No, you’re not about to read my attempt at a suspense novel aimed at gawky pre-teen boys who have an insatiable lust for adventure and mystery solving. Although, there is a book involved, and also a bit of a mystery. A missing person’s case, if you will. Did I mention that these persons are dead and buried somewhere on our property?
While I was moonlighting as the manager of a pilot shop at a private airport, I saw a lot of regulars. One particular group that I remember fondly —as I remember all polite, elderly men fondly—would come in every Wednesday morning to catch up and watch the planes take off. I tended to eavesdrop, as I’m usually wont to do, on most of their conversations, which were pretty interesting. Sometimes they’d talk about their friend that had just died, or what their mom would make them for lunch when they were younger. Never once did I actually hear them talk about planes though.
One day the conversation got particularly interesting when one of the gentlemen began talking about their friend that was a professional headstone cleaner. He offered a tip about finding farmland family plots: look for a slightly elevated stand of trees in the middle of an open field. More often than not, a little clearing of brush will reveal stones. I’ve been holding onto this fun fact for years hoping for the day when it would come in handy. Unfortunately, the landscape of the Howard Hall property has changed so much over the centuries that finding headstones seems like an almost impossible task.
We have, however, found some stones in the area, way out in the woods on property that most likely was never part of the original Howard Hall parcel. Even still, these headstones bear the names of families that were still connected to HHF: the Van Loon/Loans. William Groom is the man that originally built our beloved Howard Hall (Click here to find out more about the history of Howard Hall and the people that lived here). Joseph Groom, William’s youngest son, married Rachel Van Loon in 1770. It’s possible that this small cemetery is the family plot of Rachel’s family.
The hunt still goes on for the official Howard Hall plot, though. In Beer’s History of Greene County the plot is actually mentioned and a brief description of its surroundings is given. Below, an excerpt from the written account of our partner Nora Johnson’s tireless research into the history of Howard Hall:
That the Groom family held an emotional attachment to the farm could be assumed because the family burial grounds were there and Joseph made sure the burial plot was exempted from the sale in 1812 and future sales. In his will of 1831, he gave it to the custody of the Dutch Reformed Church. Sarah, wife of William, was the first of four family members to be buried there, the other three being William, Joseph and his wife Rachael. Even though both William and Joseph remarried after the deaths of Sarah and Rachael, neither second wife seems to be part of the family plot. A footnote in Beers’ History of Greene County states: “Upon this farm is the burying ground of the Groom Family, overgrown with weeds. A headstone almost level with the ground bears the following inscription: ‘To the memory of Joseph Groom, who died August 15, 1832, age 85. This marks the resting place of the man who was president of the village and one of its most influential citizens. William Groom died April 18, 1812, age 93; Sarah, wife of William Groom, died March, 11 1788, aged 40; Rachael, wife of Joseph Groom, died August 20, 1795, aged 47.”
We have also been in contact with a descendant of one of the many families to live here at Howard Hall who thinks he might know where the plot is as well. So don’t worry, we’ll keep you updated on… The Mystery of the Howard Hall Cemetery. Mwuhahahaha!