Early Spring In ChittendenOn a recent April day in the middle of the week, we fled the office at noon, took our sandwich and camera, and drove to the Chittenden Cemetery in Williston. The cemetery is named for Thomas Chittenden, first Governor of Vermont, and you can’t miss the striking memento mori on his headstone. The cemetery is rich with such symbols. Nearby you will find hands pointing up, an indication that the soul has risen to the heavens. In the next row of stones, a draped cinerary urn is carved, the drape a symbol of the veil between Earth and the Heavens, and the urn a very curious nineteenth century funerary device, since cremation was seldom practiced. Continuing our stroll, we see the square and compass of the Freemasons. We also think we see a bellflower, which is given the attributes of constancy and gratitude. We are checking our Stories in Stone field guide on that one.
Editor’s note: Nineteen years ago, in the Spring 1998 Vermont Life magazine, this 5 page article appeared. The article remains just as cogent and inspiring today.
WHEN VERMONTERS abandoned their hill farms in the second half of the 19th century, the forest grew back quickly, obliterating most traces of settlement — except for things made of stone: stone foundations, stone walls and gravestones. Life was difficult, often short, but the gravestones at least seemed as permanent as the rocky hills that surrounded them.
Once these cemeteries were abandoned, though, the stones proved nearly as frail as the lives they marked: Storms battered them; tree roots un-seated them; lichens colonized them; rodents undermined them; weeds obscured them; vandals overturned them; cows leaned on them; acid rain dissolved them; and frost heaved them. From year to year, a hunter might come upon a row of leaning stones deep in the forest, but otherwise they went unnoticed. Many of the earliest grave markers had been made of soft...Read on...