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Montauk: A Final Destination

T.J. Clemente

Overlooking the famous Montauk Lighthouse. (PhotoL T.J. Clemente)

Montauk is many things to many people but to some it is their final resting place, meaning it is where they are buried. Clement "Clem" Healy perhaps the foremost expert on east end cemeteries in the world, with his two books, "South Fork Cemeteries" and "North Fork Cemeteries", had me spellbound with tales and facts about the three Montauk cemeteries.

The three cemeteries are: Fort Hill Cemetery, Hither Hills Cemetery, and the Native American Cemetery on East End Drive. Clem told the funny story of Judge Lazansky and his wife, who owned property next to where a Methodist Church (not in Montauk) still exists. On their property were a few gravestones. After the judge died no one was interested in buying a property that had a cemetery located on it. After a while of no interest, "one night, the grave stones somehow disappeared" and the spot is now the outdoor eating area of a famous Hampton's restaurant.

Perhaps not everyone knows that there actually was an Indian named Stephen Talkhouse Pharoah, and that he is buried in Montauk in the Native American Cemetery. In fact, he was also a heralded Civil War Veteran. Next time you are driving on the Neapeague stretch think of this, Stephen Talkhouse used to walk 30 miles a day to his job in East Hampton and then another 30 miles home to Montauk, no Gurney's Spa needed for that fellow. In his lifetime he was regarded as King of the Montaukett's because he had a supposedly direct ancestral line to legendary Sachem Wyandanch.

Another funny Clem Healy tale is that of East Hampton's resident Captain Samuel Mulford who traveled to England to lobby against a whale oil tax way back in 1716. Enraged about the London pickpockets of that time, thrifty Captain Mulford sewed fishhooks into his pockets to circumvent the adverse behavior which earned him the nickname, "Fishhooks."

In 1985 the East Hampton Town Board purchased land on Fort Hill. Then a total of 30 acres was set aside for 6,751 graves. At the time the board decided a Montauk cemetery was much needed. There is also an area set aside for souls that chose cremation. On that very same Fort Hill, a battle was waged back in 1653 where the Narragansetts killed 30 Montauk "braves," and captured Chief Wyandanch's daughter, supposedly right in the middle of her wedding ceremony.

Everybody knows about Second House and Third House in Montauk. There was of course a First House, but it is no longer standing. It was located in Hither Hills. What is standing is the graveyard that was near the house with tombstones there to mark the deaths of Jonathon Hedges on January 16, 1763, and Mary Hedges, deceased August 3, 1787. Amazingly both died before the famous Montauk Lighthouse work began.

It may be important to note that after the Spanish-American War, while camped near or in the Third House of Montauk, 126 soldiers died while in living in very poor conditions. There were 45,000 troops staying in Montauk in efforts to quarantine diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. It became a scandal how horrible living conditions were in the white tents on all of the fields of what was then called Fort Wykoff. There were graves there, but later the bodies were moved out.

The strangest fact Clem reiterates in his book is that it was the Dutch who first discovered Montauk but never settled, which probably makes them the only people to visit Montauk and not come back to visit or live. They called Montauk Point Fisher's Point.

It may be worthwhile to visit the two historic cemeteries. There is a sign on old Montauk Highway in Hither Hills State Park to lead one to the Hither Hills site. Clem says it is not that easy to get to and is a hike. The Native American site is less difficult to find on East Lake Drive. It is something to do on a less than totally sunny day.

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