Twenty years ago, Roy Ruland tramped through the overgrown grass at the Waverly Avenue Cemetery, brushing clean the faces of gravestones.
His brother assured him that Rev. Luke Ruland, their distant relative tracing back seven generations, was buried somewhere in the Patchogue cemetery. But after looking for hours, Ruland never found the sandstone marker.
“It disappeared,” said Ruland, 54, a retired NYPD detective from Oceanside. “Someone ran off with it.”
On Tuesday, Ruland saw the gravestone for the first time lying in the trunk of Lynn Davis’ car. It was broken at its base and spotted with lichen, but the inscription was still clear – the stone belonged to Rev. Luke Ruland.
“It’s a miracle,” he said.
The stone was anonymously returned a couple months ago to the Burying Ground Preservation Group, a nonprofit in Southampton, according to one of the organization’s partners, Zachary Studenroth. After learning Ruland was originally buried in Patchogue, Studenroth contacted Davis, a member of the Cemetery Restoration Committee, which oversees the restoration of five historic cemeteries within the village.
Davis posted a photo of the headstone on Facebook, where it was seen by Roy's brother Steve, also a retired NYPD officer who now lives in Hopewell Junction, New York. He began researching his family tree in the 1990s and had visited the Waverly Avenue Cemetery to look for Luke Ruland’s grave. By searching through records, he learned that his ancestor served as part of a militia in the Battle of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War and became the pastor of the Baptist Church in Patchogue in the 1790s.
“I knew it right away,” said Steve Ruland, 56, of seeing the headstone on Facebook. “That was it.”
Last week, Davis met with Roy Ruland at the burying ground, near a cluster of Ruland graves.
They found what they believe is Luke Ruland’s footstone, which is made from a similar material and engraved with his initials, L.R.
They hope to excavate in the area to find the grave’s location before the ground freezes over. Davis believes the reverend was laid to rest beside Merrit Ruland, where gnarled roots now peek up from below.
Davis thinks the roots eventually toppled Luke Ruland's gravestone, which is thought to be the second oldest at the cemetery. According to the marker, Luke Ruland died in 1809 at the age of 78. There’s also a short dedication which was originally inscribed with a typo: “I have finished my curse. I have kept the faith.”
An “o” was added at some point to change “curse” to “course.”
The restoration committee will raise about $2,000 to repair and erect the gravestone, Davis said. A restoration company will begin working on the gravestone in the coming weeks, and the committee is hoping to hold a rededication ceremony for the Revolutionary War patriot next year on Veterans Day.
“It’s important. It’s not just something that means a lot to me and my family, but it’s part of Long Island’s history,” Roy Ruland said.