Stefan Foster grew up like most kids – going on adventures, finding fascination in the smallest things, and enjoying “mystery rides” with his grandma where she took him to look at “old ancestral sites and cemeteries around the county.” Okay, maybe that last part isn’t just like most kids.
Foster currently lives in Buffalo, New York but grew up in Norwich, where his grandma took him on his adventures. When he was around 8-years-old, he came upon a unique grave in Beardsley Cemetery in Oxford, New York.
The unique resting place read “Little Merritt’s Tomb”.
The tomb belonged to a little boy named Merritt Beardsley. Merritt grew up in a home next door to the cemetery. In 1865, at only eight years old, Merritt fell extremely ill with a fever and in his final days asked his dad not to bury him underground because he was afraid of the dark. So, his dad did what any dad would do – he made a special tomb for his son that included a window so that Merritt would never be left alone in the dark.
After hearing the story, Foster became fascinated with the tomb and history surrounding it.
Over the years, Merritt’s tomb, unfortunately, became a common target for vandalism. The window was continuously broken, then fixed, only to be broken again. After a while, it stopped getting fixed.
Meanwhile, Foster continued to visit the cemetery, and Merritt, and noticed the ever-present vandalism. Because he was so touched by the story behind the tomb, Foster decided he was going to do something to get Merritt’s resting spot cleaned up and his window back in place. So, he began to think up ways to raise money to have the site restored. He started with a book he wrote in 2014, “Pining for the Past: Little Merritt’s Tomb & The Beardsley Cemetery“.
Foster’s book sold several hundred copies, and all the proceeds went towards new stonework, plantings, and a historical site marker. In 2016 Foster and Kurt Riegel, another local man interested in the project, raised more than $6,500 for the restoration – which included Plexiglas in Merritt’s window to ensure it would not be broken again.
Today, Foster continues to maintain Little Merritt’s Tomb and has also started restoring other sites in cemeteries across the state. Additionally, he manages a Facebook page that he created in 2013 where he posted progress pictures of the 2016 restoration of the tomb. He continues to post updates, articles, and facts about sweet Merritt.
Foster’s story has touched those in his community and beyond. “Visitors have been leaving toys, flowers, and other small gifts,” said Foster. “Rather than finding shattered glass and heaving stones, the cemetery now reflects an improved state, with more care and awareness surrounding it.”
Hopefully Little Merritt can rest in peace knowing he will never have to fear the dark again.
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