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Radar Helps Cemetery Preservation

An unusual use of radar technology last week confirmed the existence of the remains of six members of the historic Allen family in a small area just behind two homes on Pearce Place and backing the Great Neck Plaza municipal parking garage at Gussack Plaza.


The confirmation will allow the plan to restore, renovate and maintain the neglected cemetery to move forward as a joint project involving the Plaza and the Town of North Hempstead. In its current condition, the cemetery’s right-of-way between 15 and 17 Pearce is difficult to access but the site is clearly visible from the back wall on several levels of the garage. The cemetery itself is approximately 20 feet by 10 feet.


One of the driving forces behind the project has been Howard Kroplick, who is North Hempstead’s officially designated historian.  “At a meeting in May,” said Kroplick, who serves the town as an unpaid volunteer, “someone said, ‘How do you know the graves are still there? Maybe they disappeared or were relocated? ‘ Someone else said ‘There’s no way to determine whether they’re still there.”


“I had done my research,” he explained, “And I found that there is in fact, a way. There’s a new technology called ground-penetrating radar and they have a machine that can go over the gravesites and determine whether the caskets and the bodies are still there.  There’s one person in Virginia who specializes in it. Sure enough, he found seven gravesites, six of them from the Allen family and the seventh was an infant from the Pelcher family. And he was able to mark them off.” Orange paint now marks the borders of each grave.  All seven died between 1810 and 1861, according to the still existing gravestones. 


The gravestones are not all in their original places.  “They may have fallen over time and somebody may have moved them or propped them up,” he added. “I think three of them are still in place.” 


“The whole area there around the municipal lot was part of the Allen farm,” he continued. “In 1861 Daniel K. Allen’s will gave the farm to two of his nephews but he specified that the burying ground would stay in place for the family. He gave them that little rectangular area and a right-of-way to the main road.” It is estimated that the Allen family, at one time, owned nearly one third of the Great Neck peninsula. The family also owned the Saddle Rock Grist Mill from 1715 to the 1820’s.


“Discussions are ongoing between the Town of North Hempstead and Great Neck Plaza as to who’s going to restore it and who’s going to maintain it,” said Kroplick, who’s working on a book about North Hempstead history that he hopes to publish next year. “At this point everybody is in agreement but we just have to work out the details.


Everybody’s on the same page. The mayor (Jean Celender) realizes that it is an historic cemetery and that it should be treated with respect.”


He also praised Alice Kasten of the Great Neck Historical Society. “She’s been very supportive and she has been very much involved,” he said. “And they’ve been giving us recommendations about what type of restoration should occur, what kind of signage, what kind of fencing, things like that.


“We’ll probably have a meeting before the summer’s out between the village and the residents to determine exactly what has to be done,” he continued. “We put out a bid for a title and survey for the area and we’re finalizing it.” 


Kroplick related an unusual incident that occurred at that May meeting. “We had six Allens at the meeting including one from Colorado and one from Syracuse as they’re very much involved and very interested in preserving their family burial ground,” he said. 


Some asked to view the burial site afterwards.  While at the site, one of them shouted out to a man making a nearby delivery, “Hey, Gary, what are you doing here?” recalled Kroplick. “Gary” turned out to be Gary Allen, another family descendant, who had no idea that his ancestors were buried only a few feet away and that many present family members had come together that day for such a unique purpose.