Friday, August 31, 2012

Claypit Burying Ground

Lowell, MA (formerly Dracut)

Claypit is a sad tale of neglect, and of towns refusing to take responsibility. This small historical burial ground originally was in Dracut, prior to the land annexation in 1874 which made this part of Lowell. It contains historical figures central to Dracut's founding and development, as well as Revolutionary war soldiers, and a prominent African-American, and dates to at least 1700. It's also been known as the Pierce/Coburn Cemetery, the Clay Pit Cemetery, and the Old Burying Ground.

 2008 photo, Rebecca Duda

Several attempts in past decades have been made to clean up and maintain this area, but without cooperation from either town, these few efforts have ended up as one-time cleanup attempts that soon vanish under the encroachment of nature and vandals. Property record searches still leave a question as to who the actual owners are; Lowell assessor lists Dracut as the owner, Dracut denies it, and since Claypit was originally private, it's true ownership could belong to the descendants of those buried here; who have never come forward.
The vandalism has been terrible; most remaining stones have been smashed, there was at least one attempt at grave robbery in 1991 by teenagers too stupid to know that nothing would remain in a grave 200+ years old; nonetheless, they dug the grave out to a depth of four feet, and then pushed the headstone into it. Many more stones may still be buried under the centuries of organic material.

Luckily, in 1904 a woman named P. Hildreth Parker took inventory of the inscriptions extant in her time (although Claypit was in disarray even by then), and at least those records have been preserved. Whether Dracut maintains a burial list of this cemetery in it's town records is unknown.

Clay Pit Cemetery Epitaphs, 1904
P. Hildreth Parker - compiled from her handwritten journal

In Memory of Aaron Coburn Son of Mr Eleazer & Mrs. Bridget Coburn, who was suddenly killed by the fall of a tree, on the 13th day of Jan' 1789 in the 21st year of his Age

Hannah M. Died Oct. 30, 1815 Age 19 mo's  Cornelia Died Mar. 12, 1822 Age 2 y'rs 1 mo. Children of Dea. Nathaniel B. & Hannah Coburn

In memory of Coburn Pierce son of Mr. Phillip & Mrs. Marcy Pierce Died Janry 14 1820 Aged 3 yrs  2 Mos & 17 days

Laverta daughter of Phillip & Marcy Pierce Died July 6, 1831 age 2yrs 8 mos

Phillip Pierce Died Dec. 29, 1863 age 79  Marcy B. his wife Died Apr. 23, 1834, age 47

Mary Carkin, wife of Asa Carkin, died Dec. 25th, 1836 age 53

In Memory of Leah, wife of Moses B. Colburn Died Apr. 27, 1837 Age 73

In Memory of Moses B. Colburn died Sep. 26, 1838 Age 80 He was a soldier of the Revolution

In Memory of Alfred Coburn who died Jan. 16, 1845 Age 43

In memory of Rhoda Brown who died May 20,1845 age 90

In Memory of Mr. Elexis Pierce who died Feb. 18, 1847 age 36 y'rs 5 mons.

Sacred to the memory of Miss Eloisa Pierce who died April 8, 1847 age 25 y'rs, 5 mo's

Dea. Nathaniel B. Coburn Died Apr. 12, 1854 Aged 68

Asa Carkin died May 29, 1854

Moses B. Coburn Jr. Died Sept. 30, 1857 age 59 y's 6 mo's

Hannah Wife of Dea. Nath'l B. Coburn died Dec. 23, 1868 Aged 78

Surviving stones:

Aaron Coburn 1789
Rhoda Brown, 1845

Moses B. Coburn Jr. 1857

 Moses B. Colburn, 1838 Soldier of the Revolution

Dea. Nathaniel B. Coburn,1854
Elexis Pierce, 1847 & Eloisa Pierce,1847

Images from the 2010 cleanup of the site:

The above images are all from the wonderful Corey Sciuoto, during his assistance in the May, 2010 cleanup. See his blog entry on Claypit here.

Below are various photos of Claypit from 2008, from Rebecca Duda, whose efforts to save Claypit fell on the deaf ears of both the Lowell & Dracut town officials. See her article here.


"Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid 
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; 
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd, 
Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre."
-Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard,  Thomas Gray

Anatomy of a Gravestone

 Monument eras can generally be identified by the material used, in addition to styles and decoration. Following are the most commonly used materials and their (approximate) periods, in the US:
1600-1650: Natural fieldstones or wooden markers, sometimes crudely lettered with minimal information; perhaps a name and date, perhaps just the date, sometimes with initials/date – often not marked at all. In the case of the Forefathers Burial Grounds in Chelmsford, MA (as is likely at many other places), most of the original pre-1655 grave stones ended up later serving as part of the surrounding boundary wall for the cemetery.

    1650-1900: Slate, Sandstone. Sandstone is very soft, and subject to much erosion. Slate is very hard, and many fine and perfectly legible stones still survive today., primarily in New England due to the Boston area providing a wealth of hard, beautiful slate.

    Early slate monument, 1775, MA -Taphophile

    1750-1930: Marble , Granite, Schist (a type of shale), rarely, soapstone.

Granite monument, 1871, MA; Taphophile

    1860-1930: Zinc; greyish metal with blue undertone; can age a bit like copper; verdigris with white.

