Sunday, October 16, 2011

South Cemetery, Portsmouth NH

For the past two days I've revisited the South Cemetery in Portsmouth, NH and taken an additional 600-ish shots. The South Cemetery is comprised of 4-5 different cemeteries including Proprietor's Cemetery, Harmony Grove Cemetery and Cotton Burial Ground and is on South St. and Sagamore Ave. There are also a couple of plots here that were moved from other small family burying grounds that were in the way of progress and a growing downtown area, including the Cutts-Penhallow family burying ground that was once located on Green Street. Along with the family of John Rindge who was interred in the South Church beneath the altar before it burned to the ground.

Laurel tree
Most of the cemetery is a beautiful example of a Victorian garden cemetery, and has many flowering shrubs, ornamental trees (including large Hydrangea trees and a beautiful Laurel tree) and original wrought iron work. It's largely comprised of Marble stones but there are some slate, schist, granite and a handful of White Zinc monuments. There's also a large amount of Sandstone carvings both in gravestone monuments and border railings which is unusual.

There are also a lot of historic notables including generals from the Civil War, local notable politician/brewery king Frank Jones, Woodbury Langdon and the victims of the Smuttynose Murders

Too bad the proprietors of this cemetery don't seem to care much for it other than mowing the grass. This cemetery has a ridiculous amount of broken stones. Many are the casualties of vandals, or stones that were inset in curbs that due to frost and shifting earth have tipped over.

Smuttynose murder victims
I'm far from being done photographing this cemetery. 600 shots only covered a very small portion of this expansive resting place, and I feel I should reshoot all my previous material that was mostly done in poor light.

Check out the main page for the South Cemetery of Portsmouth, New Hampshire at

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Camera is Junk!

If you've seen the website for A Very Grave Matter,, you can see that since I started the website in 2001 I've taken over 15,000 photographs of historic gravestones. Since 2003, I've been using the same camera. A Sony Cybershot with 5.0 megapixels that after 8 years has many dings, dents, spots on the lens and a sticky shutter. It's definitely time for a new camera.

Not to bore you with another sob story, but the last few years between my divorce, non-paying clients, some months very slow with business ( and most recently hospital bills from a couple of non-insured surgeries the camera of my dreams is just not in my budget.

So I appeal to my fans, fellow taphophiles and anyone who'd like to see me photograph more gravestones to donate towards my goal to buy a new camera. You can donate as little or as much as you can spare, even if its only $5. Many $5 donations still add up to a lot. I know the goal is high, but I think I can get a very good camera setup, backup batteries, flashcards and a carrying bag for about $500. I don't need anything very fancy.

There are hundreds more cemeteries and thousands more photographs I'd like to take to document these places of history. Many of these places are in peril, being uncared for and vandalized. I've had the experience many times over of photographing a gravestone intact, only to go back a year or so later and find the same stone destroyed. It's unfortunate but most towns, cities and groups responsible for these places have no interest in or no budget for restoration or conservation. They don't realize it's their own history being destroyed.

There are a few ways you can donate. You can mail a check to me, Jenn Marcelais at 114 1/2 Maplewood Ave., Portsmouth, NH 03801. You can also donate online through Paypal directly to, or through GoFundMe, All will accept donations of any size.

Any donation would be greatly appreciated. But if you find you can spare a larger donation of $100 or more and have a specific cemetery in the New England area that you'd like to see photographed let me know and it will be done. Although please keep in mind I'm located in Portsmouth, NH, so if you have a request for a cemetery more than an hour away from there please make sure the donation matches the request.

Be sure to check out my Facebook page for the Grave Matter website as well at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Skeleton unearthed at Rochester New Hampshire work site: 19th century cemetery in the middle of Exit 15 construction project

Skeleton unearthed at Rochester work site: 19th century cemetery in the middle of Exit 15 construction project

By Joey Cresta

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

John Huff/Staff photographer State archaeologists work on a grave site near the Exit 15-construction project Monday.

ROCHESTER — At least one nearly-intact skeleton has been unearthed near the Spaulding Turnpike widening project at Exit 15 as the state's excavation of the 19th-century Legro cemetery got under way last week.

Richard Longo, the city historian, through research knew that the remains of a number of individuals, including a Civil War veteran, were buried in the middle of the construction zone. Longo hasn't seen the remains, but knows of the archaeological discoveries there only through third-party reports and photographs that have been e-mailed to him.

Longo has not visited the site even though the city named him a member of the Legro Cemetery Committee to allow him access as a member of city government. Mayor John Larochelle offered the support after Longo received a letter from John "Chip" Johnson of the Department of Transportation in July telling him that while his past efforts were appreciated, he had to "refrain from visiting the site" for liability issues, as well as to "maintain control" at the site.

Longo said that even after the city made strides to ensure his access to the grave sites, the state restricted him from viewing the excavation alongside anyone else because, as he explained it, "two people would constitute a meeting." Since Longo cannot drive and has no way of getting to the site alone, he said he has had to follow the progress with pictures taken at the excavation.

"Since when is two people a meeting?" Longo said. "If I hadn't found that cemetery, they wouldn't be digging it up."

City Manager John Scruton explained that under state law, a quorum of the committee — in this case, two people — cannot convene on the site.

"I'm wondering how this all will play out," Longo said after Scruton called him Monday offering a ride to the grave site.

