Nestled in a plot between Roswell Park and Darwin Martin – a pair of historical heavyweights in Forest Lawn’s Section H – it was former Cheektowaga farmer Amos Ray who stole the show Thursday.
Ray, an early Cheektowaga settler who died in 1863, has been interred in a family grave at Forest Lawn since 1928, when his remains were relocated with those of other family members from Cheektowaga’s First Settlers/Bennet Family Cemetery.
Eighty-four years later, his 900-pound headstone finally made that same 5½-mile journey.
“This really means a lot to the Ray family,” said James G. Ray III, Amos’ great-great-grandson, whose genealogical research proved instrumental in Thursday’s reunion. “We’re just happy we could set things right.”
Ray and his father, James Jr., uncloaked Amos Ray’s newly cleaned and polished Civil War-era headstone at his family’s plot during a ceremony in Forest Lawn that attracted several members of the Cheektowaga Historical Association, Forest Lawn President Joseph P. Dispenza and local media.
The Rays were tickled – and proud – that their ancestor, who once owned much of the Cheektowaga land now occupied by Walden Galleria, generated so much attention in a cemetery that boasts some of the nation’s most historically influential figures.
“It’s very interesting,” said James Ray Jr., 84, of Grand Island, who recalled visiting one of Amos’ two sons, George, his grandfather, as a young child. “If it weren’t for … [my son], none of this would have happened.”
James Ray III first contacted the Cheektowaga Historical Association earlier this year, explaining that his great-great-grandfather’s headstone and remains were separated. The Town of Tonawanda resident and family history buff was quick, however, to deflect praise onto many others involved in Thursday’s event.
“[The Historical Association members] were just marvelous,” James Ray III said. “They really took an interest in this.”
Historical Association members took Ray’s information to Forest Lawn and Stone Art Memorial Co. Both then donated extensive labor and materials to execute the careful relocation from Cheektowaga to the Buffalo cemetery.
“The family was here 80 years ago. The family was here 100 years ago. Today you’re here for a happy occasion,” Dispenza told Ray family members. “It’s said, … ‘There is nothing so sad as the unremembered dead.’ Today, the graves are marked.”
Thursday’s event was the latest in a continuing restoration project by the Cheektowaga Historical Association that began two years ago at the town’s “oldest cemetery” near Walden Avenue and Harlem Road, said Maureen E. Gleason, a leader of the association.
“We would never have known this if Mr. Ray hadn’t come forward,” Gleason said. “It’s just the fate of God.”
Gleason said the Cheektowaga historical group has “come across many mysteries” in the old cemetery during its restoration, including the discovery of Amos Ray’s antique headstone, which was found propped up against a back fence along with three “empty foundations” in the burial ground.
“We were perplexed, to say the least,” Gleason said, explaining that James Ray III’s research provided the long-sought solution to the riddle. “We now have the answer to our ‘unsolved mystery.’ ”
Some people suggested that the size and weight of the marble and sandstone marker might be the reason it never followed Amos to his new “final resting place” in Forest Lawn.
Gleason said that it has been a dream of hers to unite Ray’s headstone with his remains.
Amos Ray was a native of Great Barrington, Mass., who in 1823 moved to what was then part of Amherst – now Cheektowaga – with his parents, Joseph and Prudence, and older brother, James. He went on to become a farmer and also the director of the Batavia Plank Road Co., a toll road for farmers that later became what we now recognize as Genesee Street, Historical Association officials explained.
Amos Ray and his wife, Maria Ferris Ray, had two sons, Frank and George, prior to his death in 1863. He was interred in the Bennet Family Cemetery along with his father, who died in 1848. His mother and brother would also be buried there in 1864 and 1887, respectively.
Although not related to the Bennets, the Rays were “friends and neighbors,” and it was “common practice” for the town’s founding families to be buried there, the Historical Association says.
George Ray, who went on to become a successful businessman in Buffalo, bought a family plot in Forest Lawn’s Section H in 1889. George Ray’s mother; her second husband, Nathan Webb; and older brother Frank were interred in the plot between 1899 and 1916 before he arranged to have his four family members’ remains still in Cheektowaga – including those of his father, Amos Ray – relocated to Forest Lawn in 1928.