Litchfield County Sketches

By Newell Meeker Calhoun

Litchfield County University Club

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The Neglected Graveyard

THERE are scattered about among the hills of our county not a few neglected graveyards. They are not so common, perhaps, as they were a quarter of a century ago. In some of them have lain for long years the bodies of Revolutionary soldiers, without monument or sign to indicate the honored dead who lie buried there. The marking of these graves has been the task of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and they have entered upon it with an enthusiastic appreciation of the debt which we owe to these old soldiers, whose names we would not forget. In searching after their burial places, these daughters have been astonished to find so many neglected graveyards, and have used their influence to have them better cared for.

Another cause which has led to the better care of these forsaken “God’s Acres” has been the coming back into the county of the children and grandchildren of those who were buried there. The rebuilding and restoring of the old farm house have led to the looking after the resting places and the monuments of their ancestry. If it is worth our while carefully to trace out the long lines of our progenitors and build libraries and churches in their memory, surely it is just as commendable to see that the plot of ground where they are buried is suitably inclosed and properly and decently cared for. There is room for the development of veneration of our ancestors.

I well remember the lonely, unkempt cemetery where we laid our little brother to rest. It was on the bank of a pond much frequented by the frogs, noisily disturbing the otherwise still and fearsome night. An old wall inclosed it, with wooden stairs, gradually falling into decay, leading over it. A few of the graves were well cared for, but weeds, briars and brambles crowded their way among the mounds of earth. It was situated in a part of the town which was notorious for Sabbath-breaking and drinking. There was not a pleasant association about the spot, and children hurried by it with hearts in their mouths and bated breath. A few solemn spruce trees pointed their slender tops skyward, and at night the wind sang a funeral dirge through their swaying branches. This particular graveyard rapidly went from bad to worse, as families moved away or died out, leaving the dead to the tender mercies of the town and to strangers. There came a day when the old schoolmaster’s soul was mightily moved by the sight, and he determined, either alone or with the help of others whom he might interest, to clear it up and make it more inviting to the living and more worthy of the dead. May coming generations keep his grave green and his monument erect! That reminds me of the common sign of neglect that one sees in these burial places. The headstones, set in the earth without any base, have been thrown by the frost until they lean in every way from the perpendicular. They remind you, as you look through the graveyard, of a forest through which the tornado has passed. Some stones lie prostrate on the ground, broken in pieces; others have been picked up and set against the wall or a tree, as one might pick up a drunken man and lean him against something, hoping that thus he might be helped to stand.

Passing through one of these neglected graveyards, one is struck with the names, which are no longer found among the living. When the grave was made, everybody in the town knew the mourned occupant. Now the town’s people come and say, “Who was this man who lies buried here? We never heard of him; none of his name now live among us.” This in itself accounts in part for the lack of care so often shown these sacred places.

On my father’s farm there was a neglected graveyard. It was back a quarter of a mile from the house, on the edge of a dark wood. A substantial stone wall inclosed it. There were less than a half dozen graves in it, and those evidently of one family. The boy paused as he drove home the cows and read the inscriptions upon the marble slabs, now brown with age. No one knew anything about those buried there save what was written on the stones. They were born, so the stones said, in such a year, and died in such a year, but who cared whether they ever lived or not? Quite sizable trees, fed on the rich mould, and brambles made it hard to pass through this inclosure of the dead. It was. not always thus. Loving hands laid this little child here to rest, while the scalding tears flowed. The mother felt that she must have the mound of earth near enough to keep it covered with fresh flowers. Often the father and mother came here at close of day, and spoke gently of the life which like a welcome light had gone out in their home. The father laid with his own hands the stones in the wall to better guard the newly-made grave. No weeds grew in the inclosure, but flowering plants ‘%srere made to bloom here, and a well-trodden path led from the house to the grave of this little child. At night, with axe on his shoulder, the father came from the forest, leaned against the wall and gazed tearfully at the mound of earth which the first snow was covering. Those tears somehow served to cleanse his soul and make him a better man. The snows of a dozen Winters have melted, and the birds have come and gone a dozen seasons, when you behold another procession winding through the meadow and coming toward an open grave. The mother now rests by the side of the child which she loved so well. Henceforth the father is divided between the lonely house on the hill and the graveyard by the wood. His heart is in the latter rather than the former. The farm does not attract him as it once did. His step has lost its elasticity. He sits in the gloaming by the window and looks out toward the wood. Often he is seen to stand on the slope of the hill watching the white marble slabs. Then there comes a day when he, too, is carried along the path toward the wood and laid to rest. A son and daughter come from the city to attend the funeral, and stand and read the inscriptions on the tombstones of mother and little sister. They will have an appropriate monument for father as soon as the estate is settled. The old farm must of course be sold, as they have no use for it. But if they sell it, what will become of the graves of their dear ones? “We will come back once each year, at least, and care for them,” they are saying. The farm passes into the hands of strangers, the great city calls them with its myriad voices, sons and daughters demand their attention, and the graves are neglected. It is an old story, as old as the first family. The living bury their dead, and too often forget them and the place where their dust was laid. The strenuous life of New England, the pressing problems which must be solved, the drift westward and farther westward, have made these neglected graveyards possible. Every town in its corporate capacity should religiously and faithfully care for these burial places of the dead within its boundai’ies. This is the least that can be done for those that established the town and made the life of to-day possible. It matters not whether these cemeteries are under the shadow of the old meeting house or on some abandoned highway. There should be no partiality shown for the location or for the social standing of the dead while yet alive. If this is ancestor worship, let us have more of it.

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