But where is her body buried?
Mrs. Reetz was at least 80 when she died in 1949. According to suburban legend, about three decades later her tombstone was found lying casually by the side of a road in New Milford, perhaps hundreds of miles from her home.
Local police tried in vain in the pre-Internet era to identify its owner. Eventually, the borough's Department of Public Works unlocked a fence protecting the historic grounds -- last used for a burial in 1928 -- and placed Bertha's marker there for safe-keeping.
This Mystery of Bertha Reetz came up in conversation this past weekend as the borough, which recently took ownership of the cemetery, held its annual Memorial Day Weekend ceremony to honor the memory of the veterans buried there.
This year was a special occasion. Attending the ceremony were relatives of Cornelius Bogert, a private in the New Jersey Militia during the Revolutionary War who was buried in 1825.
|Terry McQuillin honoring her ancestor's grave|
According to this northjersey.com story, McQuillin is related to Bogert and 12 others buried in the cemetery, since her family descends from David Demarest, the French Huguenot settler of northern New Jersey who founded New Milford.
One person attending the ceremony noted that Bertha's tombstone was more modern than the others. It also haphazardly faces north, on top of a tree root, while all the older gravestones face east.
What we know:
- The cemetery fence didn't exist until the early 1980s, lending some credence to the date and manner of the stone's placement. Several long-time residents who commented when the northjersey.com story was shared on Facebook's "You Know You're From New Milford If..." page noted that they freely roamed and played on the cemetery grounds through the 1970s.
- The last person verifiably buried there is Martha Gustafson Demarest, who died right before her 25th birthday in 1928.
|Bertha's gravestone, facing north|
It was first used in the Spring of 1677, after the family of David Demarest -- who fled his homeland to escape religious persecution -- sailed up the Hackensack River to settle into a new home. David's wife, Marie, fill ill with smallpox during that voyage and died. She was the first person buried here, on a bluff overlooking the river.
There are two inventories of the graves at the site. A 1902 inventory by John Neafie does not, of course, include Bertha, who would have been 34 at the time. One hundred years later, a 2002 inventory by the New Milford Girl Scouts identified approximately 175 tombstone inscriptions. Bertha is listed there, 53 years after her death.
- Who is Bertha Kruger Reetz, and why is her tombstone in New Milford?
A few people interested in local history have tried researching her name, to no avail. Internet searches lead to sites such as "Find a Grave," which only notes that she is buried in the French cemetery.
As one borough resident noted, "We're happy to have given Bertha a home, and she's always welcome here. But we'd appreciate any help in returning her gravestone to its proper place."
Can anyone help solve the mystery of where Mrs. Reetz is really buried?
|Panoramic French Cemetery view; Bertha's stone is in the lower right corner|