As a child, Harry Pomasanoff always knew about the neighbors who resided behind his Tuttle Avenue home, though he would not visit them for the first time until he was much older.During a recent interview, he talked about how he began volunteering his time more than 30 years ago, helping trim bushes, removing rubbish and, basically, making sure everything was neat and tidy in their shared yard for when visitors would come around.
But Mr. Pomasanoff was not helping a single neighbor—rather, he was tending the final resting spots of the more than 600 people who are interred at the Eastport Cemetery.
Today, the 80-year-old Eastport native, who has always lived near his hometown cemetery, continues to care for his longtime neighbors as president of the Eastport Cemetery Association, a title he has held for the past six years. In fact, maintaining the burial ground is a responsibility he has taken upon himself since 1979, following his retirement from the Southampton Town Police Department and after those association members who showed him the ropes when it came to tending to the 5-acre property could no longer handle the responsibility.
“They make good neighbors,” Mr. Pomasanoff joked while walking around the burial ground on the afternoon of September 24. “Nice and quiet. Though we do hear people howling at the moon every once in a while.”
Though he could not offer a specific example of inspiration for doing what he does, those who know Mr. Pomasanoff agree that he clearly takes great pride in his work. It is also personal for him as both of his parents, Peter and Nellie Pomasanoff, and grandfather, Zollie Privett, are buried there as well.
But now that he is getting older, Mr. Pomasanoff is worried about what will happen to the cemetery when he can no longer take care of it. His more immediate concern, however, is laying the foundation so that the group can start raising money to install a new road that will provide access to the northern part of the property, where several open plots are located.
He, along with his daughter, Sharon Murray of Eastport, and three other board members of the Eastport Cemetery Association—Randy Crennan, Keith Kostuk and Hank Adelwerth, who all live in Eastport—are continuing to maintain the burial ground, though the expense is growing with each passing year. Though they did not have specific figures in terms of annual cost, Ms. Murray pointed out that it costs $320 every time the lawn must be mowed, usually a weekly occurrence in the fall and spring months.
“We’re not looking to make money,” Ms. Murray said, explaining that their main priority at this time is raising funds to finance the road, which needs to be about 12 feet wide and 600 feet long.
She noted that the road’s installation will offer more opportunities for local families to purchase plots in the cemetery, which now boasts 450 open lots. Ms. Murray also said that plans are still in the early stages, and the association has received a few estimates for the work, but do not have an exact figure yet. She is estimating that the road extension will cost between $5,000 and $6,000.
The main problem is that the association, which also owns the property, only collects a one-time $1,000 fee every time an individual is interred at the cemetery, as opposed to others that typically charge a monthly fee to cover maintenance costs. Ms. Murray said those collected fee pays for the gravedigger while the remainder of the money is used to finance lawn care, insurance, water fees and garbage disposal.
Due to those costs, there is next to nothing left to take on such capital projects. That is why members of the Eastport Cemetery Association hope their annual fundraiser, scheduled for later this month, will provide some much-needed revenue.
The event, called Octoberfest, will be held at the American Legion Post 1545 hall on Montauk Highway in Eastport on Saturday, October 18, from 6 until 10 p.m. Tickets are $40 each and can be purchased by contacting the legion at (631) 325-2110. Some of the proceeds will go toward the road project. Those who cannot attend are encouraged to write checks to “The Eastport Cemetery Association” and mail them to P.O. Box 2, Eastport, NY 11941.
Another item on the association’s to-do list over the next few years is repairing the old stones that have fallen into disrepair. Mr. Pomasanoff and Ms. Murray want to fix some of the cracked and broken stones in addition to cleaning them.
Mr. Pomasanoff walks the grounds every day to check on the stones and pick up debris that may have blown in from the previous day. The cemetery fees and donations pay for landscaping on the grounds, but Mr. Pomasanoff said he likes checking up on things just the same.
“We tried to dig up the older stones,” he said, referring to a row of markers buried under thick weeds and overgrown plants on the southeastern side of the cemetery. Those stones, located behind the Eastport Bible Church parking lot, date back to the early 1800s. Another problem, he pointed out, is there are no real records on file for those buried before 1905—the same year the cemetery was incorporated.
“We don’t have any records for those,” Mr. Pomasanoff said. “It’s really too bad.”
Mr. Pomasanoff has a book with details of those buried in the cemetery from 1905 until 1933. He has no record, however, for those interred prior to 1905 and from 1933 until the mid-1970s.
“We thought maybe the church would be involved,” he said, referring to the Eastport Bible Church, “but they never found anything either.”
A representative of the church said Tuesday that the parish does not have any records for the graveyard, noting that it has never been the church’s responsibility to maintain it.
Ms. Murray, who has volunteered at the cemetery alongside her father for more than a decade, said she was saddened to know that a significant piece of Eastport’s history was lost in the shuffle.
“It’s sad,” she said while trying to clean off one of the 19th century headstones. “I can’t even read some of these names anymore.
“No matter how old they are, though,” she continued, “they deserve to be able to have a nice final resting place.”