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Local Historian’s ‘Grave Situation’

Howard Kroplick was just settling in to his new position as North Hempstead’s town historian in April of 2012 when a phone call from a resident who found an old headstone led him into a comprehensive study of all 28 cemeteries within

the town’s boundaries.

 

Kroplick, an East Hills resident for 29 years, serves in the unpaid role as an advisor to the North Hempstead board, out of his longtime love of history. His exhaustive study of the area’s cemeteries has helped him complete a history of

North Hempstead that will be published in January, which will coincide with the 400-year anniversary of the discovery of Long Island, by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block. It was Block, according to Kroplick, who first identified Long Island as an actual island, not a peninsula as many believed back then. The 128-page book from Arcadia Publishing is the first ever written about North Hempstead.

 

“The guy who called me said that he found this headstone in Port Washington, dating back to the 1700s and he wanted to know if I could figure out where it belonged,” Kroplick recalled. “After some research, we found out it was supposed to be in the Montfort Cemetery in Port Washington. We made arrangements for it to be put back in place.”

 

Of the 28 cemeteries that Kroplick has identified, nine are in the Great Neck and Kings Point area. The Port Washington and Sands Point area has six, and Manhasset has four. Kroplick, despite his best efforts, was dismayed to find that six of the 28 burial sites were unable to be physically located. 

 

“They’re referenced in the archives,” he explained. “I know where they are, approximately, but when you go to them, there’s no physical evidence of them ever having been there. But they did exist.” Roslyn’s Hempstead Harbor Cemetery is an example of a “lost” site.

 

After the Montfort project received some publicity, a second call came in.

 

“This caller told me that he was concerned that a cemetery in Great Neck Plaza was being desecrated,” Kroplick said. “We did some investigation on that.”

 

Kroplick found that six members of the Allen family were buried in a small lot during the 19th century. The gravestones had been moved and propped up against a fence in an area between two small houses adjacent to a municipal

parking lot.  Plans are currently under way to restore and provide access to the Allen site.

 

“It’s part of history,” Kroplick said of his interest in area cemeteries. “The history of who’s buried in them is fascinating.”

 

Kroplick pointed to the Roslyn Cemetery (bordering Northern Boulevard in Greenvale) as a prime example.

 

“William Cullen Bryant and his whole family are here,” he said. “Christopher Morley is here. Frances Hodgson Burnett [author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess] is buried here. The Roslyn Cemetery is very well kept and is still active.”

 

Kroplick found other notable people buried in North Hempstead. Designer Oleg Cassini, former CIA Director William Casey, who served under President Reagan, and Margaret “Unsinkable Molly” Brown, a Titanic survivor, are all buried in one of Westbury’s three cemeteries. When he died in 1995, sports figure Bobby Riggs was interred in Nassau Knolls in Port Washington.

 

Kroplick was originally in the medical communications business, and sold his business that began as a single-person operation and eventually employed 150.

 

“I’m not retired,” he said. “I’m refocused. I’m actually working harder now because I don’t have anyone to delegate to.”

 

Of his interest in history, he says, “I guess I kind of got it from my father. My father always loved history and we used to take rides every Sunday to different places on Long Island.”

 

He found that Westbury’s Cemetery of the Holy Rood is the largest cemetery of all, with more than 12,000 interments, and is still active. Westbury Friends Cemetery is the oldest, dating back to 1702 and is also active.

 

Kroplick’s involvement with North Hempstead cemeteries is far from over, even though his survey, which he worked on for six months, is complete. In addition to the Allen project in Great Neck, his immediate concern is with the abandoned

Townsend Cemetery, which is in extremely poor condition. Though Townsend’s 33 graves are in East Hills, access to it is within the Town of Oyster Bay. A coordinated effort between the two towns will be necessary to restore the property.

 

Kroplick’s report is expected to be available soon on the Town of North Hempstead website.