23 October 2006

Colonial Gravestones

Today J and I spent the day exploring Concord, Massachusetts with my parents. I was especially drawn to the old cemetery next to St. Bernard's church, where my grandmother and I used to go when we were early for Mass. Today the oldest grave we found marks a death in 1690. (Concord was settled in 1635.)

The artwork is beautiful, and I wished I had done a little research ahead of time to see if rubbings were allowed, and how to do gravestone rubbings without causing damage. Two helpful sources for advice of this nature are the Connecticut Gravestone Network and the Association for Gravestone Studies.

I learned new uses of words: a "consort" is a woman who predeceases her husband ("Sarah, consort of Josiah Wheeler") and a "relict" is a woman who is widowed by her husband. "Relict" can also refer to a child whose father has died.

There were some gravestones which were weathered to the point where they could not be read at all. I learned that sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide from pollution (notably from burning coal) contribute to the weathering and destruction of headstones. Flat memorial stones are also damaged by sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in acid rain.

Our second stop was the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, also in Concord, where my grandmother is buried. Sleep Hollow Cemetery is a tourist destination because of "Author's Ridge", where Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Henry Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are buried. (Today those four famous graves were marked with little pumpkins in honor of the season.)

The stories we pieced together were compelling - Revolutionary War Veterans, frequent remarrying due to untimely deaths, confusing intermarrying between families with familiar historical names, and tragedies such as the family who lost their three little girls, aged 5, 4, and 2, all within a week of each other.

I seem to be fascinated by things that people say I should find morbid.

1 comment:

peep said...

Do you remember the white tombstone of the woman who never married? She had a special title too but I don't remember what it was.