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paigect

guess what I found while digging up my walkway

paigect
17 years ago

So I'm finishing up the patio project I posted about a couple of months ago, and of course it led to digging up and redoing the fieldstone walkway leading up to my house and the patio. I was removing all of the stones and when I flipped one over I noticed it was stamped with the part of name of what I thought was some company, "Martha ____". My neighbor was over chitchatting while I dug and she suddenly gasped and said "Paige, this says 'Martha, Wife Of . . . '"! Yup, a headstone. I had noticed that a few of the stones that were deeper in the walkway and covered in grass appeared to be marble rather than bluestone, but I was busily working and didn't take the time to check them out. So we checked out the rest of the stones and it turns out I have large sections of two different headstones. One is dated 1846. They were embedded in my lawn face down.

At first I thought I might throw up, but I'm over that (for now). My house is part of a development built in 1941 on a prominent historical figure's former farmland. So we are trying to figure out whether one of his relatives may have died on the same date, or if maybe the crazy P.O. of my house may have used broken headstones to fill in the walkway, maybe salvaged from a cemetary that was moved?

While digging up the walkway we came across a piece of very thick (about 6 inches) blue fieldstone, about 18" x 30", buried vertically, completely straight, about 2 feet in the ground. We couldn't figure out why on earth someone would bother to do that. Now I'm wondering if it might have been part of the structure for an old grave? There is another very large stone buried deep right near that that I decided to just leave there as it seems too much effort to remove. Now I'm wondering what's under there. And now that the stones are all dug up from the walk, I'm afraid to continue working because I want to more carefully excavate the area before filling it in with stone dust. So, the walkway project is stalled midway, with a giant mess in my front yard!

Just thought I would share this very interesting discovery! I will be calling the local historical society tomorrow, and if you see me on the news, well, you'll know what I look like then.

My neighbors were all over checking it out and one is part of a local news crew, so I'm getting in the shower now in case NBC 30 comes by!

Comments (42)

  • narcnh
    17 years ago

    Wow, what an amazing story! Can't wait to hear/read how it unfolds. Keep us informed.

    narcnh

  • ginny12
    17 years ago

    It was very common in early America for families to have their own burying grounds on their own property. As the years went by and houses passed out of the family, these burying grounds became lost in weeds and woods. That may very well be what you have stumbled upon at your house.

    We had an incident in our town just recently where someone from the oldest church in town removed some old stones from a property she thought was abandoned. She had them placed at the church, tho the people were obviously buried in the original location. A ruckus was raised and the stones were returned.

    Sadly, I went on a house tour last Christmas in Harvard MA and someone had used a gravestone, name and date and other info clearly visible, as a stepping stone into their front yard. I thought that was inappropriate.

    In your situation, I suggest that you contact the local historical society as they often keep lists of these family burying grounds and at the least will know who owned the property at the date on the stone. Town records should also be useful. While I don't think anyone would expect you to get into the disinterring business, the inscribed stones at least should be moved to a respectful location, like a church graveyard.

    This type of issue comes up all the time in New England. Part of living in such a historica area.

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  • triciae
    17 years ago

    I've bummed out my leg & I'm inside with an icebag...thought I'd take a check on the Forum & just found your story. As a genealogist, I'm very fascinated. Please keep us posted. During the past 20 years, I've knocked on many a New England door asking about graves that were on people's property. Found more than a few great, great, great, great, great grandparents that way. I sure agree about putting the headstone in a church graveyard. I can also imagine your surprise and shock...not at all what you'd be looking for!

    Tricia

  • barefootinct
    17 years ago

    Paige, Cool...and kind of creepy. I think you've thought of the two possiblities...one, old family cemetary and two, broken, unused, never used, or possibly recycled (ick) gravestones being turned over and used as pavers. The other thick slab though makes me think it might be the first. Let us know what you find out!

    A gardening mystery; next at the New England Gardening Forum.

    Patty

  • barefootinct
    17 years ago

    Your discovery has led me to do some research. I found this very good site with links to other very helpful sites. Have fun.

    Patty

    Here is a link that might be useful: A very useful site

  • martieinct
    17 years ago

    What a very cool thing!! We found a whole field of buried cars from rum running days. You just never know.

    A hunch: If you can't find all of the pieces to the headstone in your path it may have been stolen. The same guys who gave CT folks the name "nutmeggers" were known to hire themselves out to build paths out of -- you guessed it -- bluestone. The stones would be broken up at their original intended spot and the good pieces carried away. The homeowners never looked at the other side once they were on the ground and paid for prime bluestone......

