House of Corrections Cemetery
VOCA President (and Rutland City cemetery commissioner) Tom Giffin recently welcomed Vermont Public Radio to an odd little plot of land tucked behind Rutland’s prison near East Creek. Criminals whose bodies were not claimed by their families were laid to rest here.
“What’s interesting is the microcosm here,” said President Tom. “I mean this is a very small cemetery and Rutland Vermont is not exactly the metropolitan area of northeast. But yet, we have a guy from China who died here - named Dong, we know nothing about him but he’s buried in the cemetery, we have a gentleman from France who died here, someone from Ireland who was buried here, we have an African American who’s listed as colored who died here. So for this small cemetery for an area of Rural Vermont at the turn of the century, it’s kind of odd that you’d have so many different nationalities here.”
Tom said the prison cemetery was used from the late 1800s through the early 1900s and contains at least a dozen graves - though only 11 stone markers remain.
Tom went on to say: “Most of the markers are just regular pieces of marble with numbers on them. Except for Rufus, and Rufus was an interesting guy. He was one of the most prolific horse thieves Vermont has ever produced and they put that in his obituary; that even at a young age he had a tendency to steal horses.” “I read how Rufus once stole a horse from a guy in Massachusetts, dyed it brown, and sold it back to him. “Ironically, he stole a horse and they caught him in Arlington when the posse was chasing him. He fell off the buckboard and his partner fell on top of him and he died at the house of corrections of a ruptured intestine. Rufus’s marker is one of the few stones that are marked with initials.”
According to Giffin, the prison cemetery was largely forgotten and overgrown until Rutland’s new bike path opened last year. The path, which follows East Creek, runs right alongside the cemetery. As more people noticed the chipped stone markers, interest grew in learning about those buried there.
Local schools have provided volunteers to help clean up the overgrowth. Stafford Technical Center instructor Jeff Fowler said building a marker to identify those buried here has been a good challenge construction wise, but he says it’s also gotten his students thinking about history, their community, and personal choices.
“We got the stories behind the people, some of the stories behind the people in this graveyard. I think of the choices they made that landed them there,” says Fowler. “Like some of the people on this, four were arrested for tramping, which now we’d call homeless; they were arrested for that. One of them,” said Fowler, “was arrested for desertion of families which now we’d call dead beat daddies, you know.” Jeff Fowler says it’s not about celebrating criminals, rather learning about local history - warts and all.
Update - September 2013
The House of Corrections Cemetery project in Rutland, which was reported on in the Spring Newsletter, was completed this September. The MSJ Football team sent several players to this unique burial ground to raise and straighten the marble monuments. Several of these stones only had a few inches of marble showing above ground to mark the burial sites. The neglected burial ground had a fence and gate repaired, brush/trees removed and two new signs erected. This project was accomplished for the sole cost of the materials for the signs, approximately $130.00.