Lakeville, Massachusetts Gravestone Inscriptions, 1711-2003

Jean A. Douillette recently published Lakeville, Massachusetts Gravestone Inscriptions, 1711-2003. I have eagerly awaited this book for several years, after reading an article about Jean’s work on Lakeville gravestone transcription work for their 150th anniversary in 2003. Transcription is a time-consuming process – but when they are compiled into books such as this, they serve as invaluable tools for genealogists and those interesting in family history!

Earlier postings in this blog documented a few unsuccessful (but enjoyable!) trips to Lakeville and Middleborough to locate Ramsdell ancestors (Ammon-Booth, Richmond Cemetery). This book listed John and Sarah (Robbins) Ramsdell’s gravestones, as well as the stones of Stephen Cornish Ramsdell (son of John and Sarah Ramsdell, and brother to my ancestor, John Ramsdell Jr.) and his family, whose stones I will visit and photograph once the weather warms up. Turns out the Robbins cemetery where John and Sarah Ramsdell were buried later served as a pauper’s cemetery. My trip down Race Course Road brought me close to its location – but I was looking on the wrong side of the road! John Ramsdell Jr. and Maria Jones are probably buried in Middleborough with their son Edgar Ramsdell – perhaps someday there will be a Middleborough, Massachusetts Gravestone Inscriptions published!

I wrote the following book review for Jean’s website:

Lakeville, Massachusetts Gravestone Inscriptions
is a remarkable genealogical and historical book that lists the gravestones and inscriptions from the 31 known cemeteries in the town of Lakeville. The organization of the book is very user-friendly; each cemetery chapter provides a history of the cemetery and directions on how to locate the cemetery, an important feature for readers who would like to physically visit the gravestones. Each chapter organizes the gravestone transcriptions alphabetically, and includes the epitaph, information about the physical state of the stone, and the carved artwork on the stone. Informative maps of each cemetery are included, and stones can be located alphabetically or by numbered location. Jean Douillette spent seven years documenting these gravestones, and her hard work reveals the fascinating stories of Lakeville citizens that were cast in stone. Douillette includes references to vital records and previous Lakeville gravestone research such as Charles M. Thatcher’s 19th century Massachusetts gravestone transcription project. Since the time of Thatcher’s compilation, some of the stones and cemeteries have unfortunately been lost, or the epitaphs faded. Douillette’s book, therefore, serves not only as an essential collection of genealogical information about the lives of Lakeville’s and Middleborough’s residents for the past three centuries, but it also preserves that history for future generations. Lakeville, Massachusetts Gravestone Inscriptions is an essential book for anyone interested in the history and genealogy of Lakeville, MA.

Copies of this book can be ordered through: http://www.jadoui.com/

Joshua Thomas, died 9 April 1833, Bolton, NY


I came across a poignant epitaph today from the Bolton Rural Cemetery, Bolton Landing, Warren County, New York.

Joshua Thomas of Bolton, NY predeceased his wife, Molly (Streeter) Thomas by over 20 years. She was the one who handled his funeral arrangements, including his gravestone.

His gravestone reads:

Joshua Thomas
(husband of Molly Streeter)
died April 9
th 1833
AE 67 years 3 mos. & 27 days

“I loved him.”

Exploring Brooklyn in Street View of Google Maps

Googlemaps has come out with a wonderful new feature called “Street View”. It allows you to explore neighborhoods visually through photographs. You can click on a spot, then see what it looks like from 360 degrees, and “travel” along the road.

Watch a demo of it here.

There are only a few cities available in this mode, and unfortunately Boston has not yet been added. But I explored New York City and then took a tour over the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn. I’ve always wanted to get to Brooklyn to explore and photograph the large cemeteries in the area, and see the gravestones of some of my New York ancestors. So of course I looked for “Street Views” of roads that run parallel to Brooklyn cemeteries, in order to get a look at them!

Here’s a view of Mt. Olivet Cemetery from Eliot Ave in Brooklyn.
And here’s Linden Hill Cemetery from Metropolitan Ave in Brooklyn.
Here’s Greenwood Cemetery from 23rd St in Brooklyn.

