A graveyard is an excellent place to learn symbolism. You can learn how the culture surrounding you perceives the concept of death and afterlife as well as how the historic transition of those concepts affects the design of gravestone.
If you are an alien, a gravestone is sort of the Arecibo Message on the earth...Well, at least for a foreigner like me.
After visiting the Old Spite House in Marblehead, we came across a burial site called the Old Burial Hill. Remembering the other spite house in Boston also has a burial site called Copp's Hill Burying Ground, I was wondering is there any connection between a spite house and a hilly burial ground.
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This graveyard was established 9 years after Marblehead was settled by the colonist. Erected in 1638, it is one of the oldest graveyards in New England for the European settlers.
Climbing up the steep, rocky hill, B. made his usual remarks.
"I don't want to be an undertaker for this place. The hill is too steep."
"And how can you dig! There's no soil on this hill!"
And why does your wife bring you to a graveyard every weekend? Yes, yes, I understand.
But as later B. admits, the graveyard was filled with tremendous pieces of people's lives of Marblehead. Approximately 600 Revolutionary soldiers and some pastors are buried here. Filled with rich symbols that exemplifies Puritan's concept of life, death, and afterlife, we were able to find some really interesting past of the town.
Let me show you some examples...
Grave of Wilmot Redd
Wilmot Redd was one of the 19 Salem Witch Trial victims of 1692. A wife of a fisherman, she was born and grew up here in Marblehead. She was characterized as a woman with a wicked temper rather than the one with a capability of practicing witchcraft; to her neighbor, she was "probably more bitch than witch." (from Wikipedia, by Virginia Clegg Gamege)
She was brought to Salem Village (now Danvers) --9 miles north from here-- for a preliminary examination on the suspicion of bewitching the girls in Salem Village. She was hung on September 22 with 7 other alleged witches at Gallows Hill in Salem.
Grave of Joseph "Black" Joe
Amid the gravestones with Puritan symbols, a grave with an eagle caught my attention. Compared with other gravestones filled with death's heads and winged cherubs, I somehow felt this tombstone very "modern". Possibly because I see the bald eagle as something signifies patriotism in modern day America. Come to think of it, when did this bird gain such a symbolism?
Joseph "Black Joe" Brown was a free man who fought for the American Revolutionary war and gained a recognition from his duty. Now utilized as the Marblehead museum and Historical Society, his "Black Joe's Tavern" was a gathering place for the local black community.
Black Joe's Tavern, photo from Wicked Local Mablehead
Behind of his tavern, there is a pond called "Black Joe Pond" which was famous for huge frogs. Lucretia, a wife of Joe, baked gingerbread cookie called "Joe Froggers" and became the novelty of the tavern. That is the reason why the tavern's street is called Gingerbread Hill.
I like Lucretia's wit and business talent to bake cookies for his husband, and of course, for the frogs! But my question is not answered yet: did those cookies look like a frog?
Far left: 1st Rhode Island Regiment aka the "Black Regiment", from Wikipedia
I imagine Joseph Brown must have looked like the far left soldier on the above picture. Looking at the picture, I began to admire Black Joe's achievement and understand why he chose an eagle as his gravestone motif.
In next post, I'll show you the most puzzling gravestone I've found from the cemetery. Stay tuned.
To be continued: Old Burial Hill, Marblehead 2-2
Locate Old Burial Hill @ Google Map