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Historian claims headstones were moved

Town of North Hempstead historian Howard Kroplick in

Town of North Hempstead historian Howard Kroplick in front of the Horsfield family tombstone at the abandoned Townsend Cemetery in East Hills. (July 19, 2012) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Time hasn't been kind to the little cemetery containing the graves of one of Great Neck's most prominent early families.

Now the Town of North Hempstead is looking into claims by its historian that the Allen family cemetery's six headstones dating from the early 1800s have been moved -- the stones currently are stacked against a fence -- possibly desecrating the site.

Town officials also are investigating whether the cemetery, wedged into a back yard between two private homes and a 10-foot swath of land owned by the Village of Great Neck Plaza, has been effectively abandoned.

If so, the town under state law would assume ownership and care of the cemetery, which the village believes it now owns.

Village officials contend the cemetery has been properly maintained by the owners of 17 Pearce Place, in whose back yard the headstones stand. But in a report submitted by historian Howard Kroplick, he claims the headstones appear to have been recently moved -- changed from a staggered row into a consolidated bunch and stacked upright against a fence, at times two deep.

Of particular concern to him, Kroplick said, was the headstones appear to have been relocated from the places in which they've appeared in historic pictures and drawings.

"It's a matter of treating that property with respect," he said. "At this point I don't believe it has been."

When he first saw the cemetery, which can only be viewed publicly from the upper floors of an adjacent municipal parking lot, said Kroplick, "I was very upset."

Great Neck Mayor Jean Celender took umbrage to Kroplick's claims.

"The village periodically inspects it," Celender said. "As far as we're concerned, it's being maintained."

Edward Judson, owner of 17 Pearce Place, referred all questions to the village.

"If under the law this reverts to the town, we're going to use our good offices to preserve and maintain it," said North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, who added that the town planned to work with the village on the matter. "We have no reason to doubt her [Celender's] good intentions."

The Allens were well-known landowners who moved into the area in the late 17th century. The site, dating from 1810 to 1861, also contains the grave of an infant son of another family.

Meanwhile, Vera Allen, 83, of Port Washington, whose late husband Richard A. Allen was a descendant of the Allens in the Pearce Place cemetery, had a simple hope for the future of her family's cemetery: "I would like to see the cemetery cleaned up, fixed up," she said.

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