“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
– From “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon
Two years ago I spent Halloween and Day of the Dead in El Paso, Texas. To witness the love, respect, and remembrance shown to those who have left this earth was incredibly moving and spiritual. It was truly a gift. I thought about this when I recently visited two old Whitefield cemeteries with Charlene Donahue, Barry Tibbetts, and Libby Harmon who are members of the Whitefield Cemetery Committee.
The photo is of a fairly well-preserved headstone of a veteran named Issac Kincaid who died in 1867. Upon his death at age 70, Issac’s last words were, “I take my staff and travel on.”
When visiting the Ware-Maple Cemetery on East River Road (Route 218) Charlene and Libby explained the difference between the various markers, reasons why some survived and others have not, and how they are working to document and maintain these sacred spaces. Libby, the town archivist, explained how they are recommending changing the name of this old cemetery to Maple Hill Cemetery due to a reference in a historical document that was donated to the Whitefield Historical Society this past summer. In this late 19th-century journal, this cemetery is referred to as the Maple Hill Cemetery. In light of this new information it makes sense to change the name. When new information is presented to us, we respond accordingly.
When visiting this old cemetery my imagination was transported back to the mid-1800s. Civil War time. A time of incredible division in our country. It reminded me of a very heated conversation my family was having when I was a teenager. I had two older brothers and it was right after one had received his number for the Vietnam War draft. As we sat loudly discussing this I couldn’t for the life of me imagine them being on opposite sides of an issue and fighting against each other. Today I see how that could happen. And like many, it’s incredibly painful to see.
A visit to another cemetery, the Partridge Cemetery on Doyle Road, provided another opportunity to witness the work of this dedicated committee. Cemetery committee and Lions Club member Barry Tibbetts and his sister Roxanne Malley, work as advisors to the Erskine Leo’s Club which is sponsored by the Whitefield Lions Club. These students called “Leos” and several Whitefield elders were clearing leaf debris to uncover markers and begin the long process of reclaiming this ancient cemetery.
According to Barry, “Lions sponsors and partners with them in public service. It’s a great way to connect kids to their communities and us to the future.” Watching these students work and the pride they exhibited as they uncovered headstones buried below the leaf litter was truly hopeful, especially in these troubled and divisive times.
The Whitefield Cemetery Committee is engaged in incredibly important and challenging work to preserve these old cemeteries. Many hours are dedicated to documenting the dozens of tiny and often hidden cemeteries here in Whitefield. Their work also includes uncovering and cleaning headstones, footstones, and other markers as well as mapping their locations.
Since towns are required to maintain ancient burial grounds, which are grounds established prior to 1880, funds are always needed. If you would like to support this work please send donations to the town office and label, “Cemetery Care.” Or if you would like to join them in this work, they meet the first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the central fire station. Masks are required.