I sort of pay attention to news from St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, N.Y., mainly because it holds the records for another cemetery in Watervliet where a number of my kin are buried. Just now St. Agnes figures in this particularly haunting news story from the Albany Times-Union.
Even a century later, it has a heartbreaking immediacy: A group of kids having a blast on a late-summer outing one minute, fighting for their lives the next, while onlookers watch helplessly.
The girls were participating in a picnic on the grounds of a Victorian estate in what is now St. Agnes Cemetery, sponsored by the Catholic orphanage in which they lived. A bit of fun with a makeshift raft on a pond ended abruptly when the raft capsized, dumping its four passengers, all non-swimmers, into the water. One girl managed to cling to the raft and survived; her three companions drowned.
And being orphans with nobody to take responsibility for the arrangements, they were buried in an unmarked, pauper’s grave.
Times-Union reporter Paul Grondahl relates that St. Agnes historian Kelly Grimaldi has long been drawn to the tragedy of the orphans and did her homework uncovering many of the details. (She has also been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to locate kin of the drowning victims.)
It now appears that someone else is drawn to the long-ago tragedy — a nameless donor who has paid to have a granite marker placed upon the girls’ resting place.
It’s a terribly sad story, but at least one that ends with an unexpected gesture of caring.