    For the one standing up, your guess is good as mine. Keep us posted!!

    Martie

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Just popping in - - I've been standing in the front yard for most of the day with various neighbors, scratching our heads, trying to figure this out. We found several more pieces of stone that are of the same type and thickness, some buried very deep and not really on the path. Yes, my yard is now more of a mess, and more dug up. We also found a slate stone that appears to be hand-carved in a manner that my neighbor says is very similar to headstones she has seen in the historic graveyard in Plymouth, MA.

    This is poor Martha's stone:

    And here is the one with the date (Nov. 16, 1846):

    And here is the slate stone:

    And here is the stone we found buried vertically, which I turned into a walkway stone before uncovering the others and realizing what we were doing:


    And here is a progress shot of my patio, to stay on-topic for the forum:

    We have also been trying to unravel the inscription on one of the stones. We used coffee grounds and someone's AAA card and we think it says either "How unfortunate were his judgments and his ___ are pull___ finding out," or "How wonderful are his judgments and his ___ are past finding out." Apparently, there is a phrase in Revelations that starts with "How wonderful are his judgments," but the rest of it doesn't match.

    Here is a close up of the inscription if anyone has any ideas:


    I will call the town historian tomorrow. My neighbors are all joking that if they come home to find police tape around my house they won't be surprised. I agree that it is extremely disrespectful to use these stones as stepping stones and I'm horrified that someone has seen fit to do so, and I will be either donating them to a local museum or something like that.

    Will keep you posted on what the historical society has to say. Thanks for the info on "Nutmeggers" and the website link - - I'm off to do research!

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    17 years ago

    What a fascinating story! With my passion for both history and genealogy, I've always been a nut for old cemeteries and headstones (just got back from Boston this week where I hit every cemetery I passed!).

    When I used to work in Stamford, CT, I drove down this very busy, well-traveled road which had at least five tiny cemeteries that were obviously old family homestead ones. Kinda cool that they still survive, considering it's in the city.

    Please keep us informed as to what you find out. I'd love to know the outcome - and thanks for sharing this story!

    :)
    Dee

  • Sue W (CT zone 6a)
    17 years ago

    Paige, your gravestone findings are of course very creepy and cool at the same time. Like everyone else, I'll be interested to hear what your town historical society has to say. I must also comment though that your new patio looks fantastic! Moss certainly doesn't grow under your feet when there is a project to be done. It wasn't that long ago that you were posting pictures of the spot and looking for advice. Hardscaping that area was no doubt the way to go. Keep up the good work!

    Sue

  • ginny12
    17 years ago

    This is a fascinating part of our New England landscape history and not a bit OT, in my opinion. I Googled the phrase on the stone and here is what I found:

    "How wonderful are his judgments, and his ways past finding out. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?"

    This is from "Discipline and Other Sermons", by Charles Kingsley (1819-75), a British minister, writer and historian, perhaps best known to us as author of "Water Babies", a Victorian children's book.

  • tree_oracle
    17 years ago

    This sounds like "The Poltergeist" movie. Hope you don't have any little blond-haired girls watching TV. "There here..."

  • molie
    17 years ago

    Amazing! With the holiday coming up, it might be difficult to get a speedy response, and I will most definitely be checking in on this thread.

    I agree that it's awful if you have stolen or recycled headstones in the walkway or on the creepy side if your property is a former cemetary. Good for you that you want some answers before progressing on the project. What you've done so far is lovely.

    Molie

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    ginny, great find! Unfortunately, the book of sermons you linked to wasn't published until three decades after the date on the stone, so we took it a step further and found Romans 11:33:

    "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out."

    The 2nd word on the stone had us baffled, but unsearchable definitely fits! We literally spent and entire afternoon/evening on this, so I'm glad to have the puzzle solved.

    And thanks for the compliments on the patio. It looks more crooked in the picture than it does IRL. I was going for a somewhat rustic look, anyway! I still need to spend some time doing a final leveling of each individual stone, but I'll give it a little time to settle first.

    Meanwhile, this is what my front yard looks like:

    I had planned on having all of the path done by the end of the day and I had all of the stones out by 10, but we spent the rest of the day trying to unravel the mystery, talking to all of the older neighbors, and looking for more stones. So I guess I'll have to move all of the stones now so they don't ruin my lawn since I won't have time to work on this project for a couple of weeks because of other committments on the weekends. Just what I need - - spend an hour moving stones to the backyard, and another hour in a few weeks bringing them back up front!

