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Gravestone in the Basement!

by Betsy McKee, LHS Board Member
February 24, 2022

I found a gravestone in my basement! What would you think if you found a gravestone in your basement? This happened to a new owner of an old house in Longmeadow. He found several fragments of an old marble gravestone being re-purposed as support for a rusting water heater. He dusted it off to read the name: Levi E. Taylor.


Levi E. Taylor, died August 11. 1858

Goosebumps rising, he wondered;

As we moved an old rusted out water heater, we found some of these fragments. They were used to hold up that water heater.

What am I to learn from this:

  • I hope Levi is not buried in my house for obvious reasons haha. - What do I do with something like this?

  • Any restrictions from me touching this anymore? I only moved them into this spot here to see what it was.

  • Any recommendations on a priest to bless the house? Love history as much as the next person, just not big on potentially spooky things

 So being a sensible person, he contacted the Longmeadow Historical Society and the Longmeadow Cemetery Association. These inquiries both landed on this author's lap, since I am a board member of both organizations. We told him that it was very unlikely that Levi was buried in his basement, that the Cemetery Association would take possession of the stone, and that we had no recommendations for blessings.

So, as many historical inquiries come about by chance, we dug into the story. A quick check of the cemetery photos revealed that Levi has a stone in the cemetery, slightly different style, but with the same information.


Levi E. (Ely) Taylor, died August 11. 1858
[click image to enlarge]

Not only is there a stone for Levi in the cemetery, but also one for his wife Laura, his mother, children and many other Taylor cousins. It seems logical that some disaster befell Levi's original stone, and a replacement stone was created. Perhaps Laura had that done, since she passed away a couple years after Levi. We also considered whether the broken stone could be a footstone. Early gravestones were almost always purchased as a pair--headstone and footstone--like the headboard and footboard for a bed. Footstones are usually smaller, simpler versions of the headstone, often with just initials and the year. This broken stone is a bit too complete for a typical footstone, and footstones had mostly fallen out of favor by 1858.

So, we have established that the broken stone found in the cellar was probably put there after it was damaged and replaced. So, is it likely that a body was buried in anyone's basement? What about in winter, when digging in the cemetery would be difficult? We consulted with an expert, Tom Kelleher of Old Sturbridge Village. He thought a basement burial would be quite unlikely, partly because a basement, or root cellar, would not be cold enough. Some towns had a town crypt where bodies could be kept until spring burials, but there is no evidence of Longmeadow ever having one. There are many towns, usually smaller, more rural ones, that have multiple small family burial plots rather than just one central cemetery. Again, Longmeadow did not--we had one central graveyard, and then later several others in the "East Village" which became East Longmeadow.

Okay, so the next question in our quest for answers is what was Levi Taylor's stone doing in Jabez Colton's house? Jabez Colton built his house in 1786. His son Elijah was born the same year. Elijah married Olive Taylor. So now we have a Taylor connection in the Jabez Colton house! Levi Ely Taylor was a first cousin of Olive's. So, we have a family connection, but we don't know that Levi ever lived in that house. In fact, Levi and his son Newton Ely Taylor were both listed as wheelwrights in the 1855 state census, and several maps (1831, 1855) show him living at the corner of Longmeadow Street and Williams (where First Church now stands). There were several structures in the this location, as First Church was still located on the green. First Church wasn't moved to the current location until 1874.


Levi Taylor's signature on an 1821 letter in the LHS archves


Detail from 1831 map
showing Elijah Colton living at the "Jabez Colton" house


1831 map, showing Levi Taylor's house
Corner of Longmeadow Street and Williams Street

So has our trip "down the rabbit hole" answered our new homeowner's questions? I think so; the stone is in the basement because it was unneeded, Levi was related to the Coltons, and he is buried in the cemetery with other members of his family. The Cemetery Association will accept the pieces and investigate whether they can be reassembled. The only item we didn't help with was the blessing--anyone have any suggestions?

If anyone has any gravestones on their property--often footstones were discarded--please contact the Cemetery Association to have them restored to the graveyard. We are replacing footstones when they are found (often buried in the cemetery). Thanks!

Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society board member, Longmeadow Cemetery Association President.


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Longmeadow Historical Society

697 Longmeadow Street
Longmeadow, MA 01106
(413) 567-3600
LongmeadowHS@gmail.com
 
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