doing your homework.  Not many people know it exists.  I found it because I had a decades-old topographic map in my possession. And still, I found it by accident.  The symbol for cemetery was on the map.  But, even with that on my knee, it took me a long time to locate it.

You won’t find a more lonely grave than this one.

Well, maybe you could find something similar.  Take for instance the grave of Kitty Gray in Dartmoor.  I’ve written about her.  She’s buried at a crossroads because she was a suicide.  Not many places get lonelier…out there in the mists of the moors…but at least she rests at a cross-roads.  There are people who hike and drive by her grave everyday.

Not so with this particular gravesite, in the Adirondack forest where the trees have taken over what was once a hardscrabble farm.  The farmhouse is long gone.  No crops grow.  But a tragedy occurred in the old farmhouse, well over a century ago.  The details are sketchy.  The facts are hard to uncover.  But there is a name and dates on a lonely tombstone.  The birth and death dates tell you clearly that the person who rests here among the trees, the singing birds, the wind, snow, rain and ice…was a boy of eighteen months of age.  He has rested at this spot for 167 years.

The tiny clearing had the lingering aura of a holy place…a shrine.  People wrote about sick grandparents, pets that have died and asking for help with their own afflictions.

As I’ve said, the details are scant.  I don’t even recall how I learned the few facts.  There is a little box nailed to a tree just a few feet from the stone.  It could pass as a bird house.  But it has a door and if you open it, you will find a nylon pouch.  Inside the bag is a logbook.  People have signed the book and told how they knew about the existence of the grave.  Some entries read like it was a book of prayers and pleas to the little boy buried there.

The story, as I know it, is brief.  The boy was being given a bath in a tub in the kitchen of the farmhouse.  An accident with the boiling water…a boy was scalded.  He died.  He was buried in the field.  The family went west, disappearing into the heartland and from the pages of local history.

Maybe there’s more to the story.  If so, I haven’t been able to trace it.

The field is now second-growth forest.  The grave is hidden by the trees.  The boy is shrouded by the moss, lichen, leaves, pine needles and trees.

The moonlight may shed a dim glow on his stone.  The eternal stars may sparkle through the gaps in the treetops.  I stood over the tiny plot in the late afternoon.  The shadows were lengthening.  If I remained there, I would not fear the dark.  Rather I would find comfort in the solitude.  I thought of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  There are honor guards present to keep watch every minute of every day of every year.

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Farm Boy.  But he has no human to watch over him, only the trees, older than any Honor Guard of Arlington…unmarching…but still protective.  There is a name on the stone, but I think of him as a surrogate for all the unattended dead.

I do not or cannot believe that this grave (or others like it) are truly forgotten and deserted as it may seem.  Someone somewhere harbors a memory, a family legend, a family history, a diary, a clipping of who this child really was and how he came to rest in this particular spot of the Northern Forest.

And, even if no familial memory exists, a silent clearing amidst the trees and the little stone, tells its own story.




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