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Betsy’s Corner: Haunted Halloween in the Old Burying Ground

By Betsy Huber Port

Soon it will be Halloween when ghosts and spirits will roam our historic Old Burying Ground. Have you ever taken the time to explore the land behind the First Church on the town green? Read the names, the prose and especially the dates in this graveyard. The oldest marker may be a small one, carved in local brownstone, but it dates to 1682. “Mary Colton dyed (died) Oct 1682 – My Dayes at—- my glas is run…” This is a special cemetery that, trust me, is not haunted during the daylight hours. You will learn so much about the lives and the experiences of the colonists who lived here. You will appreciate how lucky we are to expect long lives. It is interesting to read the dates and inscriptions to discover how many families had tragedies of children lost at early ages. Women often died in childbirth and diseases spread through a family quickly. Life expectancy was only 35 in the early 19th century but it was over 50 if you survived to age 10.

The Longmeadow Historical Society runs the annual “Ghosts in the Graveyard” event every October. This year the event has been canceled due to the EEE outbreak and for the safety of Longmeadow families during the evening hours. Ghosts will come back to life to tell their stories from beyond next Oct. 24, 2020…and their stories will fill you with awe. The ghosts will dress in authentic costumes and stand near their gravestones. In the meantime, visit The Storrs House to see the exhibit there regarding Longmeadow in the early 20th Century.

There are several interesting types of carvings on the gravestones. Early stones include skeleton heads known as death’s heads with specific images of an hourglass, cut flowers and unique carvings from local carvers like Herman Newell who lived across the street from the old burying ground on Williams Street. The fine grain and even texture of Longmeadow brownstone was used as building materials nationally in addition to being preferred sandstone for grave markers. Before 1893, East Longmeadow was still part of “The Town of Longmeadow.” The high quality of this brownstone was outstanding and lesser examples of brownstone from Connecticut quarries near Portland-Middletown have not aged as well. This is due to the cement that held the ancient sand together, called albite (from the mineral feldspar), which made the stone strong and durable.

Special attention can be paid to the changing styles of carvings. As the 18th century ended and the 19th century dawned, many stones had intricately carved willow trees. During this era, slate was used and granite. In the late 19th century, white marble headstones were in style, but these have aged terribly and often are hard to read, since the letters and words are undecipherable.

The “best preserved” stones are made from the Longmeadow Quarries. The geology of this area is fascinating. Over 200 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed what became later known as the Connecticut River Valley, the sand hardened to became rock known as The Portland Formation. This red and brown stone was full of iron and stretched from New Haven up to Northfield. Quarry work started in the mid 1600s on the stone that was over 6,561 feet thick in some areas. At one time, there were as many as 50 quarries in what we now call the East Longmeadow area. The quarry business was booming in the 1880s-1890s when transport via rail lines enabled quarried material to be shipped far and wide. Buildings at many universities and colleges are made of high-grade Longmeadow Brownstone. The Back Bay in Boston, the Upper West Side of Manhattan and in Brooklyn, rows of townhouses are made of this material. Labor Strikes by the end of the 19th Century caused the business to suffer and by the time the town was split in two forever, there were about three or four active quarries left in operation. The Kibbe Quarry had reddish brownstone, while the Maynard Quarry had the real red sandstone of unequaled color, texture and durability. Norcross and Worcester Quarries were also notable sites andthere are remnants of some quarry areas in East Longmeadow today behind the Wingate Rehab Center on Chestnut Street.

Let’s read some of the epitaphs, stories in stone that will illuminate the past:

 

Oliver Field d. Jan 15, 1801 aged 49 years
“As you are now so once I was
Come children soon prepare to die”

Aaron son of
Elijah & Cynthia Field
d. Aug 23 1834     15 days
“How swift the shuttle flies
That weaves our shroud”

Mehitable Keep
Wife of Matthew Keep
Feb 22, 1795     50 years
“Death is a debt to Nature due
Which I have paid
And so must you”

Mrs. Ann C. Ely
d. May 26, 1835
aged 29
“This mortal must put on immortality”

In Memory of Sarah, Wife of Mr. Ashel Colton
d. March 29, 1797
in 78th year of her age
“Corruption, earth & worms
Shall but refine this flesh
Till my triumphant spirit comes, …”
(unreadable- soil line covers bottom)

Sacred to the memory of
Mr. Thomas Colton who died March 17, 1808 in
89th year of his age
“My flesh shall slumber in the ground – Till the last trumpets joyful sound – Then burst the chains with sweet surprise – And in my saviors image rise.”

In Memory of
Lieut. Festus Colton
Who died Jan 14 1788
In the 45, Year of his Age.
“this stone stands but to tell –Where his christ lies not what he was
When saints shall rise that day will show – The part” (unreadable)

In Memory of Mr. Thomas Hale Who died May 9th 1750
In His 78th year.
“The Age of Man
Is but a Span
His days on Earth A few
At Death he must
Embrace the Dust
And bid this World adieu”

Silence
Daughter of Mr. Samuel & Mrs.
Miriam Coomes
Who died Janry 27, 1765
Aged 5 days

In Memory of Mrs. Deborah Wife Of Elijah Burt who died April 28, 1792
Aged 47 years
“Hark she bids all her Friends adieu
Some Angel calls her to the Spheres
While the dear Dust she leaves behind
Sleep in thy Bosom sacred Tomb
Soft be her Bed her slumber kind
And all her Dreams of Joy to Come”