Cemetery Stories

Our historic Palisades Cemetery is a beautiful place, and I have learned some fascinating stories about its residents. If you haven’t yet visited it, open the gate one day and take a look around. Everyone is welcome. One of the most poignant recorded events is the death of ten-year-old Sarah Pennoyre. On October 11, 1836, Sarah, whose family lived in New York City, was visiting her grandmother Betsy Scudder in Piermont. The Palisades diarist Nicholas Gesner, who was Betsy Scudder’s brother-in-law, recorded what happened. “A Terrible Accident — one of Cooks boys with a pistol to Day (Afternoon) shot Pennoyres young Daughter in the Side, was at her grand Mothers New Landing — the poor Girl said she would die, requested her Grand Mother to pray for her and others, but none could pray. Garret Onderdonk was sent for, talked with her and prayed." She died that night.

On October 13, Nicholas wrote: “Gracy [his wife] went down to Betsy Scudders about 12 to See the unfortunate Dead Girl of Pennoyre. Pennoyre and Sally his Wife &c from New York city this Afternoon to see their little unfortunate Dead Daughter, Shot by Cooks Boy.” Sarah was buried the next day at 11 am in the Palisades Cemetery, then called Lawrence’s Burying Ground, and her coffin was placed on top of that of her great-uncle Daniel Post, who had died and been buried in 1814. Her name doesn’t appear on the tombstone.

John Westervelt, age 18, was another youngster who died an untimely death. On October 2, 1842 Nicholas reports how it occurred. “This Morning a lamentable circumstance happened About Breakfast time. John Westervelt, clerk in Larry Snedens Store, Was Drowned by the Dock at Snedens landing, he was seen bailing out a Small boat, a few Minutes after Nothing Was seen of him. Larry Sneden Stepping down to the Dock, saw his Hat, reached down felt him and drew him out being Yet Warm, exertion was instantly made by Rubbing &c but past recovery. Doctor Wright was immediately sent for but to no avail — the Water was at this time only About (near) the Waist deep, a Jury was called; but no injury discovered, by some supposed he had a fit; but never being the subject to fits, my conclusion is that by reaching over the Boat he has taken a Slip and pitched head foremost between the dock and boat and in a fright, struggling, head in the Mud, was soon unable to help him-self — his death is lamented, was good to his Mother, whose heart Rending Sorrows can not be expressed.

The next day: “Brother Stickland came up from the city of New York before 12, being sent for. He preached John Westervelt's funeral Sermon from 1 Peter 4 and 7 ‘But the end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore Sober and Watch unto prayer’ a Most Affecting discourse. … The Sympathising Mode of addressing the vast Audience seemed to Rend the heart and burst forth in floods of tears.… there Was a Vast concourse of friends and Neighbors. He was buried at Lawrence’s Burying place Rockland About 5 pm.”