Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dr. Richard E. Watson Dies

Richard E. Watson

Richard E. Watson of Brookhaven, New York, died on Monday, September 13 in his home after a long fight against Parkinson's disease and post-polio syndrome.  He was surrounded by his wife and sons at the time of his death.

Born in New York City, September 30, 1931, to Philip and Helen Watson, Dick was an excellent student and a talented scientist;  He graduated from Putney School in Putney, Vermont, and Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.  In 1958, he received his Ph.D. in Ohysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Techology.

Following postdoctoral work in Harwell, England, and Uppsala University, Sweden, he spent several years at Bell Labs in New Jersey.  In 1965, he joined the Department of Physics at Brookhaven National Laboratory, retiring as a senior research physicist after 37 years in 2002.

He served on the original Town of Brookhaven Landfill Committee and Technical Advisory Committee, and was a member of the Town of Brookhaven's Conservation Advisory Committee since 1981.  He was President of the Brookhaven Village Association in 1974 and active with Boy Scout Troop 4 for 15 years, serving as scoutmaster for many years.

Dick was an avid gardner and sailor, and lover of classical music.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Joan; his son, Phil and his wife, Jill, and their daughters Kate and Leah; his son, Gavin and his wife, Barbara, and their children, Mark, Katherine, Stephen and Paul; his son, Jamie and his wife, Lorena and their daughters, Camille, Paulina, Emily and Lili; and his son, Jay and his wife, Jodi, and their sons Zack and Sam.  In 2007, he was predeased by his first grandson, Matthew Winter Watson.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on November 26 at St. James Parish Hall in Brookhaven.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Brookhaven Hospice or the American Parkinson's Disease Association.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brookhaven Hamlet Cemetery Update

After the Fire Place History Club’s victory in getting specific historic gravesites maintained by the town via a lawsuit and subsequent New York State Supreme Court decision, this statement was issued by Brookhaven Town: “The Town respects the decision of Justice Tannenbaum and at this time does not plan an appeal. We currently maintain a number of cemeteries throughout the Town and will now review our schedule, prioritize for the additional needs and commence work as soon as possible.”

This statement is disingenuous. That the Town maintains a few abandoned historic cemeteries within the Town was never in dispute. The Fire Place History Club in its court filings pointed to at least two cemeteries within the hamlets of Brookhaven and South Haven that received some maintenance from the Town as examples of the Town conceding that it had maintenance authority and responsibility. They were but a small fraction of the burying grounds that required attention. Members of the Fire Place History Club when it was attempting to get additional cemeteries maintained, asked how the the Town determine their priorities for maintenance? A Town official responded, "Is the cemetery on a parade route?" The implication being that if the site was not highly visible, the Town was not going to do anything.

At least with respect to those cemeteries named in the suit, the Town has lost its ability to prioritize. They have been ordered by the court to resume maintenance on the cemeteries listed. Failure to do so will make the Town in violation of the court order.

The principals enunciated in by the court in its interpretation of State law would not seem to give any ability to prioritize the Town's maintenance duties toward abandoned cemeteries. All one hundred or so such cemeteries within the Town require Town maintenance. While we might concede that some prioritization is needed while the long abandoned work is re-instituted (and the Fire Place History Club consciously prioritized its cemeteries named in the suit from the twenty or so found in the two hamlets), basing priority on visibility is certainly not the most important.

Working with the many local civic organizations and historical societies within the Town would certainly seem a better approach in developing consistent, rational work priorities.

Friday, September 10, 2010

L.I. Advance newspaper editorial supports Fire Place History Club's Cemetery Maintenance Lawsuit

© THE LONG ISLAND ADVANCE - September 9. 2010, p. 22
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Long Island Advance

Honor history and cut the grass

There's no doubt that Brookhaven Town's Parks Department has their hands full In November 2008, when the Long Island Advance did a story on the Fire Place History Club and their quest to get help in maintaining their historic gravesites, a statement was issued that the parks department was responsible for maintain- ing 114 cemeteries in addition to 200 ball fields, more than 100 parks and other recreational facilities.

That being said, this local Brookhaven group who are fighting to keep the area's historically significant stamp evident, attempted many different ways to work things out with the town so that they didn't have to haul lawnmowers in their cars to preserve the gravesites of significant Revolutionary War participants as well as founding families. All they wanted was some help twice a year at 10 gravesites; they received help at one of them.

We are told that after a while, phone calls were not returned and there was no communication on the parks department end. We can't speak for the parks department on this because they haven't responded to our request to hear their side.

So the Fire Place History Club filed an Article 78, via Bellport resident and lawyer Reggie Seltzer known for her pro bono work when she feels passionate about a cause—she did about this. Seltzer takes American history classes at Stony Brook University and is aware, as are Fire Place History Club members, of our significant heritage.