The results so far have already surprised Longo. According to Scruton, archaeologists have discovered an adult male, about 5 feet, 11 inches tall and a casket next to him, presumably containing his wife. Longo said those remains, along with other "bits and pieces" surprise him because of the acidity and moistness of the soil in that area. He did not expect such a high level of preservation, he said.

He pointed to the remains as evidence of his qualms with an archaeological endeavor. Only 150 years old, he said the remains are of people with living descendants today and it is much too soon to treat them as if they are "Neanderthal" remains to be examined and studied.

"The person's been dead for 150 years. It'd be like digging up my great-grandfather," Longo said. "We've told the state that from the beginning. It's not old enough. There are still living heirs."

The remains will undergo an examination before being re-interred at the New Rochester Cemetery. The burial, which will include a public ceremony with military honors for the Civil War veteran, could happen this fall, but is more likely to occur in spring, Scruton said.

Scruton disagreed with Longo's assessment that the archaeological work disrespects the deceased. He said the additional work will help identify the remains, which will allow the city to use the original gravestones Longo helped uncover at the site when the remains are re-interred.

He added the excavation shows a "measure of respect" to ensure the state properly cares for the remains. The archaeologists excavate a quarter-inch at a time, making an inadvertent disruption less likely. He said alternative methods used at grave sites in the past were less respectful than what is currently happening at the Legro cemetery.

Representatives with the state did not return calls Monday seeking comment on the dig. Longo is not the only one who has found it difficult to observe the work. The graves are among a small cluster of trees in the bend of an off-ramp leading from the highway to Route 11. A Foster's reporter and photographer attempted to access the site on Monday, but were told to leave until Scruton authorized access.

Scruton later said he had no problems with reporters accessing the site as long as the state gave permission.

"It's their site," he said.

State officials denied the request, at least temporarily, Monday afternoon.

"Because of the sensitive nature of the project at the Legro cemetery, would you please remain off site at least for the moment. If possible, I will talk to our Information Officer tomorrow morning. Once I have, I will or he will get back to you," Joyce McKay, Cultural Resource Manager for the DOT's Bureau of Environment, said in an e-mail.

Scruton said he hopes to escort Longo to the site this morning, adding they would be careful not to discuss official business, so they do not violate the state's rules governing quorums.

Copyright © 2009 Geo. J. Foster Company.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

100,000 people buried under Washington Square Park in NYC

Washington Square Park in New York City.

Washington Square Park is built on what was once Potter’s Field. A potter’s field is a term refers to a place where unknown or indigent people are buried.

From consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, Barry Popik’s The Big Apple Website:

Laborers Find Human Remains of 1800's in Washington Sq.

"Lieutenant William Burns gravely investigated. He learned that the present common was a Potter's Fields from 1797 to 1823. More than 100,000 yellow fever victims were buried there; that Rose Butler, a young, serving woman, was hanged and buried there in July, 1819, either for murder or robbery."

6 May 1953, New York Times, "About New York" by Meyer Berger, pg. 33:

"Most of the new properties look right over the Square itself. A good part of that was the old Brevoort Farm. Six and one-half of its better than nine acres were Potter's Field from 1797 to 1823, and 10,000 New Yorkers were buried in it…."

"They were built when the Square was Potter's Field. When this section was an uncultivated tract the houses faced the city's gallows, where public executions were held. It is said the hangman of New York once lived in the corner house. The gallows lifted their gaunt head where the Washington Arch now stands. A large elm tree, which stood in the Square as late as 1799, sometimes serves as a gallows. There is little doubt but that the hangman walked from the corner house to serve at the last public execution in the Square, when Rose Butler, a negress, was hanged."

13 March 1941, New York Times, pg. 23:

Read the entire article at

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cemetery Tour: A Grave Affair, a Glimpse into the Shadows of Hampton's Past

The Hampton Heritage Commission is sponsoring a cemetery tour of Pine Grove Cemetery on Saturday July 25 from 4-6 PM. The tour entitled “A GRAVE AFFAIR- a Glimpse into the Shadows of Hampton’s Past” will be conducted by local historian Betty Moore of the Hampton Historical Society.

The presentation will include information about Pine Grove c 1654, New Hampshire’s oldest public cemetery, as well as the different styles, periods and carvers of the stones found there. Betty will also relate stories about early life and death in Hampton and details of some of the families who are buried there. Family names include Hobbs, Moulton, Gookin, Palmer, Dearborn, Towle, Lane, Marston, Mace and Gove.

Tickets for the tour are $5.00 per person. Also, hot dogs, hamburgers, and soda will also be available for a small donation. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Heritage Commission’s Heritage Fund for the repair and upkeep of Hampton’s old grave stones. For more information or to purchase tickets call 603-944-0280, or e mail .

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Worst Caretaker Award: South Berwick, Maine

The other day I received a phone call from a woman in tears. She was sad and angry because a piece of her families history had been destroyed. The town was indifferent, and had little interest in protecting something it seems to think of as having little value.

History is made of many heart beats, and when those hearts die, they go to rest in cemeteries. They and the historic artworks made during their time to mark their places are precious and deserve to be recognized. Too many people responsible for protecting these places don't realize this lesson.

The cemetery of the Free Will Baptist Church was severely damaged recently, and much to the dismay of many a descendant and local South Berwick historian many of their forefathers' gravestones have been lost.

If you'd like to help with your voice, contact the town manager of South Berwick through their contact form or call them at (207) 384-3300 or write them at 180 Main Street, South Berwick, ME 03908.