  • gardenscout
    17 years ago

    Great story. I guess you would be the one to ask for a recommendation for buying a new shovel. You must have a good one. Mine is starting to creak each time I pry out another rock.

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    gardenscout, I used a prybar. :-)

  • barefootinct
    17 years ago

    Paige, how is your son taking all of this?
    Patty

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Patty, good question. :-) He is actually visiting his father for a couple of weeks. The boy in the picture is my neighbor's son (and also my son's best friend). He was very eager to be my assistant archeologist for a few ours.

    I called DS last night to tell him what happened and I emailed him the pictures. He is intrigued but also completely creeped out. He kept asking "are you sure there isn't a body in there?" Of course I said "Absolutely not!" I think it's good that he will have two weeks to get over the willies before having to sleep here again!

  • chelone
    17 years ago

    What a fun story! here's something else to think about... sometimes stone cutters make MISTAKES on tombstones. What you uncovered may well be a "typo" in stone! We Yankees are known for frugality, after all... so why would it seem so strange that the typo was "recycled"?

    Be "creeped out"? why? you have nothing to fear from the dead... it's the live ones you need to worry about, lol.

    I think Martha is a very fortunate woman, actually. If her headstone is, in fact, the one that marked her grave she now has someone (several people, actually!) who is aware of her existence on this planet. What does it matter where her remains repose? What's most important, I think, is that Martha is now "known" and will become part of another family's lore. What nicer ending to a life?

    :)

  • barefootinct
    17 years ago

    Chelone, what a great take on this story! In fact, Paige, you may wish to commerate "Martha" in your garden somehow, with a "Martha" plant of some sort. I went to DavesGarden.com and came up with this link, below. Turns out there are many daylilies named Martha. Maybe some can find their way into your garden!

    Also, that stone that was buried vertically...um...hate to say it, but it looks like it could have been a headstone that simply sank into the earth, straight down.

    Patty

    Here is a link that might be useful: Martha plants at DavesGarden

  • wendy2
    17 years ago

    Paige, what an interesting discovery. I am very curious to see what the historical society can tell you. I'd want to know all about Martha and her family! Chelone is right, it is pretty amazing that someone so long gone will be remembered again.

    Our former next door neighbors made a strange discovery in their yard; he was digging and suddenly the shovel he was using plunged into the ground and disappeared. He dug out the area (with a borrowed shovel), and it looked like the top of a large wooden box buried in the ground. There was much neighborhood teasing about discovering a forgotton crypt or Al Capone's vault, but it turned out to be an old septic tank that was improperly filled. Yours sounds like it may be the real thing though.

    Keep us posted!

    -Wendy

    PS Your patio looks great!

  • chelone
    17 years ago

    DavesGarden would creep me out more than a headstone in my walkway, lol!

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    chelone, we tossed around the idea that the stones could have been rejects, but decided that doesn't really fit for two reasons. First, the walkway was built about a hundred years after the stones were first carved, and I doubt any stone carving business would keep discards for this long. Second, the stone with the inscription of verse is obviously weathered, moreso than it would be from laying face down in clay all this time. I think it was definitely exposed to the elements for a long period of time.

    As for being creeped out, well, DS is 11 and easily creeped out besides. I agree with you, though, that we have much more to fear from the living. And I've never gotten bad or creepy vibes from my house or yard, so I think Martha is a benevolent spirit. :-) I do like your take on how great it is that Martha is being remembered again.

    Patty, I'm trying not to think about that . . . what if the historical society wants to come in and excavate my whole yard? I'm starting to worry about the legal implications as well. Can't help it, I'm an attorney. A few of my neighbors really wanted me to keep a lid on this and do my own research without alerting the town, but I don't work that way. Everything on the up and up and all that. Maybe I'll regret that.

  • chelone
    17 years ago

    There is also the possibility that individual headstones were removed and replaced with a larger one that noted deceased members. Perhaps because children were killed in the Civil War? So many mysteries, and what fun we've had speculating on Martha.

    I doubt your community will have the resources to dig up your yard, Paige. (sometimes you attorneys get too carried away with technicalities... , but I guess that's what you're trained to do, huh? ;) !).

  • Cady
    17 years ago

    Paige,
    Thank you for posting the pictures. This is educational, though a bit sad. As was mentioned, it is possible that the stones were brought from another site where they were pilfered. Maybe a farmstead about to be developed, and the "nutmeggers" took the headstones from the family plot and sold them. It seems plausible.

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Ruth, who runs the website Patty linked to above, just left my house! We had an interesting evening investigating the stones and then touring the local cemetery to see if there were any similar stones.

