Monument honors Buffalo's War of 1812 veterans

May 25, 2012

It may have taken 200 years, but dozens of war veterans who died in Buffalo will receive a more appropriate memorial on Monday.

A commemorative stone will be unveiled at the Gate Eight of the Buffalo Zoo directing attention to the virtually unmarked grave in the heart of the Delaware Park golf course where 300 people are buried.

America honors its heroes, but little respect has been given to these War of 1812 veterans, whose story has been largely untold.

Patrick Kavanagh, Forest Lawn historian, was eager to tell it on a recent sit down inside the cemetery chapel.

A large portion of the tragic Flint Hill encampment took place inside what is now Forest Lawn Cemetery and Patric Kavanagh recounted it vividly, no sad detail left untold

"Well, it all started back in the fall of 1812. Of course, war had come to the Niagara Frontier."

For Kavanagh, the story centers upon the vanity of Brigadier General Alexander Smythe, who had one goal: invade Southern Ontario.

Blinded, perhaps, by a desire to make history, Smythe overlooked the basic needs of his soldiers, unprepared for a brutal Buffalo winter.

A respiratory affliction overwhelmed the encampment. The ill-equipped medical staff had few answers; blood-letting was one of their most desperate measures.

An estimated 300 lives were claimed. William Hodge was contracted to build their coffins, their graves placed in the stony crust of Flint Hill

"The coffins were half way out of the ground," Kavanagh said.

"And then in the Spring of 1813, they removed the remains to an area to what is now Delaware Park.The park meadow. They buried them in a trench like manor. At times, it was known as the Mound in the Meadow because the grave was actually like a mound. Then, of course, it was all flattened."

Kavanagh has no idea who would have "flatttened" a mound of military graves. He does know that in 1896, a large rock, two canons and a flag pole were placed nearby to mark the site. All that's left now, Kavanagh says, is the boulder.

“That boulder is out in the middle of the golf course and you sometimes have to be concerned about your safety when you’re walking across there.”

The story came to light last Memorial Day when a group of volunteers planted 300 small American flags around the boulder.

“Those of us at the zoo who heard the story were so impressed with finding that now there is so little recognition of what those soldiers did for the country that we wanted to bring more attention to it," said Buffalo Zoo President and CEO Donna Fernandes. 

Now, a marker, donated by Stone Art Memorial, will sit outside Gate Eight of the Buffalo Zoo.

"When we were approached by volunteers who were behind this effort we thought we could certainly accommodate a marker on our property. We’re hoping that this will bring more attention to the soldiers,” Fernandes said.

The zoo’s horticulture department has designed a sort of red, white and blue-themed plantings that will go around the stone marker.

Ferndandes says the new stone will prompt the reader to look behind them to the west where the original monument is clearly visible a few hundred yards away.

“All of our school groups exit through here and we have all the pedestrian traffic along the ring road comes by here.”

The dedication of the new stone takes place, fittingly, on Monday, Memorial Day, at 10:30 am, much to the satisfaction handful of passionate volunteers, including Patrick Kavangh.

"I just don’t want them to be forgotten," Kavanagh said.

"I would like people to be aware of what happened at that era of our history and what happened to them, so that they’ll never be forgotten, and certainly give respect to those that died under such terrible conditions.”