A Queens College professor returning home from vacation found a mysterious gravestone lying in his yard and was set to break it into pieces when he realized how special it was.
Allan Rudman says he got back to his Flushing home last week to find the gravestone sitting by his fence. The geologist initially planned to hit it with a hammer and break it into pieces.
"It was actually leaning up against this with the writing-side down, so I leaned it back so I could get a better shot at it, and I saw that the underside had an inscription on it, and I realized it was a headstone," said Rudman.
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"Thank God I hadn't hit it with the hammer yet," he said.
The gravestone was that of famous abolitionist Wilson Rantus, who died in 1861. He was a free middle-class black man who lived in Queens in the 1800s.
Rantus fought against slavery, published a small newspaper and worked to establish a school for black children in what was then known as the village of Jamaica, now Flushing, documents show.
He owned a large farm encompassed by Main Street, Gravett Road, Melbourne Avenue and 149th Street, according to historical records. On his farm was a cemetery, where he was buried. Rudman assumes the tombstone came from somewhere around there, but no one knows for sure.
"When his property -- the cemetery in which he was buried -- was sold, his remains were taken to Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn," said Rudman.
Rantus' remains moved to Brooklyn, but the tombstone stayed behind, undiscovered -- until someone dumped it in the Flushing yard.
"Why me? Why would they throw it over the fence? I don't understand why it was put here. No one picked me, there's no reason why anyone would give this to me," he said.
Rudman says the Queens Historical Society and Queens Public Library want to look at it, as do the people who run the Brooklyn cemetery where Rantus' remains are.
"I'm glad I got it, I'm glad I didn't destroy it, and I'm hoping it will go to a place where it will be valued and respected," he said.