    Although she was most intrigued by my telephone description, she is unconcerned about the flagstone that was buried vertically now that she has seen it. Too rough for a headstone, even for early settlers. Phew.

    The slate also intrigued her because of the stylized top right corner, but she said it isn't right for a headstone. It was likely something that a carver practiced on.

    So I have no cemetery in my front yard. I can now put all of the stones in place. Of course, I no longer have time to do that, but hey, at least I know I can!

    Martha, of course, is a different story. She was likely brought in by an employee of a cemetery or by a pilferer who put in my walk. Ruth thought it was possible that all of the sections of tombstone were actually from the same stone, with a highly stylized design due to the many different fonts. We toured the local cemetery and didn't see anything at all similar. I'm off to a different cemetery tomorrow to see what's there. Some time this week I will go by the local bureau of vital statistics and try to find a Martha who died on that date.

    So that's all for now, folks! Thanks for that great link, Patty.

  • Saypoint zone 6 CT
    17 years ago

    Who are "the same guys who gave CT folks the name "nutmeggers" ?

  • ginny12
    17 years ago

    In Ye Olde Days, CT itinerant peddlers were known to, um, stretch the truth, lie, cheat and steal. They became known for, among other things, selling nutmeg that was actually just bits of wood and not the real, rather expensive, spice. Hence the nickname. A nutmegger is a dishonest person, one pulling a scam.

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Got some news today from a neighbor who was looking at the headstone for the first time. She said she was visiting the female PO of my house many years ago and mentioned that she loved the flagstone walk. The PO told her it was made of gravestones. So this means either the PO and her husband were responsible for doing the walkway, or they fixed it up after the fact, discovered the headstones, and left them in there. Her husband was a wack job so I'm not surprised, except that the older neighbors all thought the walkway preexisted the PO's.

    In any case, this woman now lives at a nursing home in town and my neighbor across the street visits her. She is going to play detective for me on her next visit. Maybe she will be able to find out which cemetery the stones came from.

    Meantime, I nearly finished the walkway today. The individual stones still need a little bit of leveling, but it's 95% done. Here are before and after pics:
    Before:


    After:
    {{gwi:32757}}

    In other news, I discovered the maple pictured above is dying, quickly. Bark is peeling away from one of the two main branches and branches are dying back (totally leafless). I have no idea what happened, but I can't say I'm too sad - - I hate that tree. The leaves are always a hideous brown that's supposed to be red. But DS will be unhappy as he sits in that tree all the time.

    Any suggestions for a replacement tree? I should probably start a new thread at some point . . .

  • martieinct
    17 years ago

    Great job! Looking forward to finding out who Martha was since that is my given name and there aren't many of us out there now (or then!!)

    Martie

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    17 years ago

    Thanks for the update, Paige. I'm looking forward to hearing if your neighbor discovers anything more.

    Your walkway looks great. You have a very charming house!

    :)
    Dee

  • Cady
    17 years ago

    This is a fascinating story that keeps getting better. How cool to have a historian on the case. Good sleuthing.

  • chelone
    17 years ago

    Nice improvement. And fun to read of the detective work.

    Nicer kitty-cat... (I have a "thing" for orange ones... don't have one right now, though). Name?

  • crnaskater
    17 years ago

    I really like what you ended up doing with the patio section! I remember when you had your initial quest for ideas.....

    You have a date (Nov 16, 1846) so I don't think it would be all that hard to find a list at your local town hall or county seat. There can't be many that died in your location in that year. Even the CT state library might be of some help. Same with old local churches. And don't forget about the property owners all the way back and their wills which might list other occupants/family members (that was a big help when I was working on my genealogy), etc. Lastly, you could get your local newspaper to get involved - human interest story and ask for anyone with any information to come forward....CT is loaded with myths and stories. Was the Hartford Courant publishing in those days - they may have an obit archive - I know the West Hartford library has the old newspapers on microfilm. A good old stone mason might be able to tell you exactly what kind of stone you have, where is was quarried, etc.

    This might have been a hired hand or even slave for that matter.....

    I sure hope the previous owner in the nursing home can shed some more light.

    Who would have thought when you were so eager to develope your front yard that this would pop up!!?

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Chelone, the cat's name is Lily, sister (in spirit) to Tiger, an orange male and the coolest cat who ever walked the face of the earth. Lily is more normal cat, Tiger thinks he is a person. He knows more people in the neighborhood than I do, and frequents most of their homes. There is also a third orange long-hair named Molly. Orange cats have the best temperaments IME.

