Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Baby Graveyard, by Christopherson Salt Chuthers

Today in the News:  Well, the new job started last Saturday.  I'm going to try to keep posting regularly, but I'm not promising anything.  In an effort to make the blogging a little easier, I'm doing away with the "Today in the News" and "Link of the Day" section for now.  If you have any news for the day or want to share any links with other readers, send it along me.  I'd love to share them.  Beyond that, I'm always looking for guest writers.  Email me at .

The Baby Graveyard, by Christopherson Salt Chuthers

"Cyrus Jones 1810 to 1913
Made his great grandchildren believe
You could live to a 103
A hundred and three is forever when you’re just a little kid
So, Cyrus Jones lived forever...."

Dave Matthews, Grave Digger

Our illustrious blog host M.O.H. found it first.  He was out deer hunting on a thickly wooded hill half a mile off the nearest road.  As he made his way through the tangle of fallen limbs and overgrowth, his rifle barrel clanged against something.  Since “clang” is not a sound native to the Maine woods, he scrutinized the nearby trees a little harder.  And discovered the cross. 

It took a second for the implications of the cross’s presence to sink in.  People don’t normally put up big iron crosses in the woods.  They DO put them up in graveyards, though.  And as our own good Mr. Hotel studied the topography of the area around him, he noticed a distinctive sequence of dips in the grounds.  Dips that measured about six feet long by four feet wide.  And sure enough, jutting through a veritable nest of forest debris was the occasional cement headstone.

Being of above-average intelligence, our beloved Mr. Hotel did what any sane man would do if he found himself in such a situation:  he made a tactical high-velocity departure of the area.  I would have done the same, although more awkwardly on account of my pants being a little wet around the front. 
He showed it to my brother (the B&A Stowaway) and I a couple of years later.  Getting to the cemetery required travelling across patches of land that weren’t quite open to the public, although the cemetery seemed to be on town-owned land, as far as we could tell.  We adjusted for the possibility of territorial pissings by walking in quietly and carrying a lot of axes.  It’s amazing how people lose interest in asking questions when they notice you’re carrying an axe.  It’s too bad, really.  I like to talk about axes. 
We scouted out the area over the course of an hour or so, hollering pertinent information to each other as we found it.  The headstones were everywhere.  There weren’t a lot of them, either; that was the disconcerting part.  We’d see four impressions in the ground.  One of them would have a gravestone peering over it.  Thirty feet away, we’d find another stone belonging to the same family.  Forty feet from that, an old weathered picket fence surrounded a grave adorned with plastic flowers older than we were.  Near the middle of the hill, a rusty chain connected gothic-style cement posts; in the middle of the barrier, a five-foot-tall monument marked the final resting place of the wife of Joseph Cyr.  Born 1893, died 1922.  There were more words on the monument, but reading them meant standing smack-dab in front of the monument.  More specifically, it meant standing in the middle of the patch of ground that sat a foot lower than the ground around it.  It seemed wrong.  We left the rest of the gravestone unread.
Over in a corner of the graveyard, frosts had committed an atrocity that dropped our blood temperature pretty sharply.  Rising an inch or more out of the forest floor were three moss-covered, pitted stone sarcophaguses measuring about three feet long.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out we were looking at the graves of infants.  There was a solitary broken stone nearby, rendered unreadable by the weather; other than that,  just worn crosses carved in the top of the lids. 

I remember we all stood quietly in the middle of the woods, surrounded by generations’ worth of environmental debris.  Fallen branches were everywhere.  Bear, deer and rabbit scat was literally within eyesight at all times.  It felt like nature had slowly gone about the business of reclaiming the land a town had once hewn out and declared holy.  Oddly enough, it still felt holy. 
We agreed unanimously to keep the location of the cemetery to ourselves.  Other people in town knew about it, certainly, but not many.  My wife did some research at a nearby town library and found out the cemetery had been abandoned sometime around the 1930’s when a particularly nasty season of flooding exposed several of the graves.  The cemetery was supposedly much bigger then, marked mainly with wooden markers.  When a forest fire swept the hill years later, those markers disappeared. 
A few years back, I heard that the hill had been clear-cut.  My wife went into the woods to check on the cemetery, and sure enough,  somebody had hacked trees down with great abandon and dragged them out with little regard to the graves.  There’s a lot I could say about the sort of person who would leave a cemetery littered with discarded branches and trees, but there’s not much point.  They’re never going to read it, and I’m pretty sure your sentiments mirror mine.  Let’s just agree we won’t let our kids ever be that stupid. 

It’s been a few years since the clear-cut, but it’s never left our minds.  After doing some research and contacting some excellent people, my wife found an organization that restores old cemeteries.  We went into the woods today to provide them with documentation of some of those buried there (the original records of the cemetery burned with a local Catholic church back in the forties) and pictures of the graveyard.  The effects of the clear-cut were still visible


And a few of the stones had been knocked down.

But a lot of the stones remained upright.  They jutted out stoically, almost proudly from the snow and the soil

I’m heading back there this summer – hopefully to guide a team from MOCA (Maine Old Cemetery Association) into the woods to preserve the sight.  But even if they can’t make it, I’m still going to take a week and clear some brush out of there, and maybe try to clean up a few of the stones.  It’s a part of our area’s history.  I might even have family buried there.  It doesn’t feel right to abandon it to the elements and to idiots with skidders. 

On a final note – and one I’m not even sure I should mention – I don’t believe in ghosts, but my camera did something funky today.  It’s our family camera, and we charge it about every six months.  It was down to about ¾ power when we headed into the woods, which meant I had probably another solid four months’ worth of pictures to take before I had to start scrounging around for the charger. 
I took twenty-one pictures.  Then the internal battery went dead.

Confused and a little irritated, I shrugged it off and went home to transfer the pictures to my computer.  And when I turned on the camera to see if it had enough juice to let me view my pictures, the camera popped right back up to ¾ charge.  Very weird.  But I don’t believe in ghosts, so I’m choosing to blame this on Kodak. 


This graveyard has a special place in my heart.  It is interesting how in the matter of less than 100 years, loved ones and family members can be completely forgotten.  While it is sad, it also leads me to believe that you shouldn't think you're special enough to have a grandiose headstone at your time of death.  For the most part, in 100 years, nobody will care.  The only thing that I know about my great great grandfather, Harper, is that he a.) used human excrement on his garden and b.) he didn't like it when his grandchildren, including my grandfather, Bernard, riding the cows like horses.

I'm going to post some follow up to Christopherson's article later this week.  Thanks Christopherson!

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel.....out.


  1. Mike, I've noticed the concern some folks have about axes, too. Check out my post of June 5th last year. As for desecrating graveyards, We once had a neighbor pull gravestones dating back to 1807 from a graveyard on his property and pound them up in the pot-holes of his driveway. Someone should have beat him within an inch of his life!

  2. Many years ago when visiting the UK, I went to visit my Brother's grave. Sadly even though I knew where it was, there was no sign anymore, no headstone. Very dissapointing. The grave was from the 1940s.
    A good post.