Kenwood Pools

23 Gravestones

December 8, 2017 1:25 pm0 commentsViews: 154
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I am voting this morning.  It is an extremely easy thing to do.  It requires me to wake from my peaceful sleep, rise from my comfortable bed, cleanse in my warm shower, eat a nourishing and tasty breakfast, hop in my truck and drive to the school parking lot.  It is the fourth day of my long weekend and I am feeling good.  I caught up to my chores, replaced a faulty doorknob, initiated the leaf raking, brought a couple of truckloads of branches to the mulching yard and spent some quality time with the family.

Yesterday I took my reluctant 13 year old son for a destination-less ride up River Road, along the Delaware.  We had just finished lunch at Mil-Lee’s in Yardley and my truck was parked facing north on Main Street, so that’s where I headed.  He assumed we would be heading south back to the house, the basement, and the X-box. But since I had him I thought I would just drive aimlessly on this beautiful November Monday.

“Where are we going?” he asked, glancing up from his Iphone.

“A little past Washington Crossing, not quite into New Hope” I said, as an idea blossomed in my head. “There’s a little cemetery I’ve been meaning to visit for some time. I think you’ll appreciate it”

“Oh,” he said, thumbs texting rapidly. “You’re kidnapping me.”


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Making a right on Aquetong Road, we drove into the Thompson-Neely preserve in Washington Crossing Park and parked at the furthest point toward the graves.  We walked south along the canal about 200 yards, veering left across a field into a fort-like structure of tiny walls.  There stood the 23 white headstones, lined up in a neat row backing to the river, atop a bluff overlooking the Delaware. 22 of the stones were inscribed “UNKNOWN SOLDIER, CONTINENTAL LINE.” Only one stone had a name: Captain James Moore, New York Artillery.

23_Gravestones_C                23_Gravestones_D

The bones of at least these 23 soldiers lay beneath our feet. (The exact number of men buried at this site is not known). “BURIED AT THIS SPOT CHRISTMAS DAY 1776,” the inscription on a large plaque read. These were soldiers that passed away before the glorious battles of Trenton and Princeton, which were the pivotal points in the birth of this ongoing great experiment of freedom and democracy that is America.

Here lay men who had come from the colonies to fight with Washington and his continental army, some for money, some drawn by a need to shake out of the clutches of oppression.  These winter soldiers became the crucial spokes in the wheel that spent a year rolling backward from New York in retreat from the greatest army of the most powerful kingdom that may have ever existed to that point. But the wheel did not fall or collapse, thanks to the strength of these mighty spokes.

These men (boys most likely) were simple farmers and teachers and smithies that left their beloved families back in small farming towns near and far to fight for their future, their rights, their freedom and prosperity. Buried here by fellow soldiers barely surviving the same conditions, these anonymous souls endured the hardships of battle: the sight of slaughtered comrades, shoeless feet wrapped in rags that fell from their shirts, some with no trousers, just a loin cloth to protect them.

The army was broke.  There was little food, and no medical supplies. Perhaps these men died of Typhoid from the water contaminated by the unsanitary living quarters of thousands of men crammed into tents in a small area.  Maybe they starved, or froze, or succumbed to wounds suffered in Brooklyn or Fort Washington, or Fort Lee.  It was an extremely hard year for these winter soldiers.  They sacrificed everything.

Enlightenment had grasped the collective mind of humanity and was dragging it out of the dark ages, bringing it to the cusp of realizing free will and choice. It was here, in the latter days of 1776 on this cold patch of earth, that the nadir of the lives of these unknown heroes, and the barely beating heart of the continental army, would somehow spark the flames that led to the birth of a nation. Through the tremendous hardships and the darkness of their final tumultuous year came the light of freedom we are bathed in today.

My son was relieved to get back in the car and head south, listening to his tunes and scrolling through his messages.  Perhaps the proof of a truly free society is their total ignorance of it.  Apathy can be our worst enemy and I’m sure I was the same when I was his age. But hopefully yesterday I planted a seed.


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It’s a typically beautiful fall day on the banks of the Delaware. The sky is blue, the trees mostly full of their changing leaves, sun shining on this glorious tableau. I walk pass the group of Republicans handing out instructional info.  We exchange pleasantries.  I walk past the Democrats handing out their info and we also exchange pleasantries.

In the auditorium I meet a nice lady who finds my name in the big book and asks me to sign.  I am directed to a booth where I press the 4 buttons for my candidates and as I press the green confirmation button I realize just how easy it is.  It is remarkable through the wide scope of human history that mankind has come to this point:  where each individual can express his will, his wishes, and his thoughts in a 5 minute activity called a vote.

I leave the booth and thank the ladies and gentlemen for volunteering their time.  I thank the Democrats and the Republicans, find my car and sit and ponder.  Finally I think about those unknown soldiers that endured ungodly hardships and the ultimate sacrifice here on the banks of the Delaware, and I thank them. ■


Thomas O’Hanlon is a writer and resident of Yardley, PA.

 First published in November 2014.