Acknowledging history doesn't just entail attending parades. When you tour Europe, there are ancient cemeteries tended and still standing, not to mention statues, walls from Roman times, plaques and other reminders of moments in time that will never be Seen again but Were important nevertheless in creating a country.

Also, people made sacrifices. Those aren't just headstones. These folks whose bodies are in- terred underneath, migrated here, faced a land- scape that was basically woods and animals, didn't know if they were going to live through a philosophy that became a mantra, a war, and then a democratic example for most of the world.

Councilwoman Connie Kepert said basically, it would have been nice if this could have been worked out in the fust place and agreed with the court ruling. Now the town must mow the lawns of these gravesites, which do have right of ways, three times a year.

The Fire Place History Club only asked for that support twice a year. .

L.I. Advance reports on Cemetery Maintenance Lawsuit

© Long Island Advance, September 9, 2010, p. 5
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[Everyone in Brookhaven and South Haven Hamlets should subscribe to the Long Island Advance. "Of course they want the Gazette! Everybody has the [Chipping Claghorne] Gazette. How else would they know what's going on around here?" —Agatha Christie in A Murder Is Announced.]

Tending graves of those who came before

History club wins lawsuit on town cemetery maintenance


That the area was a hotbed of the American Revolution is an understatement. Take Richard Corwin, for example, who is buried in the Corwin Cemetery between Chapel Avenue and Beaverbrook Drive in Brookhaven hamlet. Corwin, who fought in the battle of Yorktown and witnessed the surrender of Cornwallis, was so vigilant a guard that when Washington tried to pass him one night, he stopped him. His persistence made a mark and Corwin consequently became Washington's personal protector. Sam Carman, head of the family that the Carmans River is named after, settled nearby and established a mill and tavern that were the colonial center of the South Shore of Brookhaven Town. Daniel Webster fished in his millpond and was the best of friends with him. He and his family are buried on the east side of the Southaven County Dog Park.

Marty Van Lith, John Deitz and Richard Thomas, members of the Fire Place History Club, can relate these historical snapshots as easily as some recite their children's names and ages. But then again, they've been working on the area's historic cemeteries for nearly 20 years. Their quest, to have Brookhaven Town maintain the gravesites of 10 family burying grounds, was recently resolved by a decision of Justice Melvyn Tanenbaum of the New York State Supreme Court. After filing an Article 78 last July, Brookhaven Town is now required to resume care of nine historic family burying grounds, with a dozen or more graves, in the hamlets of Brookhaven and South Haven. The town is currently maintaining the Rose cemetery off Jareds Path.

Repeated requests to Brookhaven Town for comment from the Long Island Advance were not returned as of press time. But Councilwoman Connie Kepert (4th District) agreed with the lawsuit decision. "I think it's unfortunate it has to come to citizens suing the Town of Brookhaven to maintain the historic cemeteries," she said. "I met with Marty and Carol Bissonette, the deputy parks commissioner, then around 2008 and we were putting in place a whole schedule of taking care of the historic cemeteries and then it fell apart. I agree with the lawsuit. It's a state law and they should be taken care of. On the other hand I understand the parks department is stretched. "

"We've been mowing the lawns ourselves," said Van Lith of he and John Deitz. "John and I did it. Faith McCutcheon and I did it before." Sometimes, they cut back overgrowth with hedge clippers. Sometimes they hauled a lawnmower into and out of a truck. That became a bit arduous. Van Lith said they received support from Dave Overton, the town historian, from 1990 to 1998. "He gave us complete support and worked with us to get Revolutionary War veterans identified and replaced the markers' but admitted he had no control over the parks department to mow the lawn. He was adamant that these were town-owned cemeteries." The group really began leaning on the town in 2005.

"The town cared for all of them in 1964," Thomas pointed out. "They cared for 15 of them in our area. They contracted out for the very cemeteries we asked to maintain."

The Fire Place History Club has only wanted the grass cut a couple of times a year and brush cleared and also in some cases trees cleared that are propped up on headstones. "The Brookhaven Village Association has collected money for headstone restoration, some of which has been done, as it was in the Rose cemetery and we have a stone mason," Van Lith said. "But we can't restore the rest until the cemeteries are addressed."

In Nov. 2008, the town in a statement to the Long Island Advance said Brookhaven Town Parks was responsible for maintaining 114 cemeteries throughout the town in addition to 200 ball fields, more than 100 parks and other recreational facilities. The parks and fields were maintained on a priority basis because of their heavy use and most cemeteries, maintained by the department, were cleaned and mowed every few weeks.

