Cemetery Musings

“If in heaven
There is no wit
You’ll know she went
To hell for it.”

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. 

A New England Grave Yard in the Fall.

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.

Sea Crow Press has two books about Cape Cod.

read more about Old Orleans in Mary E. McDermott’s new book

take some poetry to the beach with Moon Tide by Mary Petiet

Orleans Street Names

Every street name has its story!

Who remembers the original name of Tonset Road Extension? It was Stone Crusher Road because the machine used to crush stones for road construction had been located there.


Beriah Doane of East Orleans had a spring where people would often go to get fresh water; it was commonly known as “Beriah’s spring.” That’s how Briar Spring Road got its name! This information was imparted to me by the late realtor Tod Rattle.


Uncle Harvey’s Way honors Harvey Sparrow, who served in the War of 1812. He and his wife, Betsey, are interred in the Orleans Cemetery. 

A street scene in Orleans on Cape Cod. Photo by John Phelan


Captain Linnell Road was named for Captain Ebenezer Harding Linnell, who built and lived in the mansion formerly occupied by the Captain Linnell House restaurant near Skaket Beach. There is a monument to Captain Linnell in the cemetery, but his body was claimed by the sea on an ill-fated voyage. 


Aunt Polly’s Way commemorates Mary White Talbot, fondly known as Aunt Polly. She was the sister of Sara White Johnstone, who operated the outdoor Greenwood Theatre with her husband, William Bard Johnstone. The Johnstones and Whites were instrumental in founding the Church of the Holy Spirit on Monument Road, not far from where they lived.


Winslow Drive recalls the Winslow family, who owned a large amount of property in South Orleans. They were the owners of United Shoe Machinery in Boston.


In the Weeset section of Tonset is Sage’s Way, which honors Albert Snow, a local historian who was nicknamed the Sage of Weeset.


Eldredge Park Way reflects the name of the adjacent ball field. When the Orleans town nurse had her office in the elementary school, the first listing under “Town of Orleans” in the phone book was “Nurse Eldredge Park Way.”

Mail addressed to the Town at “Nurse Eldredge Park Way” would occasionally arrive at Town Hall! I suppose the writers must have wondered who the heroic Nurse Eldredge had been!


Every street name has its story!

Read more stories about Cape Cod in Mary McDermott’s book Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town from Sea Crow Press.

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.

JOIN SEA CROW PRESS IN WELCOMING AUTHOR MARY E. McDERMOTT

A new book about Cape Cod from Sea Crow Press!

Mary E. McDermott is a 13th generation Cape Codder. Her stories are time capsules transporting readers to an earlier, pre-development Cape Cod past.

What was life like on old Cape Cod?

Lunch counters. Working the telephone switchboard. A song called Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs Murphy’s Chowder. Love during World War II. Hurricanes. A time when scarlet fever could kill, doctors made house calls, and locals brushed shoulders with celebrities such as Anaīs Nin and Dr. Scholl in Provincetown. 

These and other poignant memories of a Cape Cod town are preserved in the stories of an Orleans family bringing local characters and simpler times to life. Told in vignettes spanning from the 1920s to the Baby Boom, these stories preserve the grit and charm of Old Cape Cod.

Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town is living history at its best. This quiet read brings the past to life now and for future generations.

About Mary E. McDermott

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.