Old Burying Place, Plympton, MA

The Old Cemetery in Plympton stretches along Route 58 in the center of town. The oldest gravestone is from 1707, although it is probably that several older burials are here, because there was settlement in the western part of Plymouth (which became Plympton) at least in the late 1600s. The left side of the cemetery is called Hillcrest Cemetery and it is separated by the main cemetery road.

The right side is the much older cemetery, overwhelmingly made of slate stones, most of which are suffering the fate of time. Many stones have sunk into the ground, or split in half horizontally or vertically, and many are faded or covered in lichen.
Here is a sunken stone with a beautiful winged death head:

Despite this, the cemetery has quite a few stones left in good shape, and these stones offer magnificent artwork that most people (outside the realm of gravestone researchers and those who like to wander about cemeteries!) are not aware of. The renown James Deetz did some early work here on his research of New England gravestones, published as an article entitled “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow“, which eventually became incorporated into his great book In Small Things Forgotten. He identified the Soule family of Plympton as an important example of the transition from death heads to more humanistic forms, as well as the evidence of artistic flare individuals carvers had. The Soule stones are easily identifiable, for the boast a unique “Medusa” form that is a blend of skull and human face, with wild hair/wing forms radiating from the heads.
The article explains it much more thoroughly, even including a marvelous map of the evolution of the Soule’s forms themselves.

Here are two Soule stones with the Medusa head and heart shaped mouths:

As a comparison (and a compliment to the craftsmanship of the Soules), here is a much cruder form of the Medusa head that is by an unknown carver (perhaps a copycat – although I do not know the date on this stone) :

The town of Plympton also has done a significant amount of work in helping to preserve the cemetery. The town is still small, and it is good to see a town so value its history. Here is a very useful guide to the cemetery done by survey, which includes a master index of all the historical stones.
Some older transcriptions also exist through the Mayflower Descendant.

The cemetery is filled with old Plympton families, and there is a great website by Paul Bumpas with many pictures of individual graves. On a white marble stone I saw an interesting stone, of a hand holding a book (with no text, it appears).

I explored today seeking a few ancestors, but also surveying the Soule stones, admiring their distinctive style. After browsing through so many graveyards over the years, it is usually obvious to distinguish stones of a particular carver, for both the writing and the artwork provide clues. But all too often the written records of gravestone transactions are lost, and the names of carvers are lost to history. So it is heartening when names and records survive, thus providing a context to the beautiful designs gracing so many stones out in countless cemeteries.

I am also currently writing a research paper on childhood death in Puritan and Victorian New England, using gravestones and death poetry/elegies. The John Hay library boasts an impressive collection of broadsides that contain poems published upon the death of a child. And my personal photography collection includes a number of interesting children’s gravestones, but now I am seeking for a few more.

Thomastown Cemetery, Middleborough, MA


The Thomastown Cemetery was formed in 1806. It lies on Purchase Street, near the border of Carver, and is long and rectangular in shape, with a chain-link fence surrounding it. The cemetery is still in use, and has a wide variety of shapes and sizes for the monuments.

The visit was in part to seek further for the Middleboro Ramsdells, to no success.

However, it did boast several stones with one of my favorite symbols:

There are several versions of this symbol, but the most heavy-handed of them always make me smile. The finger pointing above is fairly blunt to begin with, but when a sign is included above the hand, as is the case here with Angeline, that says HEAVEN, it certainly brings home the point.

A few interesting symbols on some children’s stones:
Dove and broken stem flower

A very stark broken stem flower – life cut short

Sleeping lamb figure:

More Middleborough searches to follow…

Hope Cemetery, Barre, Vermont

Opened in 1896, this magnificent cemetery is not only a resting place for the dead, but also a showcase of stunning sculpture and art. There are countless websites filled with great photographs of the gravestones. Here’s a good one, and here’s the official site.

With granite quarries close by, Barre became a bustling town of immigrants, especially Italian stoneworkers. It is this unique population that led to such a wondrous cemetery – the gravestones here are often beautiful, and sometimes humorous, sculptures. Soccer balls, cars, lumber trucks, airplanes, as well as lifesize sculptures of the deceased (often-times the carver himself!) or angels – there is so much to behold within this large cemetery.

Soccer ball:

A large “A” for the Arnholm family:

A statue of Jesus:

Even the stones flush to the ground had room for creativity:

I went up for a memorial service of my fiance’s great aunt, and a big family reunion in Barre. Both were lovely. The family up here are descendants of Italian stone workers in the quarries. Here is the stone for Rodolfo Sironi and Luigia Conti, the original immigrants (along with several young children and her second husband Antonio Somaini):

Hope Cemetery is so large, it was impossible to absorb everything in one visit.. all the more reason to come back!

Lakenham Cemetery, Carver, MA

The oldest stone from Lakenham Cemetery is 1718. Although Carver is right next to Plymouth, it was not widely settled into later years of Plymouth Colony. Very marshy, it now serves as a vast harvest of cranberry bogs. Back then, its marshes were appreciated, enough so to be purchased in large plots by Plymouth families, but for the most part they kept their live-in residences within Plymouth limits.

Being bordered closely to Plympton, Lakenham Cemetery also contains a large number of stones carved by Ebenezer Soule (of Plympton) and his sons in the 1700s. The Medusa heads in various forms are found frequently in Lakenham’s rows of graves. Here are several examples:

There is also a good genealogy site with some pictures from the cemetery.

Vernon St. Cemetery (Alden Cemetery), Bridgewater, MA

The Alden Cemetery on Vernon Street is Bridgewater’s second oldest cemetery, although the majority of stones from the 1700s are unmarked. Most of the gravestones, therefore, are from the 19th century. Latham’s book provides an incredible view into what the land must have been like at the time. Located in Titicut, a former Native American settlement, Bethia Fobes was the first white child born in this area. With just a few houses far and few between, the land where the cemetery is must have filled very slowly at first, for it was not physically close to many settlers in the Bridgewater area – because at this time, there were not many to begin with.

But here is one of the few stones from the 1700’s, which says:
1754, probably Zebedee Leach, died aged 5.

The yard is surrounded by a short stone wall, and some of the stones along Vernon Street are very close to the road and wall.

There are many interesting stones, some of which have not stood up well to the tests of time. On the other hand, some of them have decided to stand up on their own… (these footstones have been pushed up from the ground, probably from years of New England winters with the ground beneath the stone freezing then thawing.)

There are some sad epitaphs on a series of siblings stones, who died within a few years of each other:
Helen M. dau, of Job H. and Betsey Johnson, died Sept. 27. 1849, aged 1 year, 4 mo., 23 days.
It is hard to give thee up, sweet one,
‘Tis hard to give thee up;
But nature’s saddest work is done,
‘Tis the last bitter cup.

Mary E., daughter of Job H. and Betsey Johnson, died Aug. 11, 1846, æ 1 year and 11 mo.
This lovely bud so young and fair,
Called hence by early doom;
Just come to show how sweet a flower,
In paradise could bloom.

Freddie Morton, son of Job H. and Betsey Johnson, died Aug. 18, 1856, æ 2 years, 10 days.
O, it is hard to part with one
We loved so much on earth;
But we will put our trust in him
Who gave his spirit birth.

There is a gravestone with a favorite symbol of mine, the finger pointing towards heaven. The stone itself may just be a cenotaph, as it reads:
Edwin Hayward, member of Co. I, 38 Regt., M. V.,
born Jan. 17, 1844,
died at Baton Rouge, La., Aug. 21, 1863.
Asleep in Jesus, ay, though he sleep with strangers,
In the redeemer’s eyes his dust is just as sacred,
And He will bid it rise