Bellport attorney Regina Seltzer filed the pro bono lawsuit. Seltzer will admit, filing lawsuits isn't her favorite thing to do. "I wrote to the town explaining their legal obligation," she said. "It's much nicer for those with legal obligations to just do them." Seltzer joined the push because of her love of American history. "When you think about the colonists' time, to leave their country, and there was nothing here but fear of the unknown, it seems a shame that with the comfort and freedom we have now, that those who made it possible are forgotten," she said.

The decision, made on Aug. 20, was released and the town has been sent an official copy of the judge's ruling, Van Lith said.

"They don't have to do anything but get out there and cut the grass," Seltzer said .

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thomas Addresses Brookhaven Town Board on Cemetery Maintenance Lawsuit

On Tuesday, September 7, 2010, Richard Thomas addressed the Town Council of the Town of Brookhaven with the following message concerning the Fire Place History Club's lawsuit over cemetery maintenance. Also present were John Deitz and Marty van Lith. Marty added his own extemporaneous comments.

My name is Richard Thomas. I reside in the hamlet of Brookhaven, which, until 1871, was known as Fire Place.

I wish to address the Town Council tonight to say how pleased I am that the Town will soon resume its care and maintenance of the historic burying grounds located in Brookhaven and South Haven hamlets.

New York has long recognized the need to maintain these historic burying grounds. The state legislature first passed a law placing the responsibility to do so with the Towns in March 1826. In 1901, at the urging of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the state legislature clarified the law, making it clear that it is the duty of Town governments to mow the weeds and remove the brush from any abandoned cemeteries within the Town once each year.

And in 1909, the state legislature stated that it was the responsibility of the Town to provide for the preservation, care and fencing of any cemetery, by whomsoever owned, if there were no longer any corporation or trustees who might care for it.

The Town of Brookhaven was faithful in carrying out its legal and moral responsibility for many years.

An article in the Patchogue Advance in 1937 reported that the Town Highway Department was again engaged in removing the brush from twelve graveyards in Brookhaven and South Haven.

And in 1964, the Town was regularly issuing a purchase order to a private contractor to haul away debris and cut the weeds in thirteen burying grounds in Brookhaven and South Haven.

These sites, which long ago ceased to be used for burial purposes, continue to provide a link to our past and have great historical value, since in them are interred patriots of the Revolutionary War and leaders of the Town of Brookhaven.

They are no longer private family burying grounds, but have become public historic sites.

They have been used by our local schools to educate students about local history and are a rich resource for local and Town historians.

I do not know why or how it came about that the Town forgot about it’s moral responsibility to care for these historic sites, but sometime after 1970, it appears to have done so.

The Fire Place History Club contacted officials in the Parks Department beginning in 2005.

While these public servants were quick to acknowledge that it was their duty to care for the historic cemeteries, and made repeated promises to begin doing so again, they somehow never actually managed to get any weeds mowed or any brush removed from a single cemetery.

First they claimed they had forgotten where the cemeteries were, so the Deputy Parks Commissioner was given a tour. Nothing happened.

Each year the trees that had sprouted up in the cemeteries grew larger, and after each winter more grave markers were found to be broken and destroyed by fallen limbs.

In these burying grounds are buried eleven who fought in the Revolutionary War, and also Town Supervisors and a President of the Board of Trustees of the Town.

In the Carmans cemetery is buried Samuel Carman Jr. who was a Trustee of the Town in 1827 and elected President of the Board of Trustees of the Town in 1849.

In 2003, his grave stone was still fully intact. By 2008, due to a falling tree in this cemetery — that has been long neglected by the Town — his grave marker was found smashed into eight pieces.

Finally, an Article 78 was initiated.

I think the citizens of your Town would be astonished to discover that the Town decided to pay a Town attorney to fight the Article 78.

For the cost of assigning a lawyer to the case, the Town could have cared for all the cemeteries for years.

Just as shocking as the Town’s disregard for its own history, the Town’s filing in response to the Article 78 was surprisingly ignorant of the long history of state law regarding the responsibility of Town governments in this matter.

Also, by failing to acknowledge that the Town had indeed preserved and maintained these historic sites for a period of forty years between 1930 and 1970, and perhaps for an even much longer time, the Town seemed to be attempting to mislead the Judge as to the facts in this matter.

The Town had long recognized by its own actions that what had formerly been private family graveyards had long ago ceased to be used for that purpose and had acquired a public nature by their use by the schools and citizens for historical purposes.

They have had no known private owners for decades and none have had any private trustee to care for them, so to claim that they were private cemeteries was disingenuous, to say the least.

Judge Melvyn Tanenbaum of the New York State Supreme Court of Suffolk County was not, however, misled. On August 20th, he ordered the Town of Brookhaven to perform the cemetery maintenance required by New York State law. We look forward to the day (which, according to the Judge, is to be before November 18th of this year), when the Town will be resuming its maintenance of these cemeteries so important to the history of Brookhaven Town.