Cemeteries have fascinated me ever since the days when I would accompany my mother and aunt to place geraniums on the family graves for Memorial Day. As anyone knows who has taken Bonnie Snow’s cemetery tour, burial grounds give one a sense of connection with our history.
The Orleans Cemetery is the final resting place of Isaac Snow, who was instrumental in naming the town and who was our last surviving Revolutionary War veteran. Also interred here are “Uncle Harvey” Sparrow, who served in the War of 1812, and Webster Rogers, the longest-lived of our Spanish-American war veterans. Webster’s daughter, Emma Augusta Rogers, known as “Emma Gusty”, made her own graduation dress, but her father would not allow her to attend the ceremony. She vowed to be buried in the dress, and she was, over 70 years later!
One of my family graves has a tragic story. My great-aunt Myrtice Chase, wife of my great-uncle Ernie, was a young wife of 23, having her first child. According to family lore, she was given ether, which her lungs could not tolerate; she died and the baby died with her. She was buried with the baby still in utero, and her husband never knew if it would have been a son or a daughter.
On a happier note, the cemetery holds the remains of Dr Claude Heaton, who delivered Margaret Mead’s daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. Apparently, Mead wanted either a home birth or natural childbirth or both, and Dr Heaton was the only physician who would agree to her wishes. Mother and daughter came through the experience in good health. as she relates in her autobiography.
At the top of the hill is Barna Sprague’s gravestone, with the face of a dog carved into each of the top corners. These canine faces represent her two yellow Labs, Breeze and Daisy; Barna died while trying to rescue Breeze from a fire which destroyed her home. (Daisy escaped.) It was typical of Barna to risk her life for a beloved pet; her heart brimmed with compassion for animals.
But cemeteries can also hold unexpected flashes of humor. Consider the stone of John and Grace Lyons. She was the first to pass, and her epitaph reads, “If in heaven/There is no wit/You’ll know she went/ To hell for it.” After his death much later, his epitaph was inscribed: “Thirty years later/Still loving his Grace,/He hoped to meet her/Either place!”
I encourage everyone to take a walk in a cemetery. There is always much to be learned.
Mary E. McDermott is a 13th-generation Cape Codder living in Orleans. She worked for 17 years in the Orleans Assessor’s Office and 23 years as a commercial insurance broker at Pike Insurance Agency. She has been a justice of the peace to solemnize marriages since 1976 and has previously published two books of poetry, Tapestry and Handle with Care. Her poems have appeared in several publications including the Christian Science Monitor.