Since 2006, three different seminar courses in American studies and Anthropology at Penn State University Abington College have sought to locate the birth and burial spots of four Arctic explorers all born in Pennsylvania. Some of these, such as the birthplace of Robert E. Peary outside Altoona, PA, are relatively well-known, as of course is his burial place at Arlington National Cemetery. The other three Arctic explorers, Edwin de Haven, Elisha Kent Kane, and Isaac Israel Hayes, proved more difficult to trace. Kane’s crypt was located in 2006 at the famous Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and in the summer of 2012, the grave of de Haven was located at Christ Church, Philadelphia, little more than 50 feet from the grave of Benjamin Franklin.
The final resting place of Arctic explorer Isaac Israel Hayes, however, proved a much more difficult task. Penn State Abington student Kevin Drew in 2006 uncovered a lead to a Friends cemetery in West Chester, PA. Abington students Steven Mangier and Janet Stock followed up on this in the spring semester, 2013, but made little headway until a field trip to the Friends cemetery in West Chester on 3 April 2013 failed to locate Hayes. However, on this same trip, Stock alertly took down the phone number of a locale Friends school and that led to a lead that Hayes was in fact buried in another Friends cemetery, one located in the nearby village of West Goshen, PA. A second field trip, this to West Goshen, finally discovered the grave of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D., in the Oakland Friends Burial Ground.
The modest white marker over Dr. Hayes is difficult to read. It has a patina of lichen growth over much of it. Hayes is surrounded by other Hayeses from his immediate family, including his father Benjamin, who outlived his famous son. Isaac Israel Hayes was born on 5 March 1832 and died in New York on 17 December 1881. After his internment, the only mention of him in the New York Times is a brief note from May of 1882 that described a delegation from New York coming to place flowers on his grave on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day). The students of Penn State Abington who found Hayes on 17 April 2013 were likely some of the first visitors to the Arctic explorer’s grave site in a century or more. –P.J. Capelotti
Dr. P.J. Capelotti is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Penn State Abington. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the history of polar exploration, including Shipwreck at Cape Flora: The Expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith, England’s Forgotten Arctic Explorer (2013) and By Airship to the North Pole: An Archaeology of Human Exploration (1999), as well as the novel Nautilus: a modern sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, soon to be published under his pseudonym, Peter Shaw.