A Pilgrimage to the Graves of Upstate Authors
by Chris Clemens
Upstate New York is forever home to a long list of celebrated poets and authors. You most likely know that Elmira is the final resting place of Mark Twain. You might even know Rod Serling of Twilight Zone is buried near Cayuga Lake. But, have you ever actually been to visit the graves of those Upstate authors? I recently discovered the blog of a guy from Rochester who is doing exactly that.
Exploring Upstate began as a diary of me visiting physical places of importance. For me, a day spent driving to visit a statue with a unique back story, or a grave of someone who has earned my respect, is a day well spent. That’s why I feel a kinship to other explorers who have set out on a mission to do the same.
I love discovering the tale of someone who has made it their obsession to uncover a story and the physical places where it unfolded. That’s why I was excited to learn of Steve Huff’s project.
In Our Home Ground
Starting in 2016, Huff began to track down the grave sites of authors in Upstate New York. As the project unfolded, he was surprised to learn just how many wordsmiths were forever interred here. He was even more surprised to learn how many people in Upstate New York had no idea that so many celebrated authors were nearby.
Huff is clear to point out that he is not a historian. He has made it his goal as a writer to ensure that the lives of other writers and their influence isn’t forgotten.
As an author and publisher himself, Huff was no stranger to compiling his thoughts for others to read. He began to chronicle the journey of his research, cemetery visits, and the backstories of each writer on a blog. Just two years later, In Our Home Ground features the lives (and deaths) of almost fifty writers buried everywhere from Buffalo to Pulaski to Cooperstown.
And, the project isn’t even close to wrapping up.
Writers and Graves
Most followers of this blog already know that I spend nearly all my free time reading about local history, especially Rochester. I’m proud to own original books by Arch Merrill and Henry Clune, two authors who were the original Exploring Upstaters. I read constantly. You of course already know that, because I share what I find here.
But, that’s exactly why I love attending events like Huff’s presentation at Writers and Books in Rochester last week. For about 90 minutes, he presented photos of authors and their graves, and discussed their importance in the literary world.
When he mentioned the “Seth books” I immediately retreated to my memories of reading about Jane Roberts from Elmira. During the 1960’s, her and her husband published writings about her experience of channeling a spirit named “Seth”. Even posthumously, Roberts maintains a global following of spiritual seekers. I was surprised to learn she was buried in Furnaceville Cemetery just minutes east of the town I grew up in!
Throughout his presentation, Huff continued with the stories of authors just like this one.
The Original Upstate Explorer
Sometimes known as the “Poet Laureate of Upstate New York”, Arch Merrill was an incredibly noteworthy writer from here in Rochester. At the height of his career, he wrote for the Democrat and Chronicle, and a few other local newspapers. When he wasn’t writing for the papers, he was exploring Upstate New York and authoring books like Land of the Senecas and A River Ramble, Merrill’s personal account of exploring the Genesee River valley.
Merrill is often considered the quintessential Upstate expert of the 20th century. I’ve got a large collection of his books and consider him somewhat of a hero. Thanks to In Our Home Ground, I learned that Merrill is buried almost walking distance to my house!
Steve Huff agreed to meet me last weekend and show me the grave site of Arch Merrill. Could I have found it on my own? Yeah, totally. But, it seemed perfectly fitting for two guys brought together for their love of exploring Upstate New York to collectively pay respects to one of the originals.
Checkout Huff’s blog at In Our Home Ground. Maybe you’ll discover that your favorite author is buried up the street from your home. Or, maybe next time you’re driving through a small town and wondering what you could go see, there will be a famous grave waiting around the corner.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens
November 15, 2018 @ 8:59 pm
THANK YOU! This is a lot of fun. I would say more, but I’ve just begun to explore the information in your post. Arch Merrill is one of my favorite authors, and it is powerful for me to know where he and his family are buried to honor him. Thanks for the link to “In Our Home Ground.” I will enjoy exploring it.
I must admit that I envy you the “exploring upstate” that you do, and I wish I could visit many of the places in person. Thanks, also, for your post about Detroit. I agree with everything you said about it.