The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 30, 2000


Memorial Chapel Offers Use for All

Many of us know the pleasure of discovering a previously unknown gem tucked away in what is virtually our own backyard. I have never had a reason to enter the 160-year-old Green Cemetery on Bedford Road, but on a recent tour of the newly refurbished Wilson Memorial Chapel, I felt I had found a polished and reset jewel. The sturdy, one-room brick building, which dates back to 1907, now stands ready to fulfill its original purpose: "free use of all of whatever creed and nationality."

Refurbished not rebuilt

Spurred by a request from the Carlisle Historical Society nearly two years ago, Bob Koning, building inspector, and Gary Davis, superintendent of the Department of Public Works, set out to oversee a project that would not incur costs to taxpayers. Drawing from perpetual-care funds and income from plot sales, monies were established to fund a modest but careful restoration of a building that had been in disuse for nearly 60 years.

At the top of the to-do list was the installation of electricity and heat. Carlisle didn't get electricity until 1911, four years after the donation of the chapel by Captain Horace Waldo Wilson in memory of his parents, Mr. And Mrs. Horace N. Wilson.

"It's a working building again," says Sarah Brophy, the Historical Society's historian, "and working buildings last longer." Brophy, along with the Historical Society's president, Charlie Forsberg, were my tour guides. Both conveyed respect and enthusiasm for what Brophy claims is her favorite building in Carlisle.

The exterior of the chapel has the original slate roof, wooden arch and granite pillars. Whitewashed brick walls, six subtly colored stained glass windows and a refinished wood floor with a ruby luster define the interior. Built to seat 42, the chapel was empty of furniture during my tourexcept for the refurbished organand it gave the interior an unexpected light and airy feel. The cathedral ceiling, made of wood slats the same color as the floor, amplifies the sense that this small space is large. Brophy admits that the chapel is "brighter and warmer" than it previously was.

Even a well-built structure ages, and some parts of the old chapel are now new. The stairs and walls that lead down to the basement have been replaced. The basement has a new cement floorpoured over the original dirt oneand new support columns. The original cross beams are still in place and only a handful of them needed reinforcing.

Among the original items still in the chapel are a Bible donated in 1922, a wooden biera stand that holds the casket before burial, and wooden folding chairs. One of the more unusual vintage objects is a small ceremonial shovel. Waldo Wilson, the six-year-old grandson of Horace Waldo Wilson, used it to turn the earth for the construction. Waldo Wilson's daughter is Sarah Andreassen, Town Clerk. One piece not expected to make the transition to this century is the original 24-light ceiling chandelier. The metal structure may not survive damage done from lying for years on a dirt floor in an unheated building.

A glance back in time

"It was common for a cemetery to have a chapel," explains Brophy, "but this chapel arrived a little late." Many town cemeteries built their chapels 20 years earlier, by the 1880s. Typically chapels offered a church-like setting for burial services for people who had not lived in the town, or people who did not belong to the established churches.

Records indicate that in 1917, ten years after the Wilson Chapel was donated, it had been used 18 times for people who had been brought to Carlisle for burial, and ten times for residents

1917 was also the first year records note an embalming. During this decade a gravesite could cost about $4. A grave preparer, who would attend the funeral and prepare the body, would also cost about $4. Caskets ranged in price from $9 to $50, and it cost $47 to rent the hearse and seven horses to draw it. The town's second hearse, dating from 1865, was restored and later donated to the Historical Society. Plans have been made for it to appear in this year's Old Home Day Parade.

The chapel today

While all the details of how and when the Wilson Chapel will be used are yet to decided, the Historical Society wants Carlisle residents to know that the restoration work is done, and that the chapel is once again open for use free to the public The society also plans on having occasional tours of the chapel.

"The selectmen are by default the cemetery commissioners," explains society president Forsberg. They will have some say in orchestrating the public use of this restored gem. In the meantime, inquires about using the Wilson Chapel should be directed to Gary Davis at the DPW.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito