The tiny Sheldon Family Cemetery is nestled smack in the middle of New Era Field stadium’s car park in Orchard Park, New York.
It once rested on private farmland. Today, its location is decidedly less serene grounds for eternal rest. There, thousands of NFL fans party with copious amounts of alcohol before home games in the car park and then make their way to the stadium gates.
The rowdy fans are largely unaware that the quaint, fenced-off plot of land standing between their parked vehicles and the stadium is a cemetery containing more than 20 graves of a New York state family. The exact number is unknown due to sparse records and unmarked graves. It’s not that the cemetery is secret or concealed. It’s simply hidden in plain sight, placed immediately between the VIP parking lot and one of the stadium’s entrances, obstructed by some trees.
Visitors might also pay more attention to the portable toilets that sometimes line the semi-hidden graveyard's perimeter. ...
So how did more than 20 people end up buried in a highly trafficked car park? The answer dates back nearly two centuries, long before the Buffalo Bills team was established in 1960. It started in 1832 when Joseph Sheldon, a surveyor for the Holland Land Company, asked his neighbour Solomon Curtis if he might have permission to bury his infant son John, who died just weeks after birth, in the clearing of an apple orchard a short walk from a local creek. Curtis permitted the burial, eventually deeding the small parcel of land to Joseph Sheldon with one stipulation, according to a 1986 article in the Orchard Park Bee, a local newspaper: Joseph must reserve a plot of land for Curtis to be buried when the time came. (It’s unclear, however, if Curtis was ever actually interred in the land as he had requested.)
But through the years, the cemetery grew: Joseph Sheldon died, was buried beside his infant son John, and was followed by his wife Tryphena, their children, plus members of the extended family, neighbours and descendants. The last cemetery plot was dug after 1920, shortly before the Curtis family sold the surrounding land to the DuPont Company, the American chemicals conglomerate. ...
According family lore, Ralph Wilson, owner of the Bills at the time of the sale to Erie County, planned to position the football field’s 50-yard line right where the cemetery was located — until the Sheldon descendents got wind of the tentative plan to exhume the graves. “When the county decided to put the football stadium out there, they had to get the approval of the living relatives of those in the cemetery,” Dean Hartloff said. “I had a couple hard-headed great-aunts” — one of whom was his aunt Hermine Hartloff, the mother of Gary Hartloff, the cemetery’s sole groundskeeper today — “who refused to sign off, who wouldn’t let them move the cemetery.”
“But Ralph Wilson didn’t wait, he just built around it,” Dean Hartloff said of the team’s previous owner. The stadium design was flipped as to not disturb the graves. Unfortunately for the Bills, the stadium’s open end had to face east-west rather than north-south, allowing a sort of lopsided crosswind to enter the stadium that is often blamed for kickers’ and quarterbacks’ in-game blunders.Comment: Map location Google / Bing
Colton Schmidt #6 and Dan Carpenter #2 of the Buffalo Bills react to a missed field goal try during the first half against the New England Patriots on October 30, 2016 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. New England defeats Buffalo 41-25.