Feature Story

Gone and Forgotten

By Leon W. Dean
Rural Vermonter Magazine
Volume 1, Number 4
Spring 1963

Some time ago the Vermont Old Cemetery Association suggested through the columns of the press that hunters report the existence of any old cemeteries of which they might have knowledge.

A Long Island, N. Y., man wrote the Association of one that he stumbled upon in the Manchester area. With some difficulty he was able to decipher the inscriptions on the graves of two young soldiers who had lost their lives in the Civil War, both members of Co. H, First Vermont. He described the incident in part as follows:

"This burying ground occupied a small glen, well hidden by trees, overgrowth and the ravages of the elements, and long forgotten by all—even the present day descendants as evidenced by the absence of maintenance. You can well imagine my feelings at the moment of this experience. It was as if the pages of time were rolled back to those turbulent years so many years and deaths ago."

The Vermont Old Cemetery Association was organized between four and five years ago to encourage the restoration and preservation of the many neglected and abandoned cemeteries of the state. Starting with nine members, it now has over 350 representing about 20 states and Canada. Included in this membership are over 50 organizations, such as Granges, historical societies, patriotic groups, and Home Demonstration Clubs. Holding the largest number of organization memberships are the Granges, with some 26.

The organization endeavors in every way possible to keep people conscious of the plight of these old cemeteries and to encourage individuals, organizations, and communities to do something about the situation. In promoting its work the Association maintains an extensive correspondence, utilizes newspaper and magazine publicity, issues bulletins, holds meetings. It is the only state-wide organization of its kind in the country, and so successful is it proving to be that two national cemetery magazines have requested and published feature articles in regard to it.

The Association suggests several approaches to the restoration problem: 1. Try to persuade the selectmen to do something about the cemetery. 2. Encourage some local organization to sponsor a restoration. 3. Form a cemetery association, contacting all known local and distant descendants. 4. Make the restoration a part of the community Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Veterans Day program. 5. Have a proposal in behalf of the cemetery inserted in the warning for Town Meeting. 6. In stubborn cases invoke the state law by entering complaint with the state's attorney of the county.

Last summer a lady from a Middle West state visited Vermont. With her she brought her young son. She wanted him to see the grave of his Revolutionary ancestor. The experience after locating the cemetery was a disheartening one, offsetting an otherwise favorable opinion of Vermont. In the lady's words:

"The weeds and brush had become so luxuriant, it resembled a jungle. Debris had been dumped over the fence. My husband climbed the fence and beat his way through the dense undergrowth to the white grave markers standing in the gloom. On the grave was an old tattered American flag—a dirty, tattered American flag on a forgotten weed-covered grave."

These old cemeteries are essentially a rural problem. The Vermont Old Cemetery Association advocates that three steps be taken in relation to them: 1. Restoration, with provision, if possible, for permanent upkeep. 2. A record of burials and vital statistics. 3. A chart showing relative position of the graves.

A town need not restore its old cemeteries all at once. The town of Addison, for instance, set up a program whereby its cemeteries were to be improved over a period of years. The Tunbridge Historical Society has a similar long-term project underway. What matters is to do something, whether it be done with a single effort or gradually. Maybe the dead can not be raised, but at least their final resting places can be made respectable.

Editor's Note: The Vermont Old Cemetery Association was founded October 18, 1958 at Burlington, Vermont by Professor Leon W. Dean. Click here to read more about our founder.