Tag Archives: Old Burying Point

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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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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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