Liverpool Cemetery is a municipal cemetery operated by the Village of Liverpool. Much of Liverpool Village was originally part of New York State’s Salt Springs Reservation, and the land was deeded from the State to the Village with the understanding that the ground would always be used for a cemetery. However, beginning in about 1800, residents began burying their dead in the center of the village in what would become Johnson Park. In 1846, in accordance with the State’s original intentions for the land, bodies were removed from the park and reburied at the current site. Those that could not be identified were buried along the top of the hill, which became known as Stranger’s Row. There are a number of stones in the cemetery commemorating deaths earlier than 1846. These represent either known burials moved from the park, or they are simply memorial stones for those who could not be found.
The cemetery is bordered by three quiet village streets and by Tulip Street, a through street that bears heavy traffic. Standing in the flat portion of the cemetery at the bottom of the hill, the eye is drawn upward through trees and tombstones. A main pathway leads to the top of the hill from the road on the flat portion of the cemetery. At the top of the hill, one looks down at the traffic on Tulip Street, but throughout the cemetery the topography ensures the pervading peace and repose.
The years have taken a toll on some landscape features such as pathways and stone walls, as well as tombstones, and there have been occasional incidents of vandalism. However, Liverpool Cemetery is as much a symbol of village life as the park at the center of the village. Although in need of renovation, it is both a peaceful reverent place and an invaluable historic resource. It has been and continues to be the site of walking tours for both children and adults, with themes that include tombstone styles, public health, immigrants, economics, veterans of wars ranging from the American Revolution through Viet Nam, and more.
Like cemeteries everywhere, Liverpool Cemetery has many stories to tell. But unlike cemeteries everywhere, many have to do with the village’s unique history, and the stones there speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. Liverpool was settled in the late 1700s for the sake of the salt available by boiling water from natural salt springs near Onondaga Lake. Salt would later be shipped on the Erie and Oswego Canals throughout the new nation.
The Jaqueth family, for example, were prominent salt manufacturers. Joseph Jaqueth (d. 1872) was the first President of the village at its incorporation in 1830 and is commemorated with the requisite prominent citizen’s obelisk. His brother Sampson (d. 1874), also a salt manufacturer, has a somewhat smaller stone that is marked by a poignant inscription. While salt duties financed much of the construction of the canal system, the canals in turn took their toll. Sampson’s 6-year-old son Charles drowned in the canal, probably near his father’s salt works.
The Lucius Gleason family is marked by an even bigger monument located in the coveted position at the top of the hill. Lucius Gleason, who came to be known as “Liverpool’s millionaire,” was the eldest son of early settlers Ara and Mary Gleason. The Gleason fortune was at first based on salt, shipping, and trade, but later, following the trend of 19th-century American economics, made money on money as Gleason was the founder and president of the Third National Bank in Syracuse, NY. Lucius Gleason was an icon for his fellow villagers who symbolized the American dream of the time: that if you only apply yourself and work hard, you can succeed mightily. The Gleason House is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Irish immigrants boiled salt, built the canal, and made their own mark on the village. James O’Neill, the son of Irish immigrant Peter O’Neill, married Lucy Batchelder who was the daughter of early (non-Irish) settlers despite some prevailing anti-Irish sentiments among the “old-timers.” James made his fortune in Missouri but chose to come home to Liverpool for burial in the only above-ground mausoleum in the cemetery, constructed especially for James O’Neill and his relatives.
A wave of German immigration began in the mid-1850s. They came for employment in the salt boiling blocks but were responsible for beginning the livelihood that would support much of the village by the 1890s. John Fischer (d. 1897) brought the craft of willow basket weaving with him from the old country. Finding wild “swamp willow” here, he sold his first sewing basket (so goes the local story) to Mrs. Patrick Timmons for 50 cents. Fischer was followed by friends, relatives and others, and by 1896 Liverpool willow weavers shipped some 360,000 hand-woven willow laundry baskets alone through the United States by canal and rail.
Headstones in this cemetery also record the range of acceptable monument materials over time. The earliest stones in this cemetery are generally on high ground and made of granite. Later stones made of limestone have not fared so well. There is at least one monument of zinc. Popular from the mid1870s to World War I, the so-called “white bronze” was peddled by salesmen for its durability and symbolism of progress. Zinc monuments are of course hollow. It is said that John Aiken’s zinc monument was a handy place to hide liquor during Prohibition.
Headstones in this cemetery also tell of the changing culture and symbolism surrounding death. Early tombstones may list the cause of death, such as by cholera or drowning, but this practice dwindles over time. Symbolism abounds. Next to James Johnson’s monument is a stone tree stump marker for his son, the tree of life cut short. A stone lamb reclines on the stone of the infant William Radke, symbol of Christ, meekness, sacrifice, childhood, and innocence. The stone of another child, Ida May, is marked by a carved broken flower. Marie Weiss’s stone has an excellent carving of a hand pointing upward, indicating reward for the righteous and confirmation of life after death.
Occupations are also listed for some occupants, contrary to prevailing style. Capt. James Wentworth (1868-1958) was a boatman all his life. Born on a canal boat, he lived in Liverpool during the winter and on the boats the rest of the year. At 14 he drove mules and horses to tow the canal barges. He came from a canal family. His father James was killed by lightening while standing on the deck of a canal boat. Wentworth was proud of his heritage and his tombstone depicts a canal boat. Similarly, Elizabeth Gurnett was a 20th century Village of Liverpool historian, and her tombstone proudly records that fact.