The weekend before Thanksgiving, the Stoneham Historical Commission held their annual two-hour opening of the Old Burying Ground. For years I’ve wanted to go, but that was usually the time I’d hold Thane’s birthday party. It also coincides with the town Trick-or-Treating. This year, Grey and Thane decided that they were too big/cool/old to do that. I have mixed feelings about that, but grabbed the chance to go visit the cemetery I’ve long wanted to see. It’s usually closed since it’s not quite safe for wandering. There are leaning tombstone and depressions (marked off with yellow caution tape on this day). While this makes for good daydreams about the haunted cemetery, it’s less good for someone who really would like to wander it.
One of the first gravestones I checked out was one of the most dramatic. It stood higher than my head, and had outrage practically dripping off the chiseled headstone. It detailed the 1819 murder of Jacob Gould “who was barbarously murdered by some ruffians in his own dwelling”. There were deaths heads and warning epitaphs and poignant poems (all the things I love best of old graveyards), but this was one of the most intriguing headstones I’d seen.
When I got home, I looked it up on Google. You see, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I decided to do it this year. (Because I’m crazy. That’s why.) So I was on the prowl for a good novel premise. Murder by ruffians seemed like as good a place to start as any. So I had a reason for my investigation.
My very first search on “Jacob Gould murder” hit the biggest paydirt imaginable; namely “A Brief History of Stoneham, Mass, From Its First Settlement to the Year 1843: with an Account of the Murder of Jacob Gould, on the Evening of November 25, 1819” by Silas Dean. Silas (I feel like he and I are on a first-name basis now) wrote an absolutely hilarious and riveting account of Stoneham. It includes ancient ruins, naked dudes, wolf attacks, haunted houses, Indian raids, aggressive bugle players, people who died of stupidity, mysterious springs, ne’er-do-well pranks of the first water… I could hardly tear myself away from reading in order to start writing. It’s possibly the most entertaining primary source I’ve ever read.
I felt like I won the novel-writing primary source lottery. And I started to get really into the research of the early history of the town (before the boring shoe-making bits). Once I started pulling at the thread of local history, I pretty easily uncovered more fascinating details.
Boston commuters pass Wright’s Tower every day. I’m standing next to it in this picture. Well, Elizur Wright for whom the tower named was kind of amazing. He:
- Was an abolitionist, who was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act for
- Basically invented actuarial tables, which make life insurance possible for all of us. He read life insurance literature for fun.
- Invented and manufactured two new kinds of faucet fitting type things
- Ran a newspaper, which got sued for calling out liquor manufacturers
- Translated La Fontaine’s Fables and wrote a foreward to a book of poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier
- In his copious free time, also pushed for the eventually successful passage of the Massachusetts Forestry Act, which is why we get to hike in the Fells and why they erected a tower in his honor
I mean, I’m impressed with myself when I get my blog post out on time. I didn’t make major contributions in four or five totally different spheres. And yes, he did find the time to marry and beget children too. I’ll admit – I’m kind of a fangirl now.
Anyway, I have these wild and crazy thoughts about how to get this really awesome information about this town out there. Who, living in a town founded in 1725, wouldn’t like to hear about some of the hijinks that happened nearly 300 years ago where they currently stand? I’m going to contemplate that question while I see how many other really cool things I can uncover in my research.
I’d also like to beg your indulgence. I’m attempting to turn all these cool facts I’ve uncovered into a novel. NaNoWriMo requires about 1668 words a day if you’re going to write a 50k novel in the month of November. I’m already well behind. But it’s going to be extra hard to write a thousand word blog post on top of the 1600 words I need to write every day to have a hope at completing this thing. So I might be… terser than usual this month (and/or obsessed with Stoneham town history).