The Real Hazard in Machias

I was hoping that during my trip north I could run to Machias, New York and get a picture of the headstone of Elizabeth McFarland Booth Canfield Oakley, known as Lizzie. From what I had read there was a headstone in the poorhouse graveyard that had her name on it. I have been in communication with a historian for Cattaraugus County concerning Lizzie’s life at the poorhouse and untimely death and burial.

Today she sent me information that made me very sad. It would seem impossible to do anything more to Lizzie than had already been done that I knew of until this information hit my email. It seems in November 1941 the Commissioner of Public Welfare for Cattaraugus New York, Hazard E. Robinson, had destroyed the cemetery, piling the headstones in a corner and plowing up the graves. H. E. Robinson had been in office for 3 years and was lauded in a Salamanca Republican Press newspaper article by a resident of the county that Mr. Robinson “had made a good record.” In the same article the writer claims that because of Mr. Olson’s “intimate knowledge of Commissioner Robinson’s work, Mr. Olson’s testimony is particularly valuable.” Mr. Olson went on to further state “Let’s keep a good man as long as he does good work.” “There is no hazard in Robinson.”

In August of 1941 James J. Crowley threw his hat into the ring for welfare commissioner. He posted the photos of the damage done to the cemetery on handbills that were passed out days before the November 4 opening of the polls. The reply to the charges printed in the November 3, 1941 Salamanca Republican Press was:

“It is hard to speak without indignation of another “issue” – if such it can be called – dragged into the campaign only today by Mr. Crowley. For years the burial plot in connection with the county home at Machias was neglected, grown up to weeds and briars. When Mr. Robinson came into office, he felt this condition to be a disgrace to the county and took steps to correct it. He had a map prepared, on which was shown the precise location of every grave. Some of the markers had become illegible. He searched through the Home records to identify such graves. He cleared the ground, graded it and seeded it. The first sowing of grass did not come well. He sowed rye, and turned it under. Like the good farmer that he is. Now he has a good seeding of grass. He has further beautified the place by setting out trees and shrubbery, and plans to follow the modern practice of marking graves with metal plates flush with the ground. Before doing this, of course, it was necessary to remove the old markers.

“There is nothing new about all this. The work has been in progress for months. If anyone thought that Commissioner Robinson was doing something that ought not to be done, not a word of objection was heard during the weeks that have elapsed since he was re-nominated at the primaries. Now the day before election, within a few hours of the opening of the polls, photographs are widely circulated showing the piled up markers removed to make way for improvements, with textual matter alleging that the identity of graves has been destroyed and implying that sacred ground has been desecrated.”

James J. Crowley would lose to Hazard E. Robinson November 5, 1941. H. E. Robinson would remain in office through 1951. A newspaper article inthe Olean Times Herald, February 21, 1951 reported that Robinson had made the Alms house in Machias self sufficient with a working farm that produced beef, milk and produce for the residents. The cemetery at the Mahcias Home for the Poor would remain empty of markers and the records identifying the location of all of the graves in the cemetery remains missing to this day.

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