(Originally visited 25 October 1998)
Autumn in New England was made for Sunday drives. This Sunday the leaves were just past their peak color and many of them littered the sides of the road like the campaign signs for November’s election.
For the first time in my life as a registered voter, I’m seriously considering not voting. The whole two party system seems to have degenerated to professional wrestling. While not voting certainly won’t help the situation, there are not many candidates out there who I feel comfortable voting for. Even among the “fringe” candidates (and I am definitely on the fringe politically).
But I digress…
New York’s Hudson Valley is the site of five presidential and vice presidential graves. Conveniently enough, it is also only two hours away from my home. So, on this beautiful Indian summer afternoon, with my best girl by my side, we set out in search of Levi Morton.
Rhinebeck is one of those stereotypical New England towns. So stereotypical that it has become a kind of tasteful tourist trap. The downtown is thriving on the money from Manhattanites and other travelers. Perhaps it has always been this way, because our first stop was the Beckman Inn, which claims to be the oldest inn in America. They had just stopped serving brunch, much to my chagrin, but the hostess recommended a church cemetery just north of town.
Next stop was The Rhinebeck Grille, which has decent food and a patio where we ate outside, observing the teeming tourists. The bartender suggested a nearby cemetery just south of the town center.
After lunch, my date and I (yeah, it was a date; and you thought you’d been on weird dates before) drove north in search of the church cemetery. Maybe I misremembered the directions, or maybe I just missed it, but we couldn’t find anything.
So, heading south, before the cemetery, we found the Tourist Info booth! The poor volunteer had no idea where Vice President Morton was buried, but she suggested the little hamlet of Rhinecliff down on the banks of the Hudson about a mile away where they named the library after him. We asked if there were any cemeteries in town and she said, “Yes, right over there” and pointed out the window at a churchyard. This was a very old cemetery. Too old for Morton, but it did contain the remains of Robert Livingston, one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence.
On to Rhinecliff and after driving around this little village we stopped in at the only hotel in town and the proprietor said the only cemetery was up at the church and he did mean Up. The church was on top of the steep slope that the town was built on. Guess that’s why it’s called Rhinecliff. We spent a while walking through this cemetery, but our goal was not to be found.
It was getting late, this being the first sunset after shifting off daylight savings time. So, one last try at the cemetery south of town before it was time to head back to Connecticut. And this cemetery was a large one. I was becoming concerned that I’d lost my touch. My previous attempt at a Vice President had been Spiro Agnew and I’d failed. I didn’t need the further emasculation of not being able to find Levi Morton, especially with a woman accompanying me.
We wandered amongst the headstones, through the small hills, seeing a good variety of simple and ostentatious graves. After traveling the length of the cemetery near the main road we started heading back to the car. Of course, we didn’t return via the same path, we walked further away from the road. I spotted a large stone in a family plot with a small veteran’s flag under some pines off in the far corner of the cemetery.
When we were close enough to read the name ‘Morton’ on the side of that large stone a smile crept across my face.
I think she was impressed.