A Catskill Catalog: Nov. 12, 2008

Usually, I do my research before I write. Usually. A couple of weeks ago, I took a shortcut. Writing about the founder of the hospital in Margaretville, Dr. Gordon Maurer, I mentioned that his epitaph appeared in a book of American epitaphs. Dr. Maurer was killed exactly 70 years ago in a November 1938 hunting accident. He is buried in the old Margaretville Cemetery.
It’s not that I made anything up. It’s just that, in the midst of a busy week, I didn’t go to the cemetery to look for the headstone to read the epitaph myself. Instead, I took the information about it from Ethel Bussy’s classic 1960 book History and Stories of Margaretville and Surrounding Areas, lent to me a couple of months ago by my accountant (in the midst of a national financial crisis, it seems reassuring to use the phrase my accountant.)
The other day, I corrected my mistake. I spent an hour or so wandering through the terraced old cemetery looking for Dr. Maurer’s headstone. It is a wonderful cemetery, an old-fashioned park-like rural resting place that contains the names of many who figure prominently in the history of this part of the Catskills. A tall granite obelisk marks the grave of Orson Allaben, Margaretville’s founder, and that of his wife, Thankful Dimmick, daughter of Noah Dimmick, Arkville’s first citizen. Ray Marks, elected Delaware County Treasurer in 1932, rests there. I found several graves of people I knew.
The cemetery is on a sidehill, and reaching the top requires a bit of a climb, but at the very top of the hill, on the uppermost terrace, I found what I was looking for. It was worth the effort! Gordon Bostwick Maurer, 1899-1938, is memorialized by a massive double-wide granite slab on which is inscribed a profound and moving poem of remembrance and respect, written by Dr. Maurer’s friend, Clark Sanford, and published originally in the Catskill Mountain News in Sanford’s column, “The Mountaineer.”
Standing next to the headstone, one looks directly across the East Branch valley at the hill on the other side, looking directly at the Margaretville Hospital, founded by Dr. Maurer and dedicated as a memorial to him. What is uncanny, and a bit magical, is that that hospital was not built there until 30 years after Dr. Maurer’s death. His interment in a spot that directly overlooks the hospital he founded is, at least, a delightful coincidence. Perhaps, it is more.
And the epitaph! If you can, take the hike to the top of the cemetery hill and see it for yourself. It tells the story of a young man who graduated first in his class as an undergraduate engineer, and then, at Yale Medical School, number one in his class once again. More importantly, it tells the story of the connection made by an individual and a community.
Let the Mountaineer give us his remembrance. The headstone reads as follows.
“Thirteen years ago there came here a city chap, trained in one of the great universities.
The other members of his class went to ‘big towns.’
He, with the best records of them all, wanted to begin the practice of medicine in a country village.
He had compiled a list of prospective communities. He looked over several and chose us.
An untried city college boy—with magic hands, a keen vision, and uncanny knowledge of both the human body and the soul which activates it.
Soon after arrival he was called upon to care for a life given up as lost. He saved it.
He began to save others. He worked day and night. When he did not have proper apparatus or appliances he built some. When the snows kept him from patients he constructed a snowmobile.
Neither storm nor night nor mud nor snow kept him from the sick.
He took people into his home. It became a veritable hospital.
The fame of the boy spread throughout the section. Men and women from all walks of life asked for his attention.
The community built a hospital that he and others might better care for those who needed care, medication and operation.
He continued. When a tired body all but gave up, he took a year out and returned to Yale for special work that he might come home and serve better.
He had tired of city pastimes. The lure of the country had been breathed into his soul. Camp, rod and gun, open fires, life in great outdoors gave zest, relief, happiness.
He loved our hills, our mode of life; he knew our ambitions, he smiled at our shortcomings
He gave freely. Much of the work he did was without charge. Few knew the extent of his help to those who needed help. He served as few had ever served here before.
He was physician, parson, priest, confessor—we told him both our physical and mental troubles and he put us back on the road to reason and living.
Thirteen years he served. It was a life work worthwhile.
Today our hearts are numb at his loss, our senses befogged to know how to live without him. May we turn from the tragedy of the golden Indian summer morning that knew his death.
And in the bleak days of the approaching Thanksgiving season thank God for those thirteen years.”