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 http://www.examiner.com/x-11705-NY-Holistic-Body--Spirit-Examiner~y2009m7d7-100000-people-buried-under-Washington-Square-Park-in-NYC

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 mjmcaden@comcast.net .

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.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Upcoming Event: Walking Tour of Medfield's Vine Lake Cemetery

Walking Tour of Medfield's Vine Lake Cemetery, June 13th

On Saturday afternoon, June 13th, Vine Lake Preservation Trust will sponsor a two-hour walking tour in Vine Lake Cemetery. Starting at 2:00 pm, “Discover Vine Lake Cemetery” will be an overview of landscapes, landmarks, and legacies within the cemetery which dates from 1651.
●What date is on the oldest marked gravestone?
●Which historical family has the most gravestones?
●In which year did the most burials occur? What were the causes of death in that year?
●What three distinctive landscape or gravescape styles can you identify?
●At which gravestone is buried the 4th great-grandfather of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of “Tarzan?”
●What’s the view from inside the public holding tomb?
●Which of Medfield’s 13 founders are buried here?
●What geological features can you identify?
●Where are the paupers’ graves?
You are welcome to bring water and wear walking shoes. Plan to meet at the lake. Parking is on the paved roads within the cemetery; please so not park on the grass.
Admission is $5 a person, students under 16 free. A rain date is Saturday, June 20th, at 2:00 pm.

Inquires are welcome at vinelakepreservationtrust@verizon.net.
More information is available at www.vinelakepreservationtrust.org.

Worst Attended Cemetery Award: Newburyport

I've just returned from giving an individual tour of the Old Hill Burying Ground in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This small, seaside city is normally known for its beauty and rich history. Aside from the fact the grass has yet to be mowed, that trees and other plants are overgrown and overtaking gravestones...
that some of this has died and come crashing and smashing down then left to rot...
that there are twice as many broken gravestones since the last time I visited...
that the place is full of numerous animal holes located just where you forget to look where you're going...
The city has left this resting place of their founding fathers derelict, disregarded and disrespected. I'm a little disgusted.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Upcoming Cemetery Events

Milk Row Cemetery Tour, Somerville Massachusetts

The City of Somerville and Historic Somerville, Inc. will continue to celebrate May as Preservation Month with a tour of historic Milk Row Cemetery, 1804- about 1900. This cemetery was founded by Samuel Tufts on his farm in what was then Charlestown. It is quite small, but contains an extraordinary memorial to those who died from Somerville in the Civil War. The memorial was dedicated in 1863, prior to the war's end.

Milk Row Cemetery is located in Somerville, at 439 Somerville Avenue, next to Demoulas' Market Basket. The tour will last about an hour.

Forest Hill Cemetery, East Derry New Hampshire
Gravestone Conservation Workshop

Mark your calendars!!!! Headstone Conservation Workshop with Jonathan Appell will be held: Saturday, June 13 from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Visit the Forest Hill website for more information.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hilldale Cemetery, Haverhill MA Fundraiser

The Hilldale Cemetery with the help of the Essex County Ghost Project and the Pelham Paranormal Research will hold a ghost talk and ghost hunt on Saturday May 16th starting at 6:00pm at the Sons Of Italy in Haverhill, Massachusetts. This night will feature to well known Paranormal Historian and Psychic Fionna Broom who will give a ghost hunting class. After the glass you will be able to use some of those skills you learned at Hilldale Cemetery. Nationaly known UK Psychic Gavin Cromwell will take you around Hilldale cemetery and show you all the hot spots in the cemetery with help from Fiona Broom. If you have any questions please feel free to call Thomas Spitalere at 978-289-8271 or thomasspitalere@yahoo.com. All the money raised will go to the restoration of Hilldale Cemetery.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Union Cemetery

The warm weather is finally here and I'm out and about again photographing cemeteries. Two weeks ago I met up with Gravestone Girl Brenda in the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The photos have been uploaded to http://gravematter.smugmug.com/gallery/917218_LXdEo#41897550_moLC9 and are at the end of the gallery. She showed me how they make an impression of a gravestone carving to use later in making their casts.

Last Sunday I revisited Union Cemetery in Amesbury, Massachusetts in another attempt to make a dent in photographing this huge cemetery. I'll need a couple more trips. The new photos have been added to http://gravematter.smugmug.com/gallery/848855_xmJEp#38152639_CHTGg and are at the end of the gallery.

Thanks to Renee C. of Durham, NH for your donation!