Remembering with Lanterns of Light at Maple Grove

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Click on image to begin a slideshow of the Maple Grove Lantern Festival


Click here to view a slideshow of the event.

To the sound of mournful bagpipes, loved ones including the twenty-three victims of 9/11 buried at Maple Grove Cemetery, were recently remembered in a Day of Remembrance and Lantern Festival ceremony that the cemetery has now sponsored for the second year in a row.

"The ceremony has its roots in a Japanese tradition that launching paper boats or lanterns inscribed with endearments and good wishes, will follow your loved ones to the other side," said Linda Mayo-Perez, president and chief executive officer of Maple Grove. "Other cemeteries in other parts of the country have similar ceremonies and we decided to try it here."

About 75 people assembled September 21 at the entrance to Maple Grove as a soft early evening settled in, following the bagpipers first to the so-called Story Stone, one of five boulders in the southern section of the cemetery along Kew Gardens Road being dedicated to those lying in unmarked graves. The procession then moved on to the 9/11 Memorial Garden located on the cemetery's highest point near the flagpole, and continued to the lake where paper lanterns inscribed with the thoughts of families and friends were launched at dusk. Father Charles McCarron, pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Kew Gardens, led the prayers, and Mama Donna, a spiritualist, also participated.

Among the assembled crowd was Gloria Coco, a Cook County, Illinois, circuit court judge who, with her husband, had flown in from Chicago, to honor a great uncle, Alfio Freddie Manninici, for whose place of burial the family had searched for 80 years until finding an old death certificate that revealed he was buried in Maple Grove.

Mr. Manninici has no gravestone marking his grave, and neither do hundreds of those buried in the early days of the cemetery when flu epidemic victims and others whose families were without the means to pay for headstones were interred in unmarked mass graves.

Now these dead will share common headstones, the "story stones" as the five boulders have been named. Two of the boulders have already been dedicated in this year's and last year's day of remembrance and lantern festival ceremonies. The other three stones will be dedicated over the coming three years. Families can purchase plaques to be placed on the boulders.

Ms. Coco was so moved by her own family's successful search for its ancestor that she wrote a one-person play about searching for a family's roots and spoke about that search at last week's gathering. "Her speech has meaning for many of us," Ms. Mayo-Perez said. "So we are going to do a whole event about families searching for their roots when our new building is completed, probably next fall." The new building, under construction at the east end of the cemetery on Kew Gardens Road will, when completed, provide 18,000 square feet of space for administrative offices and family gatherings among other functions.

The 65-acre, not-for-profit, non-sectarian cemetery which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, was founded in 1875. Among those buried there are Albon Platt Man Jr. (Summit, Lot 14B, Grave Number 1), son of the founder of Kew Gardens, as well as members of old Queens families that include the Sutphins, Wyckoffs, Ketchams and Snedekers. The 23 9/11 victims include four New York City firefighters, three who served in Manhattan firehouses, and one from a Brooklyn firehouse.

Those attending the recent day of remembrance and lantern festival ceremony mostly represented families and friends. But among those who also came, Ms. Mayo-Perez said, was a nun who teaches religious rituals and traditions at St. John's University. "She lives in Kew Gardens but never even knew the cemetery was here until she heard about the lantern festival," she said. "Now she plans to come to our other events."

Just as dusk was giving way to darkness, families and friends launched their 50 or so lanterns, each with a lit candle inside. "May we find peace in our hearts and in the world," said one. Others said simply, "Forever love," and "Love mom and dad."

The lanterns bobbed, floating here and there following the whims of the wind, small points of light on the darkening water that clung together as if seeking solace from each other. The bagpipers played a last tune. People lingered, seeming reluctant to leave as though their presence would comfort both the lanterns on their journey, and themselves.  [Back to top of page.]

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