And, of course, the Brooklyn Bridge!

There’s still some bugs to work out with the program, but its a really fun feature to play around with and explore. Check it out!

Welcome, readers of "Touch the Elbow"!

I was contacted the other day by Donald Thompson, one of three Civil War researchers who run a wonderful website and related blog about the Civil War, and specifically the 18th Regiment of Massachusetts. Donald Thompson, Tom Churchill, and Stephen McManus research and collect records, memorabilia, letters, etc. about the men who served in the regiment, and have compiled great biographies of the men.

One of those men from the 18th, my great-great-great uncle Erastus Everson, was recently featured on this blog as the subject of one of my genealogical biographies. He served in three regiments, and sustained head, chest, groin, and leg wounds during his service. But he was dedicated to the cause of the Union, and continued to work for the Freedman’s Bureau and as an army assessor. He later became a newsaper man, as passionate a writer as he was a soldier. The story of Erastus’s colorful life, and his run-in with the Ku Klux Klan after the war, are currently being featured on the blog “Touch the Elbow“.

The phrase “touch the elbow” comes from a popular Union song, “Comrades, Touch the Elbow”, to gather strength and unity before a battle.

When battle’s music greets our ear,
Our guns are sighted at the foe,
Then nerve the hand, and banish fear
And comrades, touch the elbow

Touch the elbow, comrades elbow
Elbow comrades, touch the elbow
Nerve the hand, banish fear
Comrades, touch the elbow

The blog features a wide variety of information and stories about the Civil War, and provides wonderful advice for those interested in researching the Civil War. “Touch the Elbow” is attached to their website on The Eighteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. For researchers, this website is a treasure trove of information. Nowhere is there such centralized information offered on the 18th Massachusetts regiment. Donald, Tom, and Stephen are working to publish a book about the 18th, and they have already published The Civil War Research Guide, on how to research ancestors of the Civil War.

Additionally, they have ventured far and wide to many cemeteries, gathering genealogical information and photographs, a past-time Donald refers to as “chasing the dead” – which is at the heart of this blog! If you are new to this site, please take a read-through, and share your thoughts!

Mini-Genealogical Biography of Elizabeth Ann (O’Reilly) Mahon

Elizabeth Ann (O’Reilly) Mahon (1852-bef1920)

Elizabeth Ann O’Reilly was born in November of 1852 to Thomas and Eliza O’Reilly, the fourth of nine children. In 1860, the O’Reilly family was living in Fairfield, Franklin County, Vermont. Fairfield is in northern Vermont, slightly to the east of St. Albans, and to the south of the Canadian border. Thomas and Eliza O’Reilly had immigrated from Ireland, and had probably entered the United States through Canada. Franklin County, Vermont was full of many Irish and Scots that had immigrated first to Canada, and then crossed the border to America. Probably a younger Irish son with no prospects of inheriting land in Ireland, Thomas O’Reilly came to America and began a new life. The O’Reilly’s were poor, but began a small farm in Vermont and raised nine children. Almost fifteen years after immigrating, both Thomas and Eliza were still illiterate.

The O’Reilly’s were a large Irish Catholic family. The kids were all born in Franklin County, Vermont. Mary O’Reilly was born in 1847, followed by John in 1848, Julia in 1850, Elizabeth Ann in 1852, Thomas in 1853, Edward in 1855, Helen in 1857, and twins William and Emily in 1864. By 1870, the family had moved west one town over to St. Albans, a larger town than Fairfield. The outskirts of St. Albans were still rural, and Thomas O’Reilly continued as a farmer there, maintaining a small farm amongst other agricultural immigrant neighbors of French Canadian, Canadian, and Irish descent.

Click here to see St. Albans and Fairfield, Vermont.
Click here to see Swanton, VT, close to the Canadian border and St. Albans, VT to the south.