    Thanks for the compliments - - it's nice to hear after all that sweat I invested! All of the materials used were found on my property except for the stone dust, which I got at a discount through a friend. I have to say right now I actually love the look of the walkway, while I think the patio is just "ok". I do prefer the irregular stones, impractical as they may be. The patio stones are a bit out of line since I was just eyeballing them and then I had friends come in to help finish who weren't as picky as me!

    As for Poor Martha (as she has come to be known in the neighborhood), my next step if the town historian doesn't call back and take over is to go to the Bureau of Vital Statistics (I think that's what it's called) in Hartford and search for that date of death. If there is a Martha, well, Bingo. If not, and there are one or two other people with that DOD, I can check which cemetery they were buried in and see if they have stones (and whether they are replacement stones). If there is no match that way, I might be out of luck because that means the stone was not local. In that case I would just beg the historical society or a cemetery to take it.

    The woman from the Connecticut Gravestone Network also said she can search ancestors.com because she has a membership. So we'll see if she comes up with anything.

    For now Poor Martha has been moved to the patio, where I'm sure she's doing a great job of freaking out the mailman when he walks up to my house everyday. Hopefully he has figured out that she was unearthed during the walkway reno!

  • ginny12
    17 years ago

    I should think Martha should not be too difficult to identify. In Massachusetts, all vital records before a certain date (later 19c) are in the state archives rather than the more current vital statistics. As you have an exact date, a first name (tho Martha was very common indeed), and an approximate place, we assume, you have a very good start.

    There is a very interesting scholarly group, the Association for Gravestone Studies, website www.gravestonestudies.org , that has published books, holds meetings, and publishes a fascinating journal. I used to get their material but there are only so many hours a day. If you come to a dead end (no pun intended), I'd get in touch with them. No point in reinventing the wheel.

  • ginny12
    17 years ago

    I know you are in CT--assume same is true there as in MA re vital records.

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    17 years ago

    Wow, Paige, did you really find those stones for the walkway in your yard?! I'm getting serious stone envy here, lol. First Ken in NJ with those gorgeous fieldstones for his wall, which he dug up in his yard, and now you with those beautiful flat stones with a lovely color that you found in your yard. You'd think with all the thousands of stones I've dug up in the last few years that I'd get a few nice ones!

    Continued good luck with Martha. Please keep us posted!
    :)
    Dee

  • hostasz6a
    17 years ago

    The walkway looks beautiful. What a mystery of the headstones! I'll keep reading for any follow up. I wouldn't be too happy about someone stealing an ancestors' headstone though.

    One of our neighbors found some old pottery when they added on to their home.

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    You all are so helpful with the tips! I have a very busy week starting on Saturday, but the following week I will be checking out all of these leads.

    Dee, the stones for the patio were in my backyard and the alleyway next to my garage. They were laid out to form a small patio and a walkway by the PO's. But I never, ever sit back there (it's pretty much the dog's yard). So we moved 'em up. The walkway stones were already in the walkway (along with the headstones as it turns out), I just pulled them out, leveled the area with rock dust, and laid them back in again.

  • martieinct
    17 years ago

    Paige: The plot thickens ....

    Showed the pics to a good friend who is way-too-into old cemeteries. He pointed out that the part of the stone that could definitively identify Martha -- the name of her husband -- is missing. According to him, this is an almost sure sign of it being stolen because until automation, it would've been really hard to trace the stone back to it's originally intended spot without the husband's name. This would've made it hard to catch the thieves.

    He also asked me to ask you that if you do find out who "Martha" is, that the stone be returned to the original cemetary if at all possible. I told him I didn't think you'd really want it hanging around since you LIKE to get your mail :-)

    Can't wait to find out what comes next!

    Martie (another Connecticut Martha)

  • paigect
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    martie, please tell your friend that if I find the cemetery the stone came from, it will definitely be returned. If I can't find it, it will likely be taken in by the local cemetery and kept with their other broken stones.

    I was also told by the woman from Connecticut Gravestone Network that it was very suspicious that the husband's name is missing. That's why she thinks it was stolen. Well, that and also the fact that it looks as if it was smashed right in the center on purpose.

    I just got back from a week in the Outer Banks (I didn't want to advertise that I was going away after splashing pics of my house all over the internet), so I will be getting to work on Martha's identity this week. I'll keep you all posted!

  • ron48
    17 years ago

    paige, History Detectives on PBS might have an interest. They do all of the leg work and produce some fascinating results.

    Costs nothing but a little time.

    Ron