The 5L (Liberty, Literature, Leaves, Lobster, and Love) Tour
I love old cemeteries. I love wandering through the graves, reading headstones, imagining what the deceased were like when walking the earth. Worn gravestones contain religious references, eerie symbols of death, and truthful descriptions of the deceased’s life. Garish monuments rivaling those of Egyptian tombs peer out from dark, dank corners. These old burying grounds are very peaceful, often unkempt and cluttered with tilting headstones. A haunting mist smelling of moss and rotting vegetation covers the ground. Old cemeteries are libraries stacked with stone history books full of exciting stories.
Modern cemeteries maintain paved walkways devoid of trees, numbered plots with uniform metal markers flat on the ground, names and dates only, and plastic flowers in nonbreakable vases. Lucky veterans may get tiny flags. Rules require that headstones be standardized, sanitized, and desensitized in an attempt to be inoffensive. Graveyards are no longer interesting histories; they have become simple lists of the dead.
Cemeteries in Concord were of interest to both Linda and me. She could touch the graves of famous literature figures and “feel” their motivations. I could identify a real person and place him/her in my hierarchy of history. With those purposes in mind, we wove our way through Concord’s three old cemeteries in search of dead authors and historical figures.
The Old Hill Burying Ground, Concord’s oldest, was just a block from our hotel, the Colonial Inn, and across from Monument Square where soldiers from Concord who died in the Revolution, Civil War, and World Wars are honored. The site was chosen soon after 1635 because the hill was the first land to thaw in the spring and would allow early burial of those who had died during the winter.
There are almost 500 markers in this cemetery, the oldest being Joseph Merriam, April 20, 1677. John Jack, a former slave, was interred in 1773. Major John Buttrick who led the first battle of the Revolution was buried at Old Hill along with 40 other vets. On the cemetery property is the Holy Family Parish which was St. Bernard’s Catholic Church (est. 1742) until the Archdiocese of Boston was reorganized in 2004.
Next week: South Burying Place
On the hillside overlooking Concord’s Monument Square is the oldest of the three cemeteries, the Old Hill Burying Ground. With nearly 500 graves, the earliest existing stone is dated 1677. Old Hill was the original burying ground for Concord residents after securing their settlement in 1635. The entrance is from Monument Square through the gate between St. Bernard’s Church and the "brickend" house. This site, on a prominent glacial esker, was adjacent to the original location of the First Parish Church. It was on land that could not be farmed, and because of its height, it was the first area to thaw in the spring. This thawing allowed for early burial of those who died during the winter and waited silently for a place in the warm earth. Of the nearly 500 burial markers in Old Hill, the oldest belongs to Joseph Merriam who died April 20, 1677. An interesting gravesite at the very back belongs to John Jack, a former slave who died in 1773. His stone is noteworthy for a poem- like epitaph concluding that John Jack "practiced those virtues without which kings are but slaves." There are many others. Young Orpah Bryant, for example, died in 1798 after only one year but is remembered as being "the joy of her father and the delight of her mother." Of interest, is the grave of Major John Buttrick who led the fight at the North Bridge and died 16 years later, on May 16, 1791. His son, buried in the same family plot, was at the bridge as a fifer. Old Hill also contains the graves of 40 other veterans of the Revolution. It is said that Colonel Smith and Major Pitcairn, British commanders on that lively day in April, 1775, chose the Old Hill site as their command post, and from there witnessed what would be the beginning of the end of British rule.