Elizabeth O’Reilly soon met and married John Mahon of Swanton, Vermont. A man almost twice her age, he was born in February of 1830 in Ireland to Daniel Mahon (b. 1800 in Ireland) and Mary Conneley (b.1806 in Ireland), who immigrated from Ireland in 1834, when John was still a toddler. There may have been other Mahon children were born and died young or went unrecorded. For certain, John Mahon had one much younger sister. His mother Mary Mahon gave birth to Jane Mary Mahon (refered to by many nicknames over her life – most commonly Jennie) in 1846. In 1850, the census records 20 year old John and 5 year old Jane living in Swanton, Vermont with their parents on a farm. Two adult Irish farm laborers were living with them, 25 year old William McCue and 47 year old Michael Larrand. John Mahon was a skilled carpenter and a farmer. By 1860, John was living with and helping his aging parents with their farm in Swanton, and doing independent carpenter and joining work in Franklin County.

In 1870, John’s sister Jane’s husband, Jacob Coulombe, passed away, leaving her with two toddler sons and an infant daughter who had been born earlier that year. Jane, her three young children, John (now 40 years old) and their father Daniel all lived under the same roof in Swanton. Their mother, Mary (Connelly) Mahon, had passed away three years earlier in 1867 and was buried in the Swanton Catholic Church cemetery. Irish Catholic immigrants found a welcoming community along the Canadian border, unlike further south in Protestant New England, because of the long history of French Catholic Canadian settlement. Jesuit missionaries had posts in the area back to the earliest colonial days. The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church in Swanton was the first Catholic church in town, and that is church the Mahons attended weekly. The church had been built in 1836, but received its first permanent priest in 1854. Prior to that, Catholic priests from nearby towns in Canada and St. Albans, VT would travel to the towns in Franklin County to preach. In 1851, the Swanton town hall & academy burned, from 1854-55 a severe drought caused severe forest fires, in 1858, Turillo’s hotel and the Catholic church burned. After so much destruction from fires, Swanton formed its first fire department the following year, in 1859, and rebuilt the Catholic church. The cemetery beside the church hosts a wide variety of French and Irish surnames, of which John’s mother, Mary Mahon, was just one.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church, Swanton, VT:


At the rather late age of 45, John Mahon married 23-year old Elizabeth O’Reilly in 1875 and they went on to have eight children, who were all baptized in the Swanton Catholic Church, with many Irish and French Canadian friends and family from the parish serving as godparents (almost all of the O’Reilly aunts and uncles served as a godparent to one of the Mahon kids!). Laura Catherine was born in 1876, John Francis in 1877, Mary in 1879, George Frederic in 1880, Thomas William in 1881, Helen Anna in 1882, Edward Daniel in 1884, and Daniel Patrick in 1889. John’s father Daniel Mahon continued to live with John’s growing family in Swanton until Daniel’s death in 1882.

1881 was a sad year for the Mahons. In March, five year old Catherine Mahon became ill and died. Several weeks later, Elizabeth Mahon, still mourning the death of her oldest child, gave birth to her fifth child in April. She named him Thomas, in honor of her father, but a mere five months later, Thomas William became sick and died at the age of five months in September of 1881. Three more Mahon children would be born after 1881, but losing two children in one year was a terrible loss for the Mahon family.

John and Elizabeth Mahon moved their family to nearby Fairfax, Franklin County, Vermont by 1900. John and George were living independently as boarders nearby, while Mary, Helen “Nellie”, Edward, and Daniel still lived at home. But another family tragedy would unite the family. John Mahon died probably in 1901. All of the Mahons then uprooted their lives to an entirely foreign state and city – Boston, Massachusetts. Coming to Boston, a large, bustling city, from a lifetime of rural farming in a small northern Vermont town must have required significant adjustment for the Mahons. I have no stories or records for why they came to Boston. Perhaps they knew someone in Boston who offered them assistance. Whatever the case, Elizabeth and all of her children relocated to Roxbury by about 1902.

