June 7, 2016: I have always had an interest in history and especially an interest in the history of people who have made famous, but also not-famous, contributions to science or society. Thus, when I read Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff, with a real-life character from a small town in New York that I frequently visit, I knew I had to find her grave and pay my respects. On a recent trip to New York, we journeyed to St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Owego to find the grave of Margaret Hastings Atkinson, one of just three survivors of an ill-fated sight-seeing trip that killed 21 others.
In Lost in Shangri-La, Zuckoff tells the real-life tale of a group of officers and enlisted men and women stationed on the former Dutch New Guinea during World War II. One afternoon in May 1945, they travel by Gremlin transport plane to fly over a little-known area of New Guinea, a “shangri-la” of beautiful green foliage, steep mountains, weather patterns – and a civilization of people – all its own. Due to circumstances still debated, the plane crashed and most of the people on board were killed. Those who did survive, Margaret included, slowly recovered and became the focus of a rescue mission. Though news of the crash and rescue mission spread around the world quickly, with the survivors becoming modern-day celebrities, little was known of this story until Zuckoff told it.
I won’t review the book. You can find several reviews here, here, and here, among others. I will tell you that it’s a very very good story and the book has been passed around to at least seven of my family members and friends. After reading it, all come away with a feeling of astonishment – that Margaret and her colleagues survived, that the life of a people previously unknown to the world changed forever, and that this whole story has finally been told.
The point of this entry is to describe how to find Margaret’s grave. We could not find a lot of information about how to do so and it wasn’t clear in the book exactly where to find it.
Margaret’s grave can be found in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, on the outskirts of Owego, NY. Upon entering the cemetery, look immediately to your right and you will find several rows of large gray Irish tombstones, with family names engraved on the front. The Hastings tombstone is in the second row, the second one in. Park you car and go out to it. Admire the craftsmanship of the engravings and the quality of the stone. In-line with the marker, walk toward the road. There you will find three markers in the ground, a gray one for each of her parents and a bronze one for her.
We were pleasantly surprised to see how nicely it was kept, though we did pull out some longer grass around the edges.
Find out more about this amazing woman by reading the book review at NPR.
Update, January 2, 2017: In October 2016, a historical marker was located in front of Margaret Hasting’s home in Owego, NY. It’s nice to see the local community acknowledge her.