Monday, July 14, 2008

The Saddest Grave in Menotomy

The Old Menotomy Burying Ground in Arlington, MA is not my favorite graveyard around here. It is very well maintained and manicured, which is fine, but it's not as much fun as going into the overgrown, neglected burying grounds. It's the difference between going into a junk shop and going into an antique store where everything is labeled and locked away in cases. You'll see some great stuff in the glass cases, but it's more fun to go into the junk shop and there's a better chance you'll find a great deal. That said, Menotomy isn't a bad little graveyard.

I try not to get too caught up in the tragedies behind gravestones, preferring to focus on their value as material objects and concrete expressions of cultural values. Each stone represents a terrible loss for someone, so there isn't much point in ascribing special value to some over others because they are especially tragic. Still, every once in a while, a stone tells such a sad story that I can't help but be drawn to it, even if it isn't stylistically or linguistically interesting.

Which brings me to the saddest grave in Menotomy. Along the back wall of the burying ground, there is a small British flag stuck into the ground, marking the approximate gravesite of some of the 40 British Regulars who were killed at the Battle of Menotomy. A small, laminated card on the front reads,
In Memory
of the British Soldiers
who gave their lives
in the service of
their King and Country
April 19, 1775
Unnamed
and seldom remembered,
they have lain here over 230 years.
Rest in Peace.
I don't know who put up this little memorial, but I found it very touching. It stands very near the grand obelisk dedicated to the slain Minute Men and the juxtaposition is stark. There's a little stone dedicated to an unnamed Regular in the Lexington graveyard that didn't strike me as too sad, so I think that maybe the lack of a stone is what makes this ephemeral tribute particularly pathetic and poignant.

I'll join Lori in remembering the American dead, but would humbly ask that we also include a thought for these unnamed dead.

2 comments:

Lori Stokes said...

This is a sad little reminder of the other side of the battle. Those British soldiers were people, too, whose families may never have received word of when and where exactly they died or were laid to rest.

Two other sets of sad stones at Menotomy's OBG are from the dysentery epidemics of 1802 and 1805. In 1802, Samuel and Deborah Cutter lost three children (Samuel, Debby, and Benjamin) in eight days. In 1805, Benjamin and Rhoda Teel also lost three children (Anna, John, and Lucy), over two weeks.

How parents kept going after something like that I'll never know.

RJO said...

Some British friends who I took on a tour of the North Bridge in Concord told me there is an organization that decorates the graves of British soldiers overseas. I don't recall its name, but perhaps someone else will. The type on that Arlington notice is the same as the type on two such notices in Concord (as I recall), so the same people are probably behind both.

James Russell Lowell's lines at the North Bridge apply for the folks in Arlington as well:

They came three thousand miles and died,
To keep the past upon its throne.
Unheard beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.