 The following is a wonderful article from the Reed Digital Collections; author Laura Liebman:
Stone Shape
The shape of the stone can provide us with information about the ethnicity, religious denomination, and social status of the deceased. In early New England, three basic stone shapes were commonly used: vertical, horizontal, and obilesques. Each of these stone shapes has specific associations. During the late nineteenth-century, gravestones became more individualistic, and in some *garden cemeteries the gravestones were quite unique.
wunzie flat
Associations: Vertical stone with a curved top are associated with a curved doorway into the world to come. The side pillars (“borders”) were seen as analogous to the pillars in the third temple that harkened of the messianic era.
Typically used by: this is the most common shape used in colonial New England. In colonial Jewish cemeteries, they are associated with Ashkenazi Jews. In cemeteries that have a larger than usual proportion of horizontal stones, children are often given a disproportionate number of vertical stones.
Associations: Horizontal “ledger” stones mark individual as well as family tombs: beginning in the early 1700s, Protestants sometimes built underground tombs consisting of a brick burial room covered with earth and grass. Thus, the above-ground box structures covered by ledger stones mark the site of the tomb, rather than being the tomb itself (Wells & Wells 20).
Typically used by: Protestant ministers and their families, Sephardic Jews, adults, wealthy members of society who can afford more expensive stones. In Protestant cemeteries, it is not uncommon for this style of stone to mark the tomb of more than one individual.
Associations: Obilesques became popular in the nineteenth century and are associated with the Egyptian revival movement.
Typically used by: I know of no particular religious groups or ethnic groups that favor this style of stone. They are more common, however, among the upper classes. Presumably this is due to the cost of the monument.
During the later part of the nineteenth century, cemeteries were constructed as garden-like parks. Lavish amounts of money were spent creating individualistic monuments.
Typically used by:
Although fanciful monuments were easier for the upper-classes to afford, in cemeteries such as Lowell, there are elaborate monuments commemorating “the laboring classes” as well.

Elements of the Inscription
There are seven basic elements found on gravestone inscriptions: (1) Header, (2) Epithet [terms of praise or identifying labels], (3) Name, (4) Formulas of Death, (5) Date, (6) Eulogies [usually hopes for the person in the afterlife], and (7) Age. These elements do not appear on every stone, nor do they always appear in the same order. For example, children’s gravestones often have shorter inscriptions. If you are creating a seriation study, it is useful to identify which element of the inscription you want to track. For example, studies of colonial Protestant stones suggest that the header is the most important locale for understanding theological changes over time.

  Examples of each category (not exhaustive):
1. Header Here lies; Here lies the body; In the memory of; Sacred ; The remains of..; etc.
2. Epithet(s) Honored; Minister; Merchant; Esteemed; Esq[uire]; Daughter of..; Ornament; Faithful Relic of; Mason; etc.
3. Name Mr. Thomas Mayhew; Moses Lopez
4. Formula of Death Who departed from this life; Who fell victim to..; who died
5. Date May 23, 1786; 3 Nissan 5568; ye 2nd of June
6. Eulogies A Biblical verse; May his soul enjoy the glory; In God we trust
7. Age Age 3 months and 2 days; Aetatis 62

Identifying Key Symbols 
The images that appear on gravestone usually have stock associations. The most commonly used gravestone symbols appear on the lunette. These are the death's head, the cherub, and the willow & urn. Scholars have argued persuasively that the shift from the Calvinist “death’s head,” to the Arminian Cherub, to the Unitarian “Urn and Willow” reflect when and how individual communities made the transformation from Calvinism to more liberal forms of Christianity. The change in symbols on the lunette is often reflected in a change in the inscription's header from (1) "Here lies" to (2) "Here lies [buried] the body [corruptible, what was mortal] of" to (3) “in memory of.”
death's Head
willow & urn
Death's Head
Willow & Urn
The symbols used on the finials and borders are more diverse. Because images on gravestones are often stylized rather than realistically depicted, it is important to familiarize yourself with how objects are typically represented. Click here to see a gravestone glossary for Protestant cemeteries in New England.

*Garden cemeteries: Park-like cemeteries; the first in the US was Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Top Photo, (elements of a monument) - Taphophile
Eras & Materials text: Taphophile
All photos and text from Stone Shape, Examples, Elements & Identifying: Reed Digital Collections, Laura Liebman


Monday, August 27, 2012

Lowell Cemetery

Lowell, Middlesex County, MA
 This cemetery, now privately maintained and still current, was founded in 1841 overlooking the Concord River. Apparently inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, it is the second oldest 'garden' cemetery in the country - Mount Auburn was the first. There are some very unique gravestones here, as well as some personages of note, and it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998. Now 85 acres in total, with a working, 1885 granite chapel and some rather impressive gates, it has retained the original charm the architect and planners intended; a place that was once heavily frequented as the beautiful, tree'd park it was intended to be.

The J.C. Ayer Lion
"The order for the work was placed in 1888 with Mr. Joy, whose popularity abroad as a sculptor is attested by the fact that among the orders given him were the John Bright and Gladstone monuments. This statue is eight feet high and rests on a base 7x13 feet. The weight is not far from twenty five tons."

On to the unusual:
 The Willoughby sofa

The Ebert's favorite chair

..a good chair always requires a good book:

..and another!


Cruel fate...
..and the empty child's bed.

But there are those that will watch over them...

..and protect them.

A man and a woman wait at the Parker tomb, he contemplates a sarcophagus, she, a caduceus.

A 32nd degree Master Mason proclaims his rank.


Amasa Pratt, in perpetual care.

A final hidden gem; now and then the public can be guided down in to see the former crypts area, now unused. Look what is stored there!

-all photos property of Dick Howe Jr.