Grave Concerns: Alan Clarke’s March Musings

by | Mar 10, 2014

Greetings, concerned cemetery people:
Former President William Jefferson Clinton is quoted as saying that being this country’s President is like running a cemetery. You have a lot of people under you and no one listens to you. A great quote and on the surface, quite true. But as cemeterians, the people under us are not the problem, inactivity above ground is. Bravo, Bill!
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Alan Clarke
 
The Official East Greenwich Adopt a Graveyard Program (OEGAGP)
The success of the Adopt A Highway program nationally offers a pattern adaptable to our many graveyards. A program I really would like to get off the ground this Spring is cemetery adopting. Often once-rural old family cemeteries originally way out in the woods or back pastures are now found alongside modern streets and even in people’s back yards. Occasionally a front yard. Many of the newer plats on former farmlands have wonderful modern houses with well-trimmed and landscaped yards but often have cemeteries within them that are overgrown, vandalized, and in urgent need of attention. 
 
I would love to see East Greenwich residential neighborhoods adopt the cemeteries in their midst, clean them, and make them showpieces — a fine example of how a town with such a link to the country’s historical past should be taking care of it’s historical graveyards. More often than not, our historical cemeteries have veterans of the Revolutiony and Civil Wars interred in them. And this is the way we honor them?
 
Not all cemeteries fit the pattern for neighborhood adoptions. But we have cemeteries that fit just about any pattern for adoption: corporate, Scouts, churches, fraternals, politicals, and even retired old coots like me have our place in the cemeterial sun. So call me at 663-6442, email me at [email protected], or get in touch with the town commission through the Town Hall, located in the Courthouse. Once under control, they are easy to maintain. We can help get them under control.
 
The New East Greenwich Cemetery Advisory Commission 
After a two week delay for weather, the first meeting of the newly-formed East Greenwich Historical Cemetery Advisory Commission was held Tuesday, February 4th, at the Town Hall. Assistant Town Planner Lea Anthony Hitchens ran the meeting until Deron Murphy was elected to head the commission for its first year. The mission is to advise the Town Council on matters relating to the 91 family graveyards and cemeteries located within the town borders. It is also to see to getting all of them in proper order as many are completely overgrown and vandalized, in a word, a disgrace, a black eye for this town which boasts of its history.
 
The second meeting was held on March 4th and I’m happy to say that this is a very active and interested group. Commissioner Jason Baumier already has had an article in the Providence Journal asking for help in cleaning up these cemeteries. A list of potential corporate and political sponsors was presented and discussed. I presented a list of three cemeteries I think would be a great starting point for this spring’s cleanup activities. The two-hour meeting was active from beginning to end. I have high hopes for this group and their town representative, Lea Hitchens, the assistant town planner.
 
Ms Hitchens also worked with me in the Town Vault the next day as we started title searches to see who owns cemeteries. Some are on private property, some are on town land, and some seem to have no deeded history at all. They just are. Every cemetery has its own story.
 
Winter Cemeterying
Even in winter, in the snow, I still go out into the woods for cemetery inventory, documentation and research. With the foliage, briars, ticks and poison ivy at rest, it’s the best time of year to do it. Even a few inches of snow do not impede progress. Mostly it’s briars. Good old Southern New England Hostile Foliage!
 
After being questioned regarding one of my early global positioning (GPS) coordinates, I went out to Shippeetown Road, walked up a hill and easily found the cemetery. I took a new GPS reading and a few photos. Back at the office, I located the cemetery on Google Earth, a program that takes views of Earth from satellites and makes them available on one’s computer. One can actually see walled cemeteries and it helps to accurately document where the cemetery is. I revised my coordinates. On Google Earth one puts a little yellow pushpin icon right in the middle of the cemetery and there you are. Unfortunately cemeteries cannot be seen when they are under several feet of overgrowth.  
 
After leaving the west end of town I went to a small cemetery on Middle Road to take a gravestone picture for Find-A-Grave, an internet registery of gravestone pictures popular with family historians. The cemetery could not be seen from the road but I knew it was in there, having been there a few years back. I went to the house on the property next door for permission to walk through his yard. The owner was glad to see an interest in the cemetery and offered to help if an effort was made to clean it up. Alas, even with side access, I could not get anywhere near the gravestones as the briars were too thick, even in winter hibernation. 
 
In East Greenwich, most of the easy gravestones have been photographed for Find-A-Grave. The hard ones are coming up.
 
Speaking of Find-A-Grave, I would like to point out that the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on Historic Cemeteries now has a functional and growing website:
http://www.rihistoriccemeteries.org/ Look to see great genealogical and cemeterial information and pictures now and even more in the future as we keep refining and adding to it.
 
It should be clear now to all that after decades of neglect and nobody cares attitude, this state and this town are on the path to honor those who came before us and are now under us and incapable of listening.
 
Heard in passing: Pet Peeve
It’s understandable why people think the big cemeteries are good places to walk their dogs. Free-roaming animals do their business wherever they want to but with leashed and accompanied dogs, there’s no excuse for letting them dishonor someone’s grave. It falls back to the owner as the dog doesn’t understand. The next time your dogs wants to “go” on a grave, think how you would like it if it was your mother’s grave. Somehow, honor has to come back into the equation.
 
Alan F. Clarke is a lifelong area resident and an East Greenwich historian and columnist. Notable accomplishment, he is the only person ever known to have been kicked OUT of the Old Kent County Jail, most residents wanting to but not being successful. His present challenge is the East Greenwich representative to the R. I. Advisory Commission on Historic Cemeteries, an organization devoted to honoring those who were here before us by taking better care of their final resting places. For any questions on cemeteries he’s your guy. E-mail [email protected]
 

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