Graves marked in forgotten Allen Cemetery
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Under Monday's punishing sun, Matthew Turner slowly dragged what looked like a baby stroller through the scrub in a Great Neck Plaza backyard.
The radar machine cradled by the stroller silently plumbed the ground, searching for a hint of the graves below.
The Town of North Hempstead hired Turner to search for and mark the graves as part of an effort to restore the Allen Cemetery, a tiny, almost forgotten burial ground wedged between two private homes and 10-foot swath of land owned by the village.
He made multiple passes over the site behind a Pearce Place home, dodging a large clump of bamboo, before stopping and beckoning the group, including village officials and the town historian.
"You say there's seven," Turner said, and displayed his screen, which looked almost like a game of Tetris in progress. "One, two, three, four, five, six," he counted, as those assembled struggled to make sense of the white lines on the screen, tucked in between lines of red and orange, that indicated the graves. "There's one baby, but that won't show up."
He pulled out a can of orange spray paint and began to mark the ground, then tucked 12 orange flags in the soil.
Over time, several of the headstones had been moved from the seven graves they marked, and unrelated items stored on the property, prompting town historian Howard Kroplick to mount a campaign last year to restore the 19th-century cemetery, named for the family buried there.
The cemetery was once on a large swath of land owned by the Allen family, who were prominent landowners on the Great Neck peninsula. Six members of the Allen family and an infant from another family were buried there between 1810 and 1861.
Town Clerk Leslie Gross said she provided the $1,700 to hire Turner's company out of her office's historic preservation budget. On Monday, Gross and Kroplick were joined by village officials and members of the Great Neck Historical Society to watch Turner work.
"It's wonderful," Kroplick said. "I think this is helpful. It's further documentation that there are in fact people buried there."
The town next must conduct a survey to determine the property lines of the cemetery, Kroplick said. After that, work can begin on restoring the headstones and footstones, fencing off the property, and putting up a sign, he said.
Vera Allen, a Port Washington resident whose husband is descended from those in the cemetery, said she was gratified at the progress.
"I'm very happy they're doing that," she said. "We hope this will be made into a suitable burial site with access."
Allen arrived Monday with Alice Kasten, president of the Great Neck Historical Society.
"We knew that the graves were here," Kasten said. "I'm very pleased that science has a way of finding them."