Graveside history lesson
Steve Birkeland (left) with Keith Snedecor, a descendant of the person Birkeland is portraying.

Courtesy of Steve Birkeland

Graveside history lesson

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
10/25/2018


OAKDALE—Last Saturday afternoon, some members of the Oakdale Historical Society donned vintage clothing and made their way over to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Montauk Highway for a presentation about local history. For a few hours that day, the souls of some of those buried in the church graveyard were channeled through nine society members who portrayed them to the 100 or so visitors that attended the first Living History Cemetery Tour. Students from the Connetquot High School orchestra provided the background music for the event. Islip historian George Munkenbeck took part in the event as well.

Among those portraying the departed was Steve Birkeland, who spoke about a prominent South Shore family through Sgt. John Snedecor, a Civil War hero. Birkeland said he researched his character by taking a tour of Connetquot River State Park Preserve, where an 18th-century Snedecor once owned a tavern. During the presentation, he encountered a living ancestor, Keith Snedecor, who had stopped by for the tour.

When he realized who was listening to him speak, Birkeland said, “A little voice in my head said, ‘What if I screw up?’ Evidently, I did alright,” he added. “My research was correct.”

Some of the other “spirits” taking part in the tour included Jemima Smith, an 18th-century farmer’s wife; William Ludlow, who has ties to the Nicoll and Greenly families; Penelope Price, who lived on a farm nearby; William Mazurie, a native Frenchman and successful merchant; Mary McLean Ludlow, who spoke of husband Richard Vail and a famous lawsuit in their day that set a precedent that endures; a nurse who spoke of William Greenly Nicoll, of a prominent Islip Town family; Martha Terry, who spoke about her son Silas Terry, a landowner buried beside his wife and young daughter whose grave is marked ABC to reflect her level of education at the time of her passing; and stories were shared by society members about those in the unmarked graves of slaves and Native Americans.

“We are very pleased with the event, and the feedback we received from our guests was outstanding,” said OHS president Maryann Almes.    “I felt that the event captured the attention of the people of the community.  The opportunity to meet those who passed before them in the flesh was interesting to old and young alike.  We plan on having another tour next year focusing on other gravestones in our cemetery,” Almes added.