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!