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Dec 2, 2022

Hoopar Brothers Gravestone in Edison, New Jersey

From an unattributed article in the Atlas Obscura web site:

In a graveyard next to Saint James Episcopal Church in Edison, New Jersey lies a large red sandstone tablet that tells a somber story of two brothers that fell victim to the dangers of wild mushroom foraging in the 17th century.

Sometime in 1693, brothers Richard and Charles Hoopar came across some mushrooms and decided to eat them. They were dead within a day. The brothers were buried together under a ledger-style gravestone in what is today the Old Piscatawaytown Burial Ground. While being one of the oldest marked gravestones in the United States, Reader’s Digest has also reported this as the oldest known recorded case of mushroom poisoning in the US.

The text on the stone is still quite legible, albeit difficult to decipher due to its use of old English. It reads: “SPATATERS VNDERNEATH THIS TOMB LIES 2 BOYES THAT LAY IN ONE WOMB / THE ELDEST WAS FULL 12 YEARS OLD THE YONGEST WAS V TWICE TOLD BY EATING MUSHROOMS FOR FOOD RARE IN A DAYS TIME THEY POYSEOND WERE RICHARD HOOPAR AND CHARLES HOOPAR / DESESED AVGVST ANNO DOM 1693”

A reader of the magazine Weird N.J. provided the following translation: “Spectators, beneath this tomb lay two brothers, aged 12 and 10 years. They died within one day of eating poisoned mushrooms. Their names were Richard and Charles Hoopar and they died in 1693.”

Though still unidentified, AmericanMushrooms.com postulates a likely candidate for the ultimately fatal mushroom: the Death Cap, also known as Amanita phalloides. Though rare in New Jersey, this fungus does occur beneath oak trees in the state. In fact, a number of deaths and illnesses attributed to eating the same kind of mushroom were reported in the New York Times, including the deaths of two people in Paterson, New Jersey in September 1911. 

Whatever the identity of this mushroom, the facts remain the same: One week in 1693, two brothers succumbed to poisoning and were lain to rest together near Edison, New Jersey.

The moral of this story: Never, ever eat wild mushrooms unless you really, really, really know what you are doing!

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