Sunday, November 30, 2008

Josiah Manning

Josiah Manning, one of the most prolific gravestone carvers in eastern Connecticut during the 18th century, carved his own gravestone. It does not appear to be particularly special — there are more than a dozen stones in Windham Center cemetery that are very similar stylistically. If you did not know that Manning was a carver, you might walk by without noticing anything unusual unless you noticed the message on the back:
This Monument
I made in ye year
1800 in my 76th
year    JM

I'm not sure who carved the specifics on the front — perhaps one of Manning's sons or apprentices.

Josiah Manning also carved a stone for his wife, Mary, who died in 1796. Unlike Manning's own stone, Mary's stone is stylistically distinct from the bulk of Manning's work. The wings are feathered and point downward instead of the distinctive bat-like wings of other Manning stones. The face is different as well — it lacks the on-end hair and surprised eyes common on other Manning stones. It seems that Josiah may have been attempting to carve a portrait of his beloved wife.
Mary's is the only hand-carved stone in the graveyard (other than Josiah's own) that is carved on both sides:
 The LORD gave & ye LORD
hath taken away blessed be
ye name of the LORD, for
Lover & friend hast thou
put far from me & mine
acquaintance into darkness
In ye Cold mansions of ye 
silent Tomb, Oh how full ye
solitud[e] how deep ye gloom,
Here sleeps her dust,
unconscious, close Confin'd
but far far Distant Dwells
the Immortal Mind.
This is a mash-up of Job 1:21, Psalm 88:18, and an epitaph found all over New England ("In ye Cold mansions . . .").

Saturday, November 29, 2008


While researching this Pompey Stevens paper, I have come across many quotidian tragedies that may not make it into the final paper. That's why I run this blog — so I can keep track of the stories I find in the archives and graveyards.

This Newport gravestone tells a doubly tragic tale. First, Peter, a boy enslaved by Aaron Lopez, drowned after falling out of a boat near Lopez' wharf. Second, his epitaph characterizes his death as a financial, as well as a familial loss. His epitaph is a testament to the violence and tragedy of a system that took children from their parents for the financial gain of others.

Peter Son of
Peter Cranston
& Phylis his
Wife was
Drowned Septr
7th 1771 to
ye loss of his
Parents & his
Mr. A. Lopez

Friday, November 28, 2008

101 Ways, Part 68: Chearfully Resigned Her Spret Into the Hand of Jesus

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

This elaborated form of "resigned his soul to God" can be found in the graveyard in Mansfield Center, CT:

The Memory of Mrs. Hannah williams
Daugher of ye Revd Mr. Eleazer & Mrs.
Mary Williams Who after A patient
Enduring of a Lingring Sickness and
Experience of the divine power and
Grace Chearfully Resigned her Spret [spirit]
Into the hand of jesus in hops of the
promise of Eternal Life on the 18th of
Novemr. 1749 in ye 27[?] Year of her Age.

The raised head, turkey-feather fan, pinwheels, and central heart all point to this as the work of Benjamin Collins. Collins, a student of Obadiah Wheeler, replicated his teacher's discursive epitaph style.

101 Ways, Part 67: Was Called to Close His Eyes on Mortal Things

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
This Gershom Bartlet stone from Windham Center, CT exhibits some innovative spelling:

In Memory of Capt.
Eleazer Cary Altho
his Yousfulness in Church
& State Yet he was Call
ed to Close his Eyes on
Mortal things & went
with Unshaken Faith in
to ye Unsean world on ye
28th of July 1754 in ye 70th
Year of his Age
In him did two Great
worthys shine Wisdom
& Justice met So Kind

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Farewell, Vain World

This epitaph shows up several times in my preliminary Google searches, but I haven't yet found an example earlier than 1742. I imagine it comes from a published source because it crops up in England, South Carolina, and Boston. The one that keeps popping up is William Harvey (1756), but unless Edward Carter's stone is backdated, it is still the earliest I can find. There are a few undated examples, but no solid leads yet.

Variant forms of this epitaph are often associated with suicides, dating back to the Mungo Campbell case (1770). I don't mean to suggest that Mr. Carter killed himself — I'm just making an observation.

Edward Carter, Granary Burying Ground, Boston, MA, 1742:

Farewell Vain World I have Enough of the[e]
and now I'm Careles what thou Sayst of me
What Fault thou Seest in me
Take Care to Shun
Theres worke within thy Self
That Should be Done
Thy Smiles I Court not nor thy Frowns I fear
My Cares are past my head lies quiet here
NOