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OLDE BURYING YARD  


A TOUR OF THE OLDE BURYING YARD

The Olde Burying Yard behind the First Church in Longmeadow is a fascinating outdoor museum. Without musty smells of antiquity, without the glare of a reading lamp, one learns much more than expected in the fresh air and sunshine. You may even complete a tour of the yard with grass stained knees and less time than you would like to spend. Take a walk and take an interest in the values, the hardships, the warnings, and the legacy left to us by our early Longmeadow ancestors.

A map of the Olde Burying Yard, which is but a small section of the Longmeadow Cemetery, will help you locate some of the stones of particular interest. The stones are numbered according to row, of which there are eight, and by sequence within the rows which begin at the entrance closest to the Church. For example, stone number 416 is the sixteenth stone in the fourth row.

As you walk along the foot path in front of the first row you will notice that the markers are made of brownstone. This hardy stone was readily available in the East Longmeadow quarry which was operational until ten years ago. Surprisingly enough, the brownstone is outlasting some of the marble stones which were more expensive and difficult to obtain.


Click links below to view the individual gravestones...

107. The marker of Deacon Nathaniel Ely tells a detailed account of his spiritual life. Many of the stones in the old section will reveal the occupation, the manner of death, and qualities of the individual for which they stand. One finds such comments as "killed at the Battle of Lake George," "killed by a powder keg, " "military genius," "Minister." "Merchant," or "Doctor."

108. A woman is most likely remembered as "daughter of," "wife of," "consort of," or "relict of." The stone of Nathaniel's wife next to him is carefully noted that Nathaniel was her second husband; the first husband's name is given as well. "Relict" is a woman left behind by the death of her husband. It seems that a woman's identity was very clear in those days.

109. The marble obelisk is of note as inscribed on it is one of the names seen most often in the old yard: Ely. Other important family names are Colton, Burt, Cooley, and Bliss. The consistency of family names indicates a close community in which roots were well established in their town.

110. Very important, too, were family relationships. This stone reads simply "Auntie. "

114. The stones in the old yard give us more to read than the information about those who have passed on, they also give advice and warnings to those who are passing by. They speak of the inevitability of death, the shallowness and vanity of this world, and warn us to mend our ways before we die. The gravestone of Sarah Colton warns of "corruption, earth, and worms." The pictorial warnings of stones dated earlier than this one were skeletons with crossed bones under them. On this stone the skull has been evolved to look more like a face with wings in order to aid its ascent to heaven. Instead of crossed bones, there is a collar-like affair under the chin.

118. 120. Something can be learned of longevity during these early times. Solomon Colton lived until he was 89 years old and Deborah Colton died at the age of 97. Though witnessed in the yard are many early and untimely deaths, those who survived childhood diseases, smallpox, childbirth, and wars, had a very good chance to live many years.

Carvings on these two stones are typical of others that you have passed and many more that you will see in the old yard. The sculptor has carved an urn symbolizing the remains of the body and the weeping willow which represents those who mourn and the possibility of new growth and life.

127. The stone of Theodosia Coomes bears a warning for the living:

Ye living men see here your end
To Jesus voice pry now attend
Your days, your years how swift they fly.
Be warned be wise prepare to die.

This type of advice is a part of many of the older stones. You may want to discover a few for yourself.

129. The marker of Ascha Coomes reveals a softening of the harsh view of death. All must struggle to cope with losing loved ones; some strive to trust and accept. Her parents wrote of their daughter: "She we trust fell quietly asleep in Jesus."

153. 154. The small markers of very young children are many in the old yard. The evidence of infant mortality witnessed here can cause a lump in your throat. These stones are for three Cooley children ages 5 weeks, 3 years and 10 months, and 9 years old.

255. 254. The table stone you see as you turn the corner into the second row is representative of several other such stones which list a considerable amount of information about a particular individual or about entire families. What is most interesting about this table stone, however, is the broken stone lying underneath it. This resurrected marker is hand etched very simply and is perhaps the oldest stone in the yard. It is dated 1636 for Nathaniel Burt. There is some controversy among the experts as to the oldest stone. We'll come to the rival stone later on in our tour.

252. The marker of George Cooley indicates that he died of smallpox. So great was the toll taken by this disease that it is mentioned on many graves. In other areas of New England, entire graveyards were given over to the victims of this disease.

248. I mention this stone simply because it resembles the earliest carvings of skulls and bones.

224. The stone of Samuel Ely, is part of the tour because it is so typical in all elements of style. The crowned head (the crown of glory) which ascends to heaven with wings, and the artistic scroll work of the sculptor lend to the memory of this young man who died just two years after his graduation from Yale.

218. The stone of Jonathan Burt causes one to wonder: "He departed this life in a sudden and surprising manner."

213. The pedestal marking Lucy Stebbins has been signed by the sculptor, H. Newell. Not many of the sculptors are mentioned with their work, and yet it is one of the earliest art forms in the New World.

207. The grave of William Stebbins is interesting from an artistic point of view. The skull head has evolved to the extent that it may represent personal features of the deceased. The vine decorating the top and the sides indicates new and continual life. The design is creative and unique.

304. The fourth stone in the third row is interesting because there are two heads carved on the stone. Two children died within five days of each other in 1801; their ages are very accurately recorded: one was 3 years and 9 months, the other 14 months old. I mention children again because any casual observer in this graveyard could hardly miss the evidence of personal tragedy, The loss of children was a burden carried by many people.

316. 317. 318. 319. The Ely family has left some beautiful marble stones which are easily read and self-explanatory. Although the stones are opulent, there is evidence that the family may have been generous with their wealth:

"Blessed is He that considereth the Poor."

322. The grave of Naomi Woolworth is quite remarkable because its symbolism draws from many backgrounds: the scythe on the left symbolizes death's tool to cut down the flower of life, under it is death's dart as mentioned in Mil-ton's Paradise Lost. Centered and crowned is the hourglass whose sand. Has slipped to the bottom: time is supreme. To the right is the cock whose call brings in the new morning. Melvin G. Williams included a copy of this stonehead in his book, The Last Word. This book about New England graveyards is an excellent reference and enjoyable reading.

331. Do you think that the head of James Reed has an unusual look about it? Could there be devil's horns coming out of his forehead?

332. The stone of Lewis Stebbins belongs in medical history. He died of smallpox after receiving his inoculation. At this time in 1772, there was difficulty discerning the proper safe dosage.

452. In Row 4, the stone of John Gunn, a Quartermaster, resembles the earliest of carved stones with a skull face, and indicating a more crude view of death it reads "Here lyeth the Body of. . ."

448. I have included the stone of Capt. George Colton because his parents were so proud of their son's promising future that they described in detail how he died before he could begin a bright career.

447. Another young person who was denied a future was Eunice Colton, age 29. Very nicely displayed on her grave stone is the blossom severed from its stalk by death's cruel blow. This stone is unusual in this yard as well as in the New England area. The Biblical reference is from the book of Job: "Man comes forth like a flower and is cut down." "My days are past my purposes are broken off."

434. On the stone of Abigail Colton, the artist placed a pointing finger to make sure we noted the warning placed there.

432. So great was the emphasis upon the event of birth, that many baby girls were named Thankful. This one lived only 2 days.

431. 430. 429. The stones of the Rumrill family tell a very sad tale. The couple was so intent upon having a son named after the father that they continued to give their sons the name of Ebenezer. The third Ebenezer cost the life of his young mother and he lived only seven weeks more. Many women were young brides for a year and mothers for only a day. Perhaps you would like to continue walking through the remaining rows with your own thoughts and questions. I will mention a few more stones which you may not want to miss.

511. The cause of Jerusha's death was cancer in 1844. Names alone can be enjoyable: What became of Charity, Experience, Festus, Hephzibah, Ithimar, Submit, and Wealthy?

616. Stephen Williams has a claim to fame in Longmeadow. He was the minister of First Church when it was established in 1716. His diary is the best historical record of the town and of this period. He retired from the pulpit at the age of 86 and he lived until he was 89 years of age.

818. Stephen Williams' successor was Richard S. Storrs whose marker is a notable structure which cannot be missed. Much information about his life and his work is recorded on his stone.

736.  The oldest gravestone is for Mary Colton, age 83 who died on October 10, 1682.  This gravestone (with no remains) was moved from the Pine Street cemetery in Springfield, MA to the Longmeadow Cemetery.

There is much more to be discovered in the Olde Burying Yard. The history to be gathered in this museum under the trees is fascinating. Not only do we learn of the great deeds accomplished and the large wars won, we also learn of the hopes that were unfulfilled and the individual battles which were lost. It is a well balanced history of the common people who shaped our town.

Mabel Swanson

Gravestone photos contributed by Al & Betsy McKee 



Longmeadow Historical Society

697 Longmeadow Street
Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 567-3600
LongmeadowHS@gmail.com
 
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