It was a particularly difficult morning. Small Rob was already screaming and I didn’t even have directions to our destination. I knew the best course of action was to get him into his winter bear suit as quickly as possible and take to the road. As I had hoped, the pacifying bounce of the car tires lulled him to sleep almost immediately. By the time we hit the L.I.E., he was out cold.
Luckily, the bitter cold had broken enough for us to spend more time outside and focus on the task at hand- chronicling the bizarre story of the Home Depot Cemetery.
You heard me correctly. Small Rob and I were driving to a cemetery at Home Depot in Commack.
More accurately, we were on our way to the Burr Cemetery. Had it been the 19th century, I would say we were going to visit the Burr family farm. The Burrs came to Long Island in 1656 and quickly established themselves as prominent land owners in the Commack area. The family also became involved in breeding horses, earning Cormack its reputation as a center of horseracing on Long Island. The farm was situated on the corner of Larkfield Road and Jericho Turnpike. For generations, the Burrs buried their dead on the farm. This was the custom of the time, as public cemeteries and funeral homes were generations away. But by the time of the First World War, the Burr Family had sold their property to the military. The family farm became a training ground for the Air Force, and was now known as Brindley Field.
This was short lived however, as the post-WWII sprawl of Manhattan devoured open space in Suffolk County. Farms and fields were subdivided and sold to returning soldiers looking to start families. Many pieces of real estate, like the former Burr farm, were paved over and turned into bland shopping centers and strip malls. Somehow, by some small miracle, the Burr Family plots remained intact. The developers simply paved around the graves in the 1950s, reducing the cemetery to an island of Commack history surrounded by ugly asphalt.
Small Rob and I arrived at the parking lot, and actually found a spot 20 feet from the graves of Commack’s fathers. At this point, I realized that the long drive on the expressway had reduced Robert to a sleepy ball of pudge. A tiny debate raged inside my mind- should I wake the slumbering infant, or walk across the lot without him? The car was only several feet from the gate. Still, I felt uncomfortable leaving him alone. Reluctantly, and very carefully, I dislodged the car seat from its base in such a way that might make one believe I was handling a small thermonuclear device.
Placing Robert into his stroller, we made our way up to the cemetery gate.
The scene was nothing short of bizarre. Here, the 19th and 21st centuries violently collided, mixing like oil and water. There was absolutely nothing aesthetic or complimentary about putting a Home Depot in front of a family cemetery from the Civil War era.
We opened the gate. Quietly- and awkwardly- I pushed the stroller onto the bumpy grass, as my feet left the pavement and I stepped into the 1800s. The view was surreal.
Clearly, the cemetery was in a state of neglect. But while some stones had suffered the trials of time and erosion, it was clear that someone had not forgotten the Burrs. A single American flag was stuck in the dirt beneath a tree. And some of the graves had stones resting on top of them.
Taking advantage of my time without a crying baby, I decided to transcribe the stones before the forces of nature could wipe them clean. But just as I was about to complete my task, I heard a tiny voice to my right.
Emerging from his warm cocoon was Small Robert. He had woken up, and in a good mood, too.
Luckily, I had accomplished our mission in the time he had slept. So I waited with Robert in the Burr Cemetery and enjoyed the warmth that the winter sun was blessing us with on this frigid morning. He remained pleasant for roughly 10 minutes until he grew bored with the graves. At the first sign of his displeasure, I wheeled him out of the graveyard and back into the 21st century.
It was then that I realized I had not come to Commack solely for its history. I was in need of something for the house. We were installing a laminate floor in the living room, and I was in need of something important- 1/4 inch round molding.
But where would I find such a thing in the middle of a 19th century cemetery?