Taking a break from my inside job, I went on another field trip of sorts to a gravestone rubbing workshop offered by the Gravestone Girls at a local cemetery. What was different about this trip was that it wasn't important WHO was there but WHAT .
If you live in New England, chances are pretty darned good that somewhere in your town is a very old, and possibly neglected, early colonial burial ground. It is there that your earliest settlers buried their families quickly and went back to the task of survival in the wild new land.
The cemeteries of that era are not particularly inviting and pretty, but within that utilitarian piece of historical land is an amazing amount of art and poetry. If you have ever had the chance to wander the landscape of an old burial place and read a few inscriptions, you know exactly what I mean.
One headstone in the Howard Street Old Burial Ground (Northborough, MA) for a town hero who fought in the War of the Revolution, is inscribed as follows:
in memory of
Colonel LEVI BRIGHAM,
who departed this life
February 1st 1787 :
Aged 70 Years.
There were several common symbols chosen by families to express a specific message regarding the passing of their loved ones. For example, the artwork of the capstone for Col. Brigham includes an angel (the wings are a dead giveaway...pun intended), which was the symbol of the messenger between man and God. Additionally, the text added to the stone often provided insight into the character or demeanor of the deceased, offering a message for the living to heed as they headed toward their own Judgement Day. Iconography of these early stones is very interesting, and more information can be found at The Association for Gravestone Studies.
Gravestone rubbings serve many purposes, depending on what interests you. The image of a stone is like a photograph, documenting the genealogical information about an ancestor. Or you might find the iconography or inscription interesting and want to preserve it as a objet d'art. With specific care and methods, a rubbing can be done without harming the original stone, and some common sense and a little homework ahead of time can help make your project a success. (Tip from the workshop: place a sheet of plastic or plastic bag over the surface of the stone and secure with masking tape prior to applying the paper layer. This protects the stone from the rubbing medium accidentally touching the stone through a tear in the paper.)
The rubbing in the photo above, while not done by me personally, was given to me at the end of the workshop. The Brigham gentleman that belongs to this stone was a soldier in the War of the Revolution and descendant of the town's first settler, John Brigham.
What made the gift special? The artist who thoughtfully let me take her debut work home is also a Mrs. Brigham ...from the same family who has lived in the town of Northborough from day 1. To me, she is my new local hero. And you can now understand more why I truly love "Finding New Stories in Old Places!"
Beth Finch McCarthy