Friday, October 31, 2008
No spooky tombstones in Central Burying Ground
On a brilliant autumn afternoon, four days before Halloween, the Central Burying Ground looked and felt positively serene. Granted, the sun was out, the sky was cobalt blue, and this visitation was not made in the dark of night. Traditionally, cemeteries are the playground of ghosts and goblins on Halloween, but Carlisle’s old burying ground couldn’t be spooky – could it? Besides, if some mischief were detected among the ancient tombstones, the Police Station is just next door and frightened mortals could skedaddle over there.
The Central Burying Ground is the final resting place for many of Carlisle’s early settlers. Here the Healds, Parkers, Andrews, Durens, Proctors, Robbins, Spauldings (the original spelling) and others are buried, along with husbands, wives, sisters, brothers and children. These are the ones you can read – on countless other slate markers, the names and dates have been erased by time and lichen, which clings stubbornly to the slate.
Many of the old stones tilt crazily, often leaning on one another as if for support. They face the rising sun, as early burial customs dictate, except for one that defiantly faces west. Small American flags decorate several graves in honor of the deceased’s military service prior to 1831, when the Central Burying Ground was declared full.
Wilkins family deed
The one-half acre of land for the burial ground had been deeded to the District of Carlisle on June 18, 1787 by Timothy Wilkins, Jr. and Timothy Wilkins III, for the sum of one pound, six shillings. By 1831 it became clear that additional burial space was required, but it wasn’t until 1840 that Green Cemetery, originally the private burial ground of the Green family (which had numerous members), was enlarged and became the town’s cemetery.
The Bloods were also early settlers with large families. Presumably some Bloods are buried here, but the only identifiable Blood tombstone reads: “Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth Blood, widow of Mr. David Blood, January 10, 1815, age 73.”
Perhaps the most illustrious resident of the old cemetery is Reverend Paul Litchfield, the first settled pastor in Carlisle, who died on November 5, 1827, at the age of 75. His burial place is near the crest of the hill, marked by a tall slate stone next to the matching stone of his wife Mary. Nearly a century later, in 1923, Litchfield’s great-grandson, William F. Litchfield, erected a slate bench near his ancestors’ graves. It is covered by a stone structure and inside, a bronze plaque memorializes Reverend Litchfield.
So many gravestones are anonymous today. Of those whose epitaph is legible, the earliest may be that of Mrs. Persis Dickinson who died on January 15, 1782, at the age of 37. According to Sidney Bull’s History of Carlisle, “That interments were made here previous to its being purchased by the district for burial purposes would seem evident from the inscriptions found on some of the stones, which date back as far as 1778, and doubtless some who still early found a resting place here, have no stone erected to their memory.”
A boy of nine, Jonathan P. Clark, son of Mr. Jonathan Clark and Mrs. Hannah Clark, died on September 24, 1817. His parents are probably buried nearby, but the names on neighboring stones are unrecognizable. Solomon Andrews, who operated a mill near Page’s Brook in the mid-1700s, is buried here, but his marker bears only his name, no date. One of his sons, Captain Issachar Andrews, lies close by – he died on July 16, 1796, at the age of 51. His marker bears the remnants of a poem, which remains frustratingly indecipherable. At least six other gravestones marked Andrews are nearby, but more information has been obliterated.
In contrast with the slate slabs in the Central Burying Ground is the shiny marble monument to the family of Gershom Heald, who died at 89 on September 3, 1835. He outlived his wife, Lucy Harris; their son Eleazer; his wife Rebecca Hutchinson; and two grandchildren ages five and nine. All names are carved on the monument.
The slate tombstones covering a period of some 60 years are remarkably similar in design. Many have a carved tree – mostly a weeping willow – and a simple urn. Often the engraver has inscribed his name on the stone. Some gravestones include poems, but some of the lines are now sadly illegible. The stone of Mrs. Lucy Spaulding, who died on April 5, 1821, at the age of 64, explains in verse:
Friends nor physicians could not save
The gravestone of Reuben Duren, who died on May 20, 1819, at 51, leaves an ominous message for present-day trick-or-treaters:
The die is cast, my hope, my fear
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito