|This is the letter from Bill Hastings which prompted me to write the response which we have published as this newsletter's commentary. PHL|
I am writing this email at 5 am because I could not sleep well and this subject may be why. Last night I attended a meeting of the Bayonne Historical Society in my hometown Bayonne, New Jersey. The guest speaker's presentation was on the Secaucus Potter's Field. As you may recall this cemetery made national news a couple of years ago because the New Jersey Turnpike wanted to move the cemetery to make way for the Secaucus Interchange Project. The cemetery was indeed moved, or at least most of the cemetery was. The services for the re interment will be held October 24, 2004 at 2:00pm in Maple Grove Park Cemetery, 535 Hudson Avenue, Hackensack, New Jersey.
There was a handful of residents at the meeting last night. This was my first time at a Bayonne Historical Society meeting and I attended strictly because of the presentation. I of course knew much of the material covered in the presentation because of my involvement with the Hudson County Burial Grounds and my "mission" to bring it more publicly know of what was going on at this site.
There was one statement made that must have stuck with me and may be the cause of my sleeplessness this time. She stated she was amazed at how many artifacts were found at this cemetery knowing it was a Potter's Field.
She said that many of these people did not seem poor. Some of them were buried with jewelry, money, bottles of perfume and cold cream, make up, hair brushes, pipes, wedding rings, military uniforms and the such. She even noted how surprised she was on the number of dentures that were found.
Surely a poor person would not be able to afford many of these items. She had thought that they would not find these items being it was a Potter's Field and that mainly poor people were buried in it.
I briefly reviewed your web site in hopes of finding the right definition for "poor". As I recall my through my research of the Hudson County Institutions, poor did not mean 'worthless'. I remember viewing day books for the Almshouse and it listed people who were granted leave for the day of days at a time. I recall that many of the people on the "poor farm" did indeed work about the Almshouse and the Institutional grounds. I believe I also recall that some families lived at the Almshouse for periods at a time.
Some even had jobs town, leaving on a daily basis. But since these people were 'in the care of' the County of Hudson when they died, they were buried by the County of Hudson in the Hudson County Burial Grounds.
The reason why I am writing to you is because of your expertise in poor house history. Maybe you can better put into words why these people were called poor. Why is it that when we hear the word poor we think of these people as being 'worthless' or not having any 'possessions'.
I would like to write to Susan and convey to her an explanation of who these people were and why they did indeed have what they had when they were buried. The presentation made this group of people sound as though they were 'poor' and 'worthless'.
I recall on numerous occasions that the Secaucus town historian did not want this cemetery to be referred to as a Potter's Field because many of these people were not poor. I think he knows the difference between the class of these people buried here and what others think poor people to be.
I believe the New Jersey Turnpike Authority gave the location the name Secaucus Potter's Field. What should these cemeteries be called so people know that those buried there had a life and even though they own very little that they did indeed own.