Today is the Feast of All Saints, and this year I would like to again remember one of those who rest in St. Paul’s plot in the Albany Rural Cemetery. Tier 1 (as the plot’s back row is known) was the section used during the first ten years, from 1879 until 1889. Most of those buried there had no connection to the parish. They rest on our premises as a part of St. Paul’s ministry to the needy and our outreach to the city of Albany. Let me tell you about David May, the first person to be buried in Tier 1.
David May died in Albany of consumption on July 21, 1879. Cemetery records tell us only that he was 31 years old, that he was born in New York City and that he had last lived at 466 Madison Avenue. A search of local records reveals that David was a stranger here. He never appeared in Albany city directories, was never mentioned in local newspapers, and never enumerated in state or federal censuses for this city.
A broader search of public records and newspapers tell us a bit about David May. He was the youngest of the ten children of David May and Mary Ann Gilson. He grew up in New York City, where his father was a tobacconist. The last record I can find is from 1870, when he was living in Washington, D.C. with his sister Catherine and her husband. David May’s occupation is listed as “painter.” His parents, meanwhile, had moved to Westchester County.
David’s oldest brother, Jacob, was a prosperous businessman in Port Jervis, New York. An article in a newspaper there announced David May’s death and reported that he would be buried in Mount Vernon, Westchester County, near his parents’ home. We will never know why those plans did not work out, or how our then-new plot became his last resting place. But David was certainly a stranger among us, and his story reminds us of St. Paul’s ongoing responsibility to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger in both life and death.
As our rector, Roelif H. Brooks, said when the large cross in the front of the plot was dedicated on June 25, 1911:
“Thirty years ago, through the generosity of Mary E. Hueson, this plot of ground was presented to St. Paul’s church, to be used as the burial place of the poor of the parish, and for strangers who should pass away in our midst. Here in dear old Mother Earth lie those, who through the vicissitudes of human life were brought to that place where not only human sympathy was brought into play, but where a fine resting place was provided. No dread about death is greater than that of the lack of a place where to lie. Here they lie together, strangers perhaps in life, but companions in death under the shadow of the cross, the emblem of our faith in life and of the resurrection to a life to come.”