The Old Burying Ground in Stoneham was opened to visitors today. For years it’s been opened on Halloween weekend – at the exact same time as the town trick or treating. So I haven’t been able to go. But I’ve been falling in with the historical crowd lately, and they realized that we parents love history as much as our kids love candy and were awesome to set up this great second session this year.
My trip to the Burying Ground this last Halloween kicked off an extremely fun month for me. I was doing Nanowrimo with a friend. I saw this amazing tombstone with its rich old story of Jacob Gould “barbarously murdered by ruffians in his own dwelling” and I looked it up on Google. Google books led me to more of the story in Silas Dean’s gossipy 1843 history of Stoneham (which is right there an argument on how awesome the internet can be!) and I went down a monthlong rabbit hole of local history and lore while I wrote a werewolf book about the strange misadventures. I had an absolute blast, although I sadly have not finished the book.
I did learn what they found when they opened the three crypts. New life goal: be there when they open one of the three crypts.
They had three reenactors there, all of whom were excellent. One played the role of a Civil War nurse (who apparently had to be older than 30, of high moral standing, and rather plain). She told the story of how Hannah was buried in sight of the house she’d grown up with, across the alley on Oriental Avenue. And I stood there, in ground set aside at the turn of the 19th century where were buried Revolutionary War heroes, slaves, native Americans and pilgrim-folk and I thought about what it is to be at home.
Many of the people lying there were not Stoneham born. They came from England, Wales, Africa… or as far as from Maine or Connecticut. They came to a frontier town, or a sleepy bywater. They came to a new place and built a place for themselves there. When they died they consigned their remembrances to the uneven soils of this burying ground. Hundreds of years later, we walk by twice a year to greet them. And where they were strangers to me last October, as May came I greeted them instead as friends.
My heart has long lain in the rugged stark mountains of the West. It’s a land that feels as though history lies lightly upon it. The stories of the people who first lived there have never been told to me. The stories of my people are short – the town I grew up in is just over 100 years old. There are residents who remember the first people there. But for most of my life, I’ve been FROM Washington.
I think that may begin to be changing. I’ve lived in New England 20 years. Sixteen of those have been in Massachusetts, and eight of THOSE in Stoneham. How can I turn my back on Deacon Silas Dean, Jacob and Polly Gould, Benjamin Gerry, Elizur Wright, Parker G. Webber and the cast of folks – brave, strong, moral, funny and complicated who have also moved here from elsewhere, and made it their home? Fortunately, the question of home is not one you have to put exactly one answer to on a form. We may come from many places. But as I learn more here, meet more friends, run into more people at the store, and walk even the graveyards with familiarity, I find myself more and more at home.
Enjoy all my pictures from the day at the graveyard!