City life was hard for some of Elizabeth’s children. Her daughter Mary became pregnant, and gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Catherine Mahon, in April of 1903. Boston’s well-known Catholic St. Mary’s Infant Asylum and Laying-In Hospital was little Catherine’s birth place and death place, and possibly Mary’s as well. Catherine died a month later in April at the hospital and was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury. Mary Mahon died before 1910, possibly as a result of her giving birth.

Elizabeth’s other daughter Helen Mahon fared better. She met and married Eugene McCarthy in 1907, a young man originally from Marlborough, but working in the city. The McCarthy siblings and Mahon siblings shared dinners and special occasions with each other, and Edward Mahon soon fell for Eugene’s younger and only sister, Mary McCarthy. They married in 1910.

Elizabeth Mahon and her family boarded her sister Julia (O’Reilly) McGinley in 1910. They lived at 6 North Avenue, in Roxbury. Perhaps it was her sister Julia who first arrived in Boston and encouraged her widowed sister Elizabeth to move to Boston. Elizabeth died between 1910-1920 in Boston, in her 60s. Her son George Mahon then went to live with his aunts who had both moved from Vermont to Boston, Julia (O’Reilly) McGinley and Emily O’Reilly, and they ran a boarding house in Boston.

From the Canadian border to the heart of Boston, Elizabeth (O’Reilly) Mahon raised a large family, and faced countless joys and sorrows along the way. Those stories often become lost over the years. My grandfather had heard that his great-grandparents (John and Elizabeth Mahon) were from Vermont, and that there was a family plot (perhaps there is a Mahon or O’Reilly plot somewhere in Franklin County, VT), and they had been in Vermont “forever”. But alas, there were no Puritanical roots or colonial settlers in this family line! As far as Irish immigrants go, however, the Mahon and O’Reilly stories are fascinating to consider both their relatively early timeframe of immigration (1830s and 1840s for Mahons and O’Reilly’s, respectively) and their route of migration, from Ireland to Canada to America.

Mini-Genealogical Biography of Adelia Deborah Everson

Adelia Deborah Everson (1849-1867)

Adelia D. Everson was born on June 3, 1849 in the town of Hanson, MA. Her parents, Barnabas Everson and Deborah Bates, had married the previous August of 1848. Adelia was Barnabas’s first child, but the second for Deborah. 1846 had been a terrible year for Deborah, in which she first lost her husband Warren in January of consumption, and then lost her 9 month old son, also named Warren, of “cholera infantum”. The widowed Deborah lived next to Maquan Pond, and she remarried Barnabas Everson, a neighbor who owned a large property across the street from her that extended back to Wampatuck Pond.

Adelia grew up in the house along Hanson Street (what is now Indian Head Street and Route 58). Her father Barnabas was a talented man: a farmer, a mason, a town selectman, a road surveyor, and eventually a saw-mill factory owner and worker in South Hanson, he was a well-known man and accumulated a substantial amount of real estate in South Hanson. Adelia was soon joined by her brother Richard in 1850, her sister Imogene in 1852, and two siblings that died extremely young – Lucia, born Dec 30, 1853, died 5 days later on January 4, 1854, and Lucius, born ten years later on July 17, 1863, died on the same day.

The Everson kids probably attended school on Maquan Street, which was the closest school building, located today near where the St. Joseph the Worker church is. The school was across the street from the almshouse, which today would be located near where the old Hanson middle school was. The Everson’s home was slightly below where the intersection of School Street and Indian Head Streets are today, on the left-hand side. They would have been well-acquainted with their neighbors: Beals, Howlands, and Whites, who all had property along the road and extended back towards Maquan Pond.

Here is a map from 1859 showing the Everson’s home and some of their neighbors:
(Barnabas’s main home and property is on the left side of the road. Across the road, and neighbored by the Lyons and Beals is the home that Deborah owned after her first husband’s death)

The Everson’s neighbors below them, closer to Indian Head Pond, was the family of Asa and Cynthia Howland. (Their home is on the bottom of the map above) Adelia and her siblings knew the Howland kids (George, Nathaniel, Albert, Cynthia, and Lydia) well: they would have attended the same school together, and played together.

