Monday, September 6, 2010

Uncle Sam's Town

Enjoying their first real Labor Day off in years, The Garretts decided to spend the afternoon checking out some local history!  In honor of the federal holiday, we decided to check out the federal man...Just a few minutes from Clifton Park is the grave site of Uncle Sam.  Turns out, he's a real person!  
Stopping for a smile!

Uncle Sam, or as he's know by his real name, Samuel Wilson, is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York.  The cemetery is on private property and winds up a large mountain overlooking more than 100 miles of the Hudson Valley and the heart of Troy.  It was a beautiful to see that much of Upstate NY all in one spot!  

We'll take that...only bigger.

The 157-year-old cemetery is a permanent home to more than 60,000 residents, many entombed in  huge, impressive monuments and mausoleums.  (And according to the cemetery's website, they're still taking if you wanna be buried next to Uncle Sam, looks like they could make that happen for ya!) Oakwood Cemetery is the one of the largest rural cemeteries in the country and to maintain all that history, they've got to do a little more than bake sales.  Apparently, someone watched the movie Calendar Girls and they turned it into their own version, the 2005 Cemetery Illusions Calendar.  The collector's items are still available on their website for $20 and they are the funniest thing!

A couple of other notables are buried here: 

  • Emma Willard-the lady who founded the first women's school of higher education 
  • Amos Eaton-a leading 17th century scientist and educator
  • New York politician Russell Sage
  • Civil War Union General George H. Thomas
  • Civil War Union General John Ellis Wool
It was the first time Heather had ever been in a 'Yankee Civil War' cemetery!
Here lies 'Uncle Sam'
After checking out all those grave sites, it took us a little while driving up and down the 12 miles of roads in the cemetery to find Uncle Sam's spot.  After we had passed it twice, we were surprised to find that Uncle Sam's grave was only a small marker, where he was buried next to his wife.

Brett & Sam
A larger monument was next to their graves along with a flag pole, flying the American flag at half staff for the Labor Day holiday.  While we were the only ones in the cemetery, it looked like others had hit the grave before us.  Visitors had placed mini flags, a wreath and also piles of nickels and quarters on top the monument.  
Meat man to USA's man

Wanna know how Sam Wilson got the superpowers to become "Uncle Sam"?  Well, it didn't have anything to do with a pocket full of kryptonite.  During the War of 1812, Mr. Wilson was in the business of slaughtering and packing meat. He provided large shipments of meat to the U.S. Army, in barrels that were stamped with the initials "U.S."  The way the story goes, someone who saw the "U.S." stamp suggested - probably as a joke - that the initials stood for "Uncle Sam" Wilson.  Oh, those funny guys...they had no idea that their suggestion that the meat shipments came from "Uncle Sam" would led to the idea that "Uncle Sam" would later symbolized the federal government.

Sam Wilson died in 1854 but his image lives on in popular culture. Traditionally, Uncle Sam has a white goatee and star-spangled suit. Sam Wilson was clean-shaven and probably wasn't rockin' the stars and stripes in his wardrobe, but the two share the same facial features.

Sam does it better.

19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew some of the earliest images of Uncle Sam but the poster painted by James Montgomery Flagg in 1916-1917 is by far the most famous portrait. The "I Want You" Army recruiting poster from World War I is a worldwide symbol of Americana.

We're just glad Samuel Wilson's name wasn't Buck, because nobody wants that uncle.