Time Wears Some Down

I tend to spend much of September in Salem’s cemeteries, running around the perimeters of Harmony Grove and Greenlawn in North Salem and walking slowly through the older cemeteries downtown reading the gravestones. The former will retain much of their serenity in October while the latter will be transformed into circuses, clogged with tourists and walking tours and trash. Salem’s oldest cemetery, the Old Burying Point on Charter Street, is particularly vulnerable given its age and proximity to the Janus-faced nexus of Salem Halloween tourism, the Witch Trials Memorial and the Salem Witch Village (or neighborhood or world or whatever it is called–a conglomeration of horrors) on Liberty Street. The city has contracted with a landscape designer who specializes in historic cemeteries to improve security, perimeter fencing, entrance accessibility, and circulation, and while I welcome these improvements, I doubt that they will address what I see as the central problem facing this sacred space: the lack of respect shown by too many of its visitors. Even on the relatively calm mid-week September day on which I took these pictures, I saw a group of people sitting on a cenotaph merrily eating, drinking, texting and smoking, and such scenarios will be the norm a month from now.

past-sign

Yet even if we closed the gates of the Old Burying Point to all but the descendants of those within (which would be my preference: I will stay out too!) time would still takes its toll. This point was really driven home for me when I compared the pictures that I took the other day to an assortment taken by photographer/author/preservationist/entrepreneur Frank Cousins between 1890 and 1910, preserved in a sample book for his art company in the collection of Historic New England. I can’t do a precise “past and present” comparison for every marker as I was pressed for time and couldn’t find several of the gravestones that Cousins captured (they might be there, but they’ve lost their inscription) and variant stones seemed to have captured his interest and mine. Yet it is readily apparent that even those gravestones that have stood the test of time are now surrounded by a very different world than the Salem of a century ago.

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past-lindalls-cousins-hne

past-timothy-lindall

past-timothy-lindall-cousins-hne

past-lindall-children-2016-charter-street

The various graves of the Lindall family look pretty good in 2016 (on top, in color–such as it is) compared to Cousins’ photographs from c. 1900; I don’t think we can get wooden buildings back, but I far prefer the wooden fence to the present chain link one.

past-jm-crowninshield-2016

past-jmcrowninshield-cousins-hne

John and Mary Crowninshield’s gravestones do look a little worse for wear in 2016 but are still standing. I could not find all of the Crowninshield graves captured by Cousins, but below are those of Captains John and Clifford Crowninshield today and a century or so ago. All of the Crowninshields lie in the shadow of the Witch Village or whatever it is called.

crowninshield-collage

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Besides those of the Lindalls and the Crowninshields, Cousins captured the gravestones of the famous (Samuel McIntire, Nathanael Mather, Mary Corey) and the not-so-famous Shattucks, Marstons, Cromwells, and Hollingsworths. He was clearly drawn to the graves of the very young and the very old, as we all are, and those stones which were the better for wear and still bore detailed artistic flourishes. I was after much of the same, but somehow we only “shared” the Lindalls and the Crowninshields; I think I’ll go back and uncover some more comparisons when I have a bit more time.

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past-cousins-higgonson-hne

Some of my favorite of Cousins Charter Street photographs: the sad triple grave of the Gat(h)man children and the elusive one of Retire Shattuck–I easily found Mary Higginson but missed John. The rehabilitated gravestone of Elizabeth Millett illustrates the work that is yet to be done on many stones in the Old Burying Point, while Elizabeth Wellcome’s slightly-chipped and -leaning one has always been a particular favorite of mine for some reason.

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charter-street-wellcome


4 responses to “Time Wears Some Down

  • az1407t

    Donna, Are the photos in your postings taken by you? They always look so professional and have crisp detail. I enjoy and look forward to your postings.

    Like

  • joela

    Hi from Poland! I like visiting old cemeteries too, as they are such beautiful and peaceful places. I’d definitely share your attitude towards the Halloween tourists but luckily Halloween is not yet such a thing in Poland. As to the pictured gravestones, I find the inscriptions interesting, because I’ve never encountered “Here lies buried the BODY of …”. What I usually see is “Here lies N.N. (some person)” or plain name. Your version of the inscription seems more appropriate.

    Like

  • Nanny Almquist

    Dear Ms. Seger,

    We’ve corresponded before about Ambrose Walker, Juanita Machado, and Ernest Machado.

    As you are a Salem history buff and professor, have you ever come across the whereabouts of grave of Joseph Cabot or his wife Elizabeth Higginson Cabot? Joseph built the big house on Essex St. that is almost directly across from the Salem Public Library. He was a prominent member of Salem society; one of the mourning rings handed out at his funeral is at the PEM, but where is her buried?

    Thanks,

    Nanny Osborne Almquist

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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