Perhaps Adelia and Imogene played with Cynthia and Lydia, who were just about their ages, and ignored the older Howland boys while Richard Everson ran off to play with them. But as they grew older, Adelia soon had her eyes on one of those Howland boys: Albert Howland, born on November 15, 1847 and two years older than Adelia. Albert, like so many men in the area, began working as a shoemaker. In October of 1867, when Albert was 20 and Adelia was 18 years old, they were married in the Congregational Church on High Street by the Reverend Benjamin Southworth.

Their happiness was to be short-lived. Just one month later, on November 30 1867, Adelia suddenly became sick and died unexpectedly. Both Albert and her family were shocked and filled with grief. Albert, still very young at 20, turned to the Eversons to arrange for her burial. Adelia was laid to rest alongside her two baby siblings, Lucia and Lucius at Fern Hill Cemetery, across the road from the church in which she had been married in such recent memory. Later, her parents, her sister Imogene, and Imogene’s children George and Lillian would join them in a large family plot.

Here is her gravestone:

Albert remarried in 1872, five years after Adelia’s death, a woman named Cordelia Gray, and they went on to have a family. That year Adelia’s younger sister Imogene was also married: to George McClellan, who had been helping Barnabas Everson build a large brick chimney near Everson’s newly acquired-saw-mill along the railroad tracks in South Hanson. Although life moved on, Adelia’s memory was continuously honored by the preservation of several of Adelia’s possessions. Adelia’s mother Deborah owned a bible, which had been produced in 1833. Deborah, 14 years old at the time the bible was published, was probably given this bible from her parents, Moses and Deborah Bates.

On one of the first pages is written in a lovely cursive:
Deborah ______
East Bridgewater

The last name is torn away, but it most likely read “Deborah Bates”, who was born and raised in East Bridgewater. Deborah carried this bible through her two marriages, and when Adelia was married, Deborah gave Adelia her treasured bible. Adelia had been working on some needlework, and decided to try her hand at creating some bookmarks. She created one for her father Barnabas. It is a floral wreath and reads:

Adelia
To Father

The second is a lyre, a classical musical instrument:

The final bookmark reveals the tragedy of Adelia’s young death. The book mark is of a floral arrangement set in a large urn. But the stitching is only half-completed, for Adelia never had to chance to finish the bookmark.

At the very bottom of the bookmark reads : To my husband.

Albert returned the bible to the Eversons, along with Adelia’s bookmarks. Placed inside of the bible, the bookmarks remained there as they were passed down from woman to woman through the generations, a tribute to Adelia Everson Howland, whose short life is remembered in part by three small hand-crafted tokens of affection for her loved ones.

Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

We took a day-trip to lovely old Savannah in the rain. With a series of road maps and our rental car, we made our way across the state border (and only got lost once!). Once in the city, parking was a bit hard to come by. It’s a very pedestrian-friendly city, with almost every block in the historic district having large beautiful squares. The city was designed by James Oglethorpe as a series of land plots built around main squares (there are 24 in the historic district where we visited) along with space for public buildings and churches.

Because of the rain, we did not get to explore as much as we would have liked to. We caught just one cemetery within walking distance, the Colonial Park Cemetery. Although it is Savannah’s second cemetery, the first cemetery is now located where a high riser building is.

The main entrance to the cemetery is on the corner of Oglethorpe and Abercorn Streets. Here is the large stone entrance, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution:

From Colonial Park Cemetery

Immediately through the gate is a historical marker describing the cemetery and some of its famous burials:

From Colonial Park Cemetery

During the 19th century, the cemetery had become overgrown and abandoned. Efforts to turn the cemetery into a “park” to preserve the stones and the land resulted in landscaping the area, so now paths and trees dominate the space, along with the gravestones and vaults:

From Colonial Park Cemetery

Here is a marker informing visitors that hundreds of Savannah residents are buried here in unmarked graves from the Great Yellow Fever epidemic of 1820:

From Colonial Park Cemetery

I was surprised to see the amount of people originally from Rhode Island that were buried within the cemetery. Perhaps there were more direct connections between Providence and Savannah. Certainly, both cities were more tolerant of diversity – Rhode Island preached religious tolerance, and Savannah welcomed Jews, Irish Catholics, French Huguenots, etc. Perhaps there were also direct trade routes that encouraged migration to and from the two cities as well.

