Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Key to Practices of the Past

Hello key enthusiasts!

Today’s key carries a more somber tone, but provides an insight into an interesting piece of New York history. The key originates from the town of Hillsdale in Columbia County, New York. This area of New York was very active during the Revolutionary War and, when the war ended, the town of Hillsdale was founded in 1790. This region continued to play an important role in war as would be seen later in the Civil War.

Key to Hillsdale vault 

However, even before the town was officially founded, there were people staying on this land. As is the course of life, people died and sometimes this occurred during the winter months when the ground was too frozen to dig the graves. Before the introduction of morgues and their ability to store bodies throughout the winter, the people of Columbia County and the town of Hillsdale stored their deceased in a vault in the ground until they were able to be buried in the spring. This key opened the “tomb in which they placed the bodies.”

Attached letter explaining the key's significance

As the attached note says, once spring came, a mass funeral was held that could involve up to twelve funerals at once. With the prominence of war in this region, it is possible that this number could be even larger. Despite the morbid nature of this key, it gives an interesting perspective on how people lived before the advent of modern conveniences. Come visit our Key Room and see if you can find any other keys that unlock the past.

Written by:
Brett Meyer
Museum Curator, Baldpate Inn