Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Whitcher Monument

Photo by Kerri Kaiser Newman
A few blocks north of the home where I grew up sits Glenwood Cemetery, bordering a public park where we spent many afternoons at play. When I was older I used to walk that cemetery, looking for the oldest tombstones. It was a surprise when my father told me he’d discovered the damaged gravesite of prominent ancestors of ours in that very same place.

The Whitchers
I’ve written previously about Bailey Harrison Whitcher and Ordelia deLozier, my 3x great-grandparents. Ordelia’s father Peter, of Connecticut, was a P.O.W. at the Battle of Tripoli in 1803. After his thirty month-long ordeal and release, he came to own a cabinet-making business in Lockport. Bailey was his apprentice. One of two things happened… either Peter abandoned his family and Bailey took over the business, marrying Ordelia, or Bailey and Ordelia married and Peter took that as his opportunity to leave and return to the sea, but he never returned.

Bailey and Ordelia had thirteen children, seven girls and six boys. Two sons died during childbirth and one drowned in the Erie Canal in 1836. Their remaining three sons were soldiers in the Civil War. I have letters from my 2x great-grandma Emma, written to another soldier in her brother George’s regiment, describing the day the first boy from Lockport died in the war, and the funeral march the city had for him. The Civil War changed everything for the Whitcher family.

George Harrison fought with the Michigan 7th at Gettysburg and died defending Cemetery Ridge. His body was never recovered. The inscription plate from his musket was dug up from the site, and returned to his family in 1889, by the same friend of George that Emma had been writing letters with- there is evidence in her letters that he was corresponding as well. His name was Charles Thompson and he had returned to the site as a personal pilgrimage. He discovered the plate among items being dug up. A monument now stands in Gettysburg to the regiment where the battle took place. George Harrison was 22 when he died.

What a loss this must have been to the family. It wasn’t the last.

Orville Bailey was mustered into the New York 8th regiment, heavy artillery. He was at the Battle of Cold Harbor in VA in May and June of 1864. He was wounded on June 3rd, which also happened to be his birthday. He turned 21. He died June 18, 1864 in Alexandria from his wounds. Ulysses S. Grant said in his memoirs of this last battle, “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. ... No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.”

The Whitcher Sisters, family archive. Back row, Emma (my ancestress), Mary, and Frances. Front row, Lucy, Ellen, Harriet, and cousin Flora. The photo is of their eldest brother Daniel, in his uniform.
The Union gained no advantage from the loss of their second son. How that must have affected the family, still in fresh grief from George’s death… Emma’s disposition seemed to change greatly. She had seemed to be courting George’s regiment buddy through their exchange of letters, but he also seemed greatly affected by the loss of his brother and friend. A few months after the death of her brother Orville, Emma Whitcher married a young businessman named Hiram King Wicker. They were my 2x great-grandparents.

Back to the Gravesite
The monument my father found in Glenwood Cemetery belonged to Bailey Harrison Whitcher, who died the year after his son Orville. Bailey had grown deaf in his old age and was struck and killed by an oncoming train he could not hear as he had grown deaf in his old age. The monument also included most of his family, including his two sons who died in the Civil War.

It was on a steep slope and the obelisk had toppled over, strewn precariously in pieces down the incline, obscuring two sides and their inscriptions from view. My father began to investigate how we might get it repaired, seeing how important the family had been historically to the city. It took a while.

Photo by Kerri Kaiser Newman
Mark and Dennis Devine brought it to the attention of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 268, who championed its restoration. Family and various local organizations helped raise the $2100 needed to repair it and on November 11, 2016, a ceremony took place revealing the restoration and honoring the fallen Whitcher brothers.

I wasn’t able to be at the rededication ceremony, but my father was, and various other descendants of the family showed up to help mark the occasion. Reenactors from the Colonel John B. Weber Camp, No. 44, the Reynolds Battery NY Light Artillery, the 155th NY Reenactment Regiment, the NY Volunteers 140th, and the Union Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps were all on hand to set the tone for the Veteran’s Day ceremony.


I wish there were words to express how deeply wonderful it is to see other descendants and groups take an interest in honoring the legacy of this Whitcher family. I can’t wait until spring, when they finish polishing the marble and the grave is renewed. It’s a privilege to count these men and women in my ancestral bloodline.

Thanks to my dad, for sharing his passion for genealogy with me, and for wandering old cemeteries and stumbling over graves. Thanks for following up inquiries with letters and e-mails and sharing Whitcher stories, and encouraging interest in seeing this restoration through to completion. I'm glad you were at the ceremony. Uncle Dave would have loved it. I'm sure he did.

A special thanks to Kerri Kaiser Newman, a Whitcher cousin, who was in attendance at the rededication ceremony, for the use of her photos! Both our families descend from Bailey and Ordelia's children. She's one of the closest Whitcher cousins I've discovered yet. If you have Whitcher ancestors, check out the facebook group Whitcher, Whicher, Witcher, Whittier, Welcher Global Family Tree. There are more of us out there.

Other blog posts of Whitcher interest:

A Death at Gettysburg 150 Years Later (July 3, 2013)

A P.O.W. from Tripoli (June 5, 2013)

The Story in the Life (May 2, 2012)

Emma's Letters (February 22, 2012)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Our Silent Supper in Pictures

On Halloween night, we held a Dumb Supper in our home, rearranging furniture to make room for non-corporeal guests. It sounds strange, but the ritual of opening the way for company is important. The first thing I did was light my Ancestor Altar, a beacon I use to guide them to my home.

We set our table festively, with candles, pumpkins, and the last of our marigolds from our garden.

Printed photographs of my ancestors were included on our table.

These are the Wicker brothers and their families. The man and woman in the middle are Hiram King Wicker and Emma Angeline Whitcher, my 2x Great-Grandparents on my father's side of the family.

This is the Riddle clan from my mother's side of the family. The tall man in the light suit in the back row is my Great-Grandpa Harold Riddle, husband to my beloved Great-Grandma Elsie Elizabeth Durant. His parents are in the middle of the front row.

The Spirit Chair was draped in black fabrics, and a black candle placed on the plate. I've been using the same candle every year since my first Dumb Supper in 2005. The black skull head is reverently stored in between suppers.

We set up a sidebar with drinks for various spirits we work with or remember fondly. Spirits for the spirits. And a proper cup of tea.

I also set a cup of tea on the table for all of my grandmothers and grandfathers, in one of my Grandma's old cups. In my family, tea was a thing.

The first course in a Dumb Supper is always the dessert. I set this plate for my Great-Grandma Hattie Eva Smith-Eaton, who helped me from the spirit world while I was in the ICU a year ago. When we were sorting out the menu, someone requested chocolate mousse- not something we would have picked, but we let the Dead weigh in.

Then the main courses came out while we listened to the radio drama of The Halloween Tree in the background. Meatballs and roasted potatoes with the last of our fresh garden herbs. Brussel sprouts, crescent rolls, and bread and butter pickles from the farmer's market.

And lastly the appetizer, spanakopita.

The table looked cozy and festive when the living bellies were full of warm, home-cooked foods. The house felt full of family, and festive energy. It was meditative and rejuvenating.

At the very end of the evening, the spirits showed themselves. It was an honor to dine with them. There were moments and voices and sounds and phrases that I walked away from the Dumb Supper with, more impressions to use in tracking down my family lines. I gratefully honor Those That Came Before Me, hoping to pass on the relationship I have built to Those Who Come After. Ashe.

[All photos were taken by Sarah Lyn and are not to be copied without permission.]
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