Here is the gravestone of Edward Greene Malbone, a Rhode Island native, who was a world-famous miniaturist:

From Colonial Park Cemetery

Perhaps another connection can be found… I came across the stone of Theodore Nash, whose carving bears a remarkable similarity to the designs of the Stevens shop of Newport, RI. Their stones were imported across the United States, so perhaps this is originally from their shop:

From Colonial Ceme…

I love this image of the broken urn against the backdrop of an oak covered in Spanish moss:

Despite the rain, it was a lovely site to visit.

Braddock’s Point Cemetery, Hilton Head, South Carolina

Harbour Town is located in the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head. It was built in the 1960s and 1970s as an environmentally-friendly (as much as resorts can be!) designed tourist spot. But the land there has a much longer history. A great deal of where Sea Pines is located was known as Braddock’s Point, and the Stoney family and later the Baynard family had a large plantation there (see my post about the Stoney-Baynard Plantation Ruins).

There was a large slave population on Hilton Head, and several very large planations which each occupied a vast space on the island. After the Civil War, the newly-freed slaves (some of who had served for the Union troops who invaded the island early on in the war) settled the first freedman town, called Mitchelville. Largely isolated from the mainland, Gullah culture thrived here and on other coastal islands along South Carolina and Georgia, where language, customs, and culture were creolised from the variety of African heritages of the slaves, along with European influences. Gullah culture thrives to this very day on the island.

In Harbour Town – just beyond the complex where we stayed, I had seen a cemetery marked as “Braddock’s Point Cemetery” on our driving map. We took a walk, and awkwardly nestled between several large hotels and condos was a small cemetery. Further reading lead us to the discovery that the graveyard was a preserved slave cemetery, where descendents are still buried.

Here is the cemetery, surrounded by buildings:

From Braddock’s Po…

There were no graves dated before the Civil War, leading to the assumption that if slaves were buried here, they either were not allowed or could not afford permanent markers. Yet certainly the local community was aware of who was buried here, and there are probable burials in the cemetery of those who were born into slavery, and died after the Civil War.

Here are a row of graves from the Chisolm family, with both older simpler stones and modern laser-carved granite stones:

From Braddock’s Po…

Many of the older stones (post-Civil war into the early 1900s) are simple stone with crude hand-carving. This perhaps indicates either a lack of gravestone resources on the island or the inability to import stones from elsewhere due to finances. An interesting feature on some of these stones, however, was that a ceramic plate was pressed into the center of the stones. This seems to be a unique quality of Gullah tradition. Often ceramic dishware are left or broken at a grave, as burial goods for the dead, or to ward off spirits.

Here is the gravestone of Wesley Young, born Apr 20, 1904, died Sept 26, 1940. The grave has a plate pressed into the stone:

From Braddock’s Po…

Looking around for further information, I can only seem to find descriptions of burial and funeral practices of Gullah and African American cemeteries. Does anyone have further information about the significance of pressing dishware into the stones themselves?

Creative legacy of the Civil War

Having just finished watching the entirety of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, I was struck by the vast amount of creativity it inspired. Indeed, the war itself still resonates today with meaning. Burns himself refers to it as “America’s Iliad“, the epic narrative of American history.

With the new art-form of photography developing through the Civil War, war reporters had a new means of bringing the war home to those living far from the battlefields. No longer were articles accompanied by sketchings, drawings or daguerrotypes, instead, real photographs could be included. But in addition to the shots of soldiers, ranks, and regiments came the terrible horrors of the war itself: images of corpses spread across the fields in a thousand different locations, in a thousand different ways, some known, others identities never to be discovered. Quick shallow graves were made by surviving soldiers or the townspeople nearby, the soldiers buried in land far from their homes. Lincoln dedicated Gettysburg Cemetery, Arlington was formed in Lee’s backyard, and national cemeteries were set up across many states to account for the hundreds of thousands of the dead.

Although initially morbidly captivated by these images, as the war dragged on, it seemed that people were no longer interested in seeing yet another image of a poor dying soldier, or a survivor on crutches with a newly amputated limb. The documentary contains a fascinating photograph of a greenhouse who glass wall is made from the original wet-plates of Civil War photography. Wetplates were used to develop photographs on, it served as the negative. Battles and soldiers peer out from tiny glass plates across the greenhouse.

Walt Whitman was a great recorder for the time. He worked in some of the hospitals during the Civil War, exposed to much of the suffering of the soldiers. His prose and poetry were filled with direct and subtle references to the war, and his writings are a wonderful source for seeking insight to the war beyond the military strategies and battles, and instead into the social and cultural changes that resulted during and after the war.

Once the war was over, commemoration began in America as it never had before. The end of the 19th century marked the highest rate of public monument production. Practically every town square that was involved in the war constructed a monument for the men and boys they lost, and those that fought. Gravestone, monument, and stone companies in general made a good deal of business – so much so that some companies offered deals in which the face of a soldier statue could be modeled after individual men, if a photograph was provided! And as time passed and the direct memory of the varied causes of the war became murkier (slavery, states rights, the protection of the union, and countless personal reasons) one of the places in which nostalgia and memory held the most power was in cemeteries, whether large or small.

The Civil War had the most casualties of any American war (and still does). With so many dead, and often the cruel realities of retreat, rank seperation, or lack of manpower to sort through the dead, the “Unknown Soldier” became a familiar sight across many graves. Walt Whitman was haunted by such a sight, and the thousands who flock to places like Gettysburg and Arlington still are to this very day.

AS toilsome I wander’d Virginia’s woods,
To the music of rustling leaves, kick’d by my feet, (for ’twas autumn,)
I mark’d at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier,
Mortally wounded he, and buried on the retreat, (easily all could I understand;)
The halt of a mid-day hour, when up! no time to lose—yet this sign left,
On a tablet scrawl’d and nail’d on the tree by the grave,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering;
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life;
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt, alone, or in the crowded street,
Comes before me the unknown soldier’s grave—comes the inscription rude in Virginia’s woods,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

Grave found at Dickenson homestead, Amherst, MA

Every time I visited UMass, we would often drive past Emily Dickinson’s homestead. She is one of my favorite poets, her imagery is beautiful and often stark and insightful. She is probably best known for her reclusiveness. She was born in 1830 and briefly attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley nearby, but left after a year due to homesickness. It wasn’t until her thirties that she began to live reclusively, but by that point she had amassed a group of friends and acquaintances to which she held vast correspondance with throughout her life, even if she chose to rarely leave her home. Scholars of Emily Dickinson look to these letters to reveal the personal life of this wonderful poet, and shy but productive human being. Dying in Amherst in 1886, her family discovered a huge collection of poetry (40 hand-bound collections with over 800 poems!). While she often wrote poetry in her letters to friends, she was never recongized during her lifetime as a poet. Several years after her death her first collection of poems were published, and she has since grown to international fame.

On Halloween of this year, it seems, workers doing landscaping at the Dickinson homestead (which is now a museum) uncovered a gravestone buried in the lawn. See the article here. It belongs to Thomas Gilbert, father of Susan Gilbert who was friends with Emily and later married her brother Austin. But it was puzzling at first – because Thomas Gilbert already has an ornate stone nearby in Amherst’s West Cemetery. It was soon sorted out, though – Thomas Gilbert was originally buried in Greenfield, but then was moved to be closer to the Dickinson’s. His original stone from Greenfield, it seems, was placed in the Dickinson’s possession. Perhaps it was used in the front lawn as a stepping stone? Every once in awhile a news story crops up in which that is the case – a garden stone is overturned and its discovered to be an old gravestone.

“What do you do with a used gravestone?” asked Jane Wald, the museum’s executive director. It will be interesting to see!