Updated: Dec 1, 2022
We have often admired the skillfully carved gravestones in the Longmeadow Cemetery. Most made from locally quarried redstone (or brownstone), a particularly fine-grained sandstone, they have withstood the years of weathering. Evocative symbolism, old-fashioned names and archaic spellings fascinate, as do the familiar verses: “Death is a debt to nature due, which I have pay'd and so must you,” and the not so familiar verses from poets popular at the time like this one, "The Age of Man is but A Span/His days on Earth A few/At Death he must Embrace the Dust/And Bid this World Adieu." The rows of small stones remind us of the devastation of childhood illnesses now prevented by vaccinations, and the impressive table stones tell us of the social and financial standing of the town’s prominent citizens.
At Death he must/ Embrace the Dust/ And bid his world Adieu"
Have you ever wondered about the more mundane details of death in the 18th and 19th centuries—what were people buried in, what did they wear, and who buried them? What happened in the winter when the ground was frozen? Where did they get the verses and poems carved on the stones? Who paid for the gravestones, and what if the deceased couldn’t afford one? The Longmeadow Historical Society has been conducting research to try to learn more about some of the less fortunate citizens of the town. Records are relatively easier to find about the famous, the prominent, and the wealthy; but if you were female, black, poor or sickly, it is much harder to find a lasting record of your life. We have uncovered records detailing the care of the poor, including paying for a recently deceased’s final preparations. Walter White most often was mentioned for constructing the coffins. Others were credited with weaving the shroud.
Walter Coomes' ledger: "to paying Simion Newel (Simeon Newell) for grave stones for Aurelia B. Coomes" and "to paying Gorge Rennals (George Reynolds) for coffin"
A fortuitous find at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum at the Springfield Quadrangle shed more light on the nitty-gritty job of burial. This find, a ledger belonging to Walter Coomes (1766-1842), covered the time period of 1821-1842. Coomes was the local gravedigger for Longmeadow, and he made note of over a hundred burials he performed during those two decades. Costing between $.75 and $2.50, and often free for children, he was a busy man. An intriguing fact emerged from this ledger--of the nearly 150 notations of burials, only about 60% of those deceased currently have a stone in the cemetery (or in nearby East Longmeadow cemeteries). What does this mean? It may be a clue to how many people didn't have a permanent marker, or perhaps some of these markers no longer exist. The Longmeadow Cemetery Association has conducted Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) scans of the older portions of the cemetery. These scans did reveal evidence of burials in areas without gravestone markers. Much more research needs to be done.
Gravestone for Naomi Woolworth and her son, Joseph
who died on the same day in 1760.
She at age 39 in 1760 and he at 6 days old
Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Originally published September 30, 2021