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54 Years a Gravedigger

It's fitting perhaps that among my final interviews for Patch was this hour-long visit with Frank Drahos, lifelong Tarrytowner who has worked at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery since he started working alongside his Czech father in May of 1959.

This week is his last week of work as it is mine. But unlike my two years consumed with the buzzing life of 10591, he's been quietly busy tending to the dead.

Drahos was a gravedigger for a staggering 54 years. As you might imagine, this means he has so many great stories, unfortunately none of them involving ghosts or headless horsemen, and happily not as sad as you might expect. See video here.

He does have a lot to say about real rather than mythic horses, back when his dad and his grandfather before him used horses to tend to the cemetery, along with wheelbarrows, hand drills, shovels. See video here.

Drahos, who lives with his longtime girlfriend, was feted with a goodbye dinner in Elmsford last Friday and said he'll "go back to my fishing and walking," then added, perhaps jokingly, "I'll sit down and watch TV and eat snacks."

Hard to picture he'd stay on the couch for long.

At 74, though he is hard of hearing and admits he's suffering from arthritis, Drahos seems fit as a fiddle. All that outdoor labor suited him, save for winter, which he said was always the hardest in a year full of hard work. He liked the work. He enjoyed the independence, wandering the grounds that he knew better than anybody -- helping the lost tourist, as he does more and more often -- and tending to so many plots that might otherwise have gone forgotten. 

"I work by myself, nobody bothers me."

Among these plots, his own parents off over there, where there's room for him someday though he brushed that idea aside. Friends that he grew up with who served in wars he was lucky to avoid. There's those horses of his dad's buried down there... Leona Helmsley, of course, enjoying her prime spot, a "very beautiful spot." Washington Irving is thatta way...

He recounts some movies made here -- and the time the workers left all the bodies in the receiving vault while they were striking. The film crew had to stop the movie production when the workers returned to work so they could get those bodies out.

Teens used to vandalize the place more than they do now, he said. They used to steal glass from the mausoleum, take brass from the doors, walk off with benches, or, well, dig up the dead. "God knows what could be missing," he said. 

Then there was the time those horses ate the pies... (See video above.)

Drahos plants begonias for Memorial Day and positions flags for veterans. On this day, he was still salting the roadways as the snow began making a beautiful setting even lovelier. 

"This was my home," he said, clearly ambivalent about setting off into retirement. Drahos said everyone in recent years was always asking when he'd retire, and now that the time's come, they wish he would stay.  

"Now what are we going to do," Margaret Olsen asked, who's put in good time here herself as an office administrator for 24 years. "He puts everything into his job. Snow, rain, he's out there. Doing his job."

"I can't just sit here," Drahos said. "If I don't do anything, time goes so slow."

"There's nothing like Frank," Olsen then said. "He's the best."

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jerry Eimbinder February 08, 2014 at 09:24 AM
Krista is a star.
Dean Gallea February 08, 2014 at 01:03 PM
Krista, thanks for all the great stories and superb writing. Sorry Patch is becoming history. I hope you are able to find another local outlet for your creativity.
Jeanne February 08, 2014 at 01:04 PM
Susan Miles, you are absolutely right. When the entrance ramp from Rt. 9 to the Tappan Zee Bridge was closed, I sent a note to Krista asking if anything could be done. I am sure I was not the only one , but Krista was on it immediately, the response was huge, and within 24 hours the ramp was open again. I rest my case. Big mistake, Patch. Nobody will be able to fill those shoes.
Jean Dermer February 10, 2014 at 05:30 PM
I feel like I know you, Krista,tho we've never met. I wish you much luck, and thanks so much for your wonderful reporting. You've really helped keep me in touch with my hometown.
storiesheal March 29, 2014 at 01:55 PM
Frank. Just, Frank. An institution. His work is like a ministry. So grateful to know him, have worked with him and to know he diligently & respectfully cared for our family members' remains. Have a marvelously healthy, happy satisfying retirement, Frank. Big thanks! And big thanks to you, Krista, for your gift and dedication.

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