Earth Day Activity
By Jim Gerrish, representing the Historical Society of East Orange, Inc. (04/22/08)

The Historical Society of East Orange, Inc. was invited to attend an Earth Day Activity at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008 (Earth Day) at the First Presbyterian Church, corner of Scotland Road and Main Street in Orange. The Church is situated in the midst of the oldest burying ground in the Oranges, which has been in use since 1723, when we were all called the "Newark Mountain Society."

This postcard photo from the 1900's shows how the cemetery looked before the Church was built and before the statue of a Revolutionary War Postal Dispatch Rider was erected on the corner. Notice also the old electric streetcar wires and tracks.

Earth Day was an appropriate day to hold this activity. The Burying Grounds are in serious need of preservation and restoration, and it is the resting place of many of the founders and settlers of Orange, East Orange, West Orange, South Orange, Maplewood, Montclair and Bloomfield, all of whom were included in the "Newark Society" at one time.

The Historical Society from East Orange met with parishioners from the First Presbyterian Church and special invited guest, John Zelinsky. Our local Church Historian, Mr. Robert Reed, introduced John, and showed us his massive study (four volumes) on tombstones and their carvers, many of which are represented in our burying ground.

John Zelinsky, in turn, introduced his friend Greg Guderian, a leader of the NJ Latin Inscriptions Project that seeks to record use of Latin found anywhere in NJ. So far we have uncovered only one Latin inscription on a tombstone in the Old Burying Ground, but there may be others that will turn up as the work continues. The Latin inscription is "Mementomori" found on the tombstone of the Ogden Children.


Mr. Reed also introduced us to a delightful children's book, "The 18 Penny Goose" by Sally Walker, a former resident of East Orange. This book which is out of print, but still available through, is a story about the Wright family, whose tombstones are located in the Old Burying Ground. The Wright family lived on a farm on Springdale Avenue near the pond called Springdale Lake. The original story adapted by Ms Walker is as follows:

During one of the few Revolutionary War battles against the British fought in this area in 1776, known as the Battle of Peck's Hill (at the present day corner of Maple Avenue and Main Street), John Wright was seriously injured and had to be taken by sled to his home on Cranetown Road (Present day Springdale Avenue)

A flock of geese owned by Wright wandered off when his family fled from the redcoats. The British soldiers seized the geese and killed all but the gander. After feasting on their plunder, they tied a pouch inscribed with the words “Georgius Rex” (after the English king of the time) around the gander's neck. 18 pennies were placed in the pouch, along with a note which read:

“Dear Mr. Wright, we must bid you good night. It is time for us to wander;
“We have paid for your geese, a penny apiece, and left the change with the gander.”

The culmination of the meeting was a walk through the burying grounds to see first-hand the headstones which bear names familiar to all who live in the Oranges: Harrison, Dodd, Munn, Day, Williams, Baldwin... to name just a few. John Zelinsky was able to help us see the different styles in the headstone carvings and greatly added to our knowledge of what a historical treasure lies in our own city.

Guest Speaker, John Zelinsky explains the meaning of the decorations on the old tombstones.

Later in the afternoon, a group of students from the East Orange Unified Marching Band (EOUMB) celebrated Earth Day by cleaning up the branches and other debris in the Old Burying Ground as their contribution to reclaim their historic ties with this ancient site.

L-R: Mrs. Tomlinson, Morgan Gill, Adnett Tomlinson, Lloyd Tomlinson.

The students worked hard and collected a massive pile of branches that had fallen on the cemetery during the past winter. Many of the students got absorbed in the history of the site and in reading the inscriptions on the old tombstones while they worked.

L-R: Adnett Tomlinson, Morgan Gill, and Eujessicua Stokes

Our thanks to Pastor Frank Muse and members and staff of the First Presbyterian Church for inviting us to participate and allowing us the use of their facilities for our Earth Day Activity.

Members of the Society have been working since early March, 2008 to map and catalog the Burying Ground before time, weather, and human activity erases all traces of this important common historic heritage site. You can follow the work in progress on our Web site: or go directly to the Old Burying Ground Page:

For more information or to volunteer your services in aiding this important work, please contact: James Gerrish - 973-674-0067 or Mrs. Goldie T. Burbage - 973-672-1783

More Earth Day Photos

L-R: Khalil Welch, Dominique Depts, La Dante Avery

L-R: Greg Guderian , John Zelinsky, Frederick Goode (Band Director of the EOUMB)

L-R: David Friday, Bria Douglas, Adnett Tomlinson, Eujessicua Stokes

Kaison Mc Clain, Denzel Thompson, Lloyd Tomlinson,

L-R: Olivia Goode, Mrs. Tomlinson, Jim Gerrish

L-R: Morgan Gill, and Eujessicua Stokes

L-R: Lloyd Tomlinson, and David Friday

Foreground: Dominique Depts; Background L-R: Mrs. Tomlinson, Adnett Tomlinson, La Dante Avery, Olivia Goode, Jim Gerrish

David Friday

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