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You Can Visit “Them” in July…

You Can Visit “Them” in July…

I have been writing for the Orange Town News since its inception and have had a wonderful time doing it.  This column is no less enjoyable but might be a bit grim at times.  Many years ago, I wrote about the Silent City, the cemetery on Orange Center Road.  Since I don’t believe in ghosts rising from the graves, I wrote about its significance in society, the carvings and the meanings and some of the myths surrounding cemeteries.  Now granted, there are stories, especially in Monroe, where a shrew named Hanna Cranna harassed her neighbors and when something dastardly happened in town, she was blamed.

She, to my knowledge has not reappeared but the White Lady seems to be part of the Union Cemetery in Easton often darting out in front of cars at night…..hmm. To say I am intrigued is a given since I am writing this History Corner piece but I am not that much intrigued to pursue anything like that in our cemetery, a “silent city.” While looking down from an airplane, one can see square upon square that makes up the city or town below. They are not silent by any means but there is that other “silent city”, the cemetery.

Citizens from as early as 1805 have been laid to rest in the older section of the cemetery.  Joseph Treat, under a year of age was the first to be buried in the north section and a small stone can be seen along the north road, hardly legible anymore. Never did such a place give folks a reason to pause, to reflect or to run from its silences as in literature where the silence gives way to moans and groans of spirits the author wished to present to his readers, good or bad, gentle or malevolent.

There is something to be said for the very old cemeteries as the stones begin to shift from their original position, crumble from the weather or become, as with Joseph’s, illegible from centuries of wearing away with time.  The silence is in the fact that the stones are inanimate but their very condition, position and deterioration speaks for them.  The words on the old stones and carvings speak of the man, woman or child who lived their life and went on in silence but in walking among the monuments, who were these people?

Just reading the names of the women of the 17th and 18th centuries gives us an idea of what values their parents held.  Content, Silence, Mercy, Comfort, Prudence, Charity and Humility are names often found on the ancient stones, the monuments that are usually clustered together near the edge of the cemetery itself. Why is that you say?  That is among the many questions arising from the “Silent City.”  Primitive art carvings, a unique expression of who is buried beneath the ground.  The design and craftsmanship can be obvious but why the brooding death head?  The winged cherubs, willows and urns are reflections of the religious beliefs and philosophy of the time.

The religious sense of those times can be seen in the names, on the stones; Rachel, Rebecca, Adam, Daniel, Isaac, Job and Jacob, just to name a few.  For the people who suffered the rigors of severe climate, famine and epidemic, it is not surprising that death was a fearsome prospect to some.  It is also not surprising that the monuments of their lives contain images of what they feared the most, death…Did you ever wonder why a cemetery is close to a church in the early centuries? Close to a meetinghouse made for a place for contemplation during those times between the morning and afternoon church services.

Given the populations of colonial villages, the stone cutter could hardly rely on the “Silent City” for daily bread but he no doubt was a craftsman in a trade such as a woodcutter, mason or cordwainer, who not only made and repaired shoes but produced ornamental leather goods such as wallets and powder pouches requiring fine tooled work, easily transferred to stone.

It can be noted that among these craftsmen or craftswomen, were folks artistic enough to carve a stylized likeness of the deceased with hairstyle and clothing details, sometimes with a frown that was probably the person’s “look” in life as well as in death.

What they used for their canvas depended on what was available at the time and IF the departed was wealthy enough to import a stone of choice.  Slate being easy to carve was used but subject to flaking while sandstone being popular, held up in New England’s weather.  Fieldstones were used initially for their availability bit the informality gave way to the tall, erect stones you see in our cemetery, especially in the northern section.

The ancient graves were laid out with the head to the west and the feet to the east so that at the sound of the cock’s crow, on the Day of Judgment, the resurrected dead would arise to face the dawn.  Thus, the carved surfaces would be facing west, away from the grave. However, in our town cemetery, the inscriptions, for the old section are facing east.  The willow tree, found on many town stones meant life and mourning while the willow with a severed branch meant “life was cut short.”

Although the cemetery, in Orange, was established in 1805, there is a monument for William Andrew, who died in 1796 having written his will just two days before his death. His handwriting was shaky and it was obvious that the majority of his bequests were dictated to another.  It appears by the inscription on this stone that he was interred elsewhere in town.  His will is the sound of silence.

The Town of Orange was but 5 months old when John Butrick died in October of 1822 at the age of 52 leaving his wife Mary and 8 children.  William T. Grant, a shoemaker, lived next to the church, on the west side. His diary speaks of all the many shoes he made and repaired as well as being postmaster, a justice of the peace and the sexton of the church.  He also sold wood and farm produce…His diary tells of his life, but his grave and that of his wife Sarah are the sounds of silence.

On July 9 & 10 and 23 & 24 at 3:00, the Orange Players will be depicting some of the souls in our cemetery with their stories, told in “their” own words.  It should be a fascinating afternoon and in collaboration with the Orange Historical Society, I know you will enjoy it.

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