GLENS FALLS -- When “Bronco” Charles Miller was alive, he told people around Glens Falls he was born in a covered wagon en route to California.
Miller, who lived from 1850 to 1955, was a Pony Express rider in his youth, drove a stage coach in Montana, and performed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, according to information on file at the City Historian’s office.
Miller is buried beneath a towering cedar tree on the Bay Street side of Glens Falls Cemetery.
Three of Miller’s children, all three of whom died in 1896, are buried near him, and another daughter, who lived to her 90s, is buried on the Webster Avenue side of the cemetery.
Cemetery Superintendent Christopher Anderson theorizes that the three siblings who died in 1896 caught a contagious disease such as the flu, or there was a disaster, such as a fire.
“The 1918 flu epidemic, in the month of October, this cemetery did about 120 burials,” he said.
That’s more burials in one month than the cemetery has had in any one year in recent decades.
This year, 20 people have been buried in the cemetery and the cremated ashes of 28 others have been interred, as of last Thursday, said Anderson has been cemetery superintendent since 1997 but will take a forced retirement in the spring.
He said 14,849 people had been interred in the cemetery, as of Thursday, since it opened in 1854.
“I would believe that is slightly higher than the living population of the city,” he said.
Anderson is correct.
The city population, as of the 2010 U.S. Census, was 14,700, said City Clerk Bob Curtis.
Anderson is the 11th, and last, cemetery superintendent.
The position, with an annual salary of $52,745, is being eliminated to keep the 2014 budget within the state’s 2 percent property tax cap.
The job cut does not reflect on Anderson’s job performance, said Mayor John “Jack” Diamond.
“It’s trying to be economically viable to stay within the tax cap,” Diamond said. “It’s not because of his performance. He’s done a great job.” When Anderson retires, the city Department of Public Works will take over supervision of the two cemetery workers.
The cut is a continuation of interdepartmental cooperation, Diamond said.
Cemetery workers, for the past two years, have been helping the DPW with clearing snow during winter months.
“So there’s other departments willing to help each other out to get to the bottom line,” Diamond said. “The days of, ‘That’s not in my job description,’ — those days are over.”
Amy Collins, the city’s director of tourism and business, will take over keeping cemetery records and coordinating cemetery tours and publicity.
Collins said she hopes to establish a cemetery foundation to raise private funding and recruit volunteers to expand on cultural aspects of the cemetery, such as the annual cemetery tour, in which The Chapman Historical Museum and Glens Falls Community Theater dramatize stories of prominent people interred there.
Anderson tried starting a foundation in 2006, but could not get sufficient interest at the time.
“It was a good idea. I still think it is a good idea,” he said Thursday.
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Collins said she has some ideas about how to raise private support, but she wants to learn more about the operation before discussing them.
“There’s a learning curve for me,” she said.
Some doubt the cemetery can operate efficiently without a superintendent.
“The thousands of families who buried their relatives there deserve someone in charge,” said Bill Woodward, who organizes the annual cemetery theatrical tours. “Without a proper superintendent, you will see an increase in vandalism, a decrease in beauty, a lack of individual maintenance to gravesites, the lack of shoring up of stones and the lack of filling in of graves that over time fall in like sink holes in Florida.”
Diamond said he is confident the cemetery will be adequately maintained, despite less spending.
The mayor has proposed a $197,829 cemetery budget for 2014, which would be offset with $28,000 in revenue — $3,000 from the sale of lots and $25,000 from contracts for care of lots.
Spending is falling from $279,306 this year, $307,923 in 2012 and about $305,000 per year in 2010 and 2011.
There are still about 1,000 vacant lots that could be sold, but the market for cemetery lots is significantly weaker than in past decades, Anderson said.
Cremation is more common than it used to be, and a number of area veterans are now being buried at Saratoga National Cemetery, he said.
Anderson has worked for the cemetery department since 1989, and has been superintendent since December 1997.
He worked in the city Water and Sewer Department before 1989.
He said he and former Cemetery Superintendent Donald Norton taught religious education classes together at St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church, and Norton suggested he transfer to the Cemetery Department.
Anderson said being cemetery superintendent has been a fulfilling job, particularly because of his interest in genealogy.
He and his wife travel to visit cemeteries in other communities on vacations, he said.
Anderson said his typical day starts with updating cemetery records and reading The Post-Star obituaries, to make sure a funeral director has not scheduled a burial and forgotten to call him.
“I had one case in the last 25 years where the funeral home forgot to call us. That was an interesting day,” he said.
Anderson said there also is “the occasional repossession,” when a monument dealer shows up to take back a gravestone that has not been paid for.
He conducts routine inspections of lots and keeps up maintenance records of equipment, when he’s not assisting with groundskeeping or burials.
“Every piece of equipment, from the smallest trimmer to the truck, has a maintenance sheet in here,” he said, pointing to a filing cabinet in the cemetery office.
Anderson said he has a couple of partially completed projects he won’t be able to finish before he retires.
He said he started entering the cemetery’s handwritten records in a computer database, but hasn’t gotten very far.
And he won’t have time to finish painting the outside of the cemetery office.
“I never got finished, but I painted half this building two years ago,” he said.