Historic America Photography

Most Venerable Cemeteries in New York

These majestic rural cemeteries are a who’s-who of New York State’s historic and influential personalities.

It’s not called “The Empire State” for no reason–New York is not only among the largest states in the U.S., it’s also among the most influential. Its citizens have made an outsized contribution to American history and culture, and today you can visit the final resting places of many of these historic and influential personalities.

Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York

Mount Hope Cemetery, at 1133 Mount Hope Avenue, in Rochester, New York, was founded in 1838 as a municipal rural cemetery on the hills overlooking the Genesee River. It sprawls over 196 acres adjacent to the University of Rochester. More than 350,000 former residents are interred there, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass, suffragette Susan B. Anthony, and city founder Nathaniel Rochester.

Historic America

Buckland Mills Battlefield in Fauquier County, Virginia

Visit the scene of J.E.B. Stuart’s last decisive victory in Virginia before it is erased forever by suburban sprawl.

The Battle of Buckland Mills was fought on October 19, 1863 between Union cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in Fauquier County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The skirmish, though small, was the last decisive Confederate victory in Virginia, resulting in 230 total casualties and the route of Kilpatrick’s cavalry.

Following the Gettysburg Campaign, both the Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia were exhausted and needed time to recover, and both Maj. Gen. George G. Meade and Gen. Robert E. Lee sent units to reinforce Tennessee. This resulted in the often overlooked Bristoe Campaign, when Lee decided to go on the offensive against a depleted Union army. After being bruised at the Battle of Bristoe Station on October 14th, Lee tasked his cavalry commander Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart to cover their retreat.

Mysterious America

Independence Grove and “The Gate”

For years, visitors to this curious northern Illinois landmark have told wild tales of decapitated heads and gruesome murders, but few know the real history behind Independence Grove and “Devil’s Gate.”

A campfire crackled deep in the Independence Grove Forest Preserve north of Libertyville. Charity, Travis, Wade, and Katrina sat on thick branches around the glowing embers of the fire. Chatty and nervous, they knew they weren’t supposed to be there, but they hoped they were deep enough in the forest that no one would see them. They spoke in low whispers. Far above their heads, tangled branches interrupted the silhouette of the waning moon while hushed laughter echoed from their campsite on the east bank of the Des Plaines River.

Earlier in the evening, they had explored the woods along the equestrian trail and came across cement foundations, broken bottles, rusted playground equipment, and old fire hydrants where they had been told nothing like that should be. They could hardly contain their excitement.

Katrina hushed her friends. When they finally settled down, she began to tell the tale of “The Gate.” They had all heard rumors about the gate and the nearby woods, but Katrina promised them the real story. “I heard it from my uncle, who heard it from a guy who knew someone who was there,” she said.

“It was the 1950s, and at that time this whole area was the property of an exclusive all-girls school. The elite of Libertyville—doctors, lawyers, politicians—all sent their daughters there. Unbeknownst to them, a dangerous man had recently been hired as one of the school’s janitors.

“They should have paid more attention to who swept the halls and took out their trash, because this particular man had been spurned by the wife of a local politician, whose daughter now attended the school. It had been years since the incident, but this man would never forget the pain he felt. He swore revenge, not just on the politician, but on all the village’s elite who had treated him like dirt.

Mysterious America Photography

Belle Isle Power Plant

Belle Isle, in the James River in downtown Richmond, Virginia, opened as a public park in 1973. During the American Civil War, it was a prison camp for Union POWs. Disease, starvation, and exposure took a toll, and as many as 1,000 prisoners died on the island. In the twentieth century, the Virginia Electric Power Company operated a hydroelectric power plant on Belle Isle. The ruins of the power plant and the nail factory can still be seen to this day. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Historic America Photography

Stories in Stone: John Nill

Monument to John (1835-1919), Dora (1833-1905), and Amelia (1864-1941) Nill in Brookside Cemetery, at Watertown Center Loop and Brookside Drive, Watertown, Jefferson County, New York. John Nill was a German immigrant from Nehren, Kingdom of Wurtemberg. He was a baker and cigar manufacturer by trade, Freemason, and mayor of Watertown in 1888. The inscription on his monument reads:

Humanity is our creed. To do good is our religion. The world is our home.

Historic America

Smithsburg Battlefield in Washington County, Maryland

Visit the scene of this little-known Civil War cavalry skirmish that immediately followed the Battle of Gettysburg.

The Skirmish at Smithsburg was fought on July 5, 1863 between Union cavalry commanded by Brig. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and Confederate cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in Smithsburg, Maryland during the American Civil War. It was a tactical draw, with both sides withdrawing from the area allowing Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army to continue its retreat from Gettysburg. Both sides sustained minor casualties. 

After three bloody days of fighting at Gettysburg, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia retreated southwest toward the Potomac River and Virginia. As the main army staggered toward Williamsport, Maryland, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry division was tasked with keeping the Union army at bay and preventing it from cutting off their retreat.

Mysterious America

Who Killed Shirley Ann Rardin?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

At around 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, July 3, 1973, Shirley Ann Rardin, a 20-year-old sophomore art major at Eastern Illinois University, finished her shift at Hardee’s at the corner of 4th Street and Lincoln Avenue in Charleston, changed clothes, and said goodbye to her coworkers. She was 5 feet 7 inches tall, 125 pounds, with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue-green eyes. She was wearing wide flare jeans, a black halter top, and blue tennis shoes, with $5 in her pocket.

Shirley was a local girl, having graduated from Charleston High School in 1971, and a young divorcee. She had been previously married to a former manager at Hardee’s named Rich DeWitt.

Shirley was renting Apt. 203 in the Lincolnwood building at 2210 9th Street, exactly one mile from the Hardee’s, and was believed to be heading there after work. She usually rode her bike to and from work, but that night she walked. If she ever arrived, no one knew. Medication she needed to take four times daily for a serious medical condition was later found in her apartment.

Her boyfriend, David Thomas, a fellow EIU student, reported her missing to Charleston police at 1:14 a.m Tuesday. The search dragged on for almost a week, but police were hampered by the fact that Shirley was a legal adult and could do as she pleased. As the days passed without any leads, however, they began to assume the worst.