The Sheldon Cemetery outside Ralph Wilson Stadium
There's more than cheering and tailgating at Ralph Wilson Stadium, something that was here long before the stadium ever existed. It's under the stadium lights and behind Gate Seven; The Sheldon Cemetery. And it's been there since the early 1800's.
"Mr. Sheldon and his wife lost a child at three weeks of age and that child was the first person to be buried in this plot," said Sue Kulp, Orchard Park Town and Village Historian.
And for generations, more Sheldons followed to call it their final resting place.
"My great-grandma and grandpa are here," said Gary Hartloff.
Up until the 1970s, the family burial was surrounded by farmland, few homes and no traffic.
"I remember the big barn that sat here," said Barbara Miller, a descendent of the Sheldons.
"There was a road leading up here and we used to follow the road and we couldn't find the cemetery," said Susan Phillips. "But once we did we thought, wow."
Descendants of the Sheldon family would always come back to pay their respects and honor their ancestors. Barbara Miller would visit the place to honor her great grandmother, Eleanor Sheldon, known to everyone as Nellie.
"It was almost like a magical place," said Susan Phillips. "Scary, but magical too for us."
But there was a spark in that magic in 1973 when the Bills' stadium was about to go up. Architects wanted it to go right over the cemetery.
"They were going to move the cemetery to put the stadium here and family members, my mom and aunt Lola Sheldon said no way, you move the stadium, you're not moving the cemetery," said Hartloff.
"There was somebody buried here in 1932," said Susan Phillips. "It was too recent that they could not move the cemetery."
"They changed the position of the stadium," said Gary Phillips, a descendent of the Sheldon Family. "This is not the 50 yard line and the stadium I believe was turned a bit because of this. That's why when you get the wind changes in there you almost think it's the spirits turning the wind. When you see a football kicked and it goes wide right or to the side, it changes just drastically. The wind changes and I believe that's the position of the stadium. So this cemetery probably had something to do with them winning or losing their games. I'm sure it did."
"I just think it's the spirits getting back at 'em," Susan Phillips said. "But I hope they would be Bills fans."
But whether the departed Sheldons are Bills fans or not, the family says their final resting place is sometimes a mess after game days.
"A lot of people don't realize this is a cemetery, sacred grounds, and they'll throw garbage over the fence and beer cans," said Hartloff.
"Please respect the cemetery for what it is", said Robert Phillips. "Don't throw any beer cans over the fence."
The family still comes most weeks to clean up that trash. Even the younger generations help, like 13 year old Robert.
"I hope that my kids come here and help and then their kids, so hopefully, it continues on," he said.
And they want the stories of the past generations to continue on as well like ones about the matriarch of the family who was of Native American descent. The town historian thinks the Bills and the Sheldons may need a mediator of sorts.
"I think we need to get an American Indian who knows how to communicate with the spirits to come and do a, talk to those spirits to say, oh come on now, let's forgive these people for building the stadium here and let's help these fellas win these games (laughing)," said Kulp.
The town historian says before the stadium and even the farmland there was an Indian village on what is now Ralph Wilson Stadium. But there are no signs of any headstones or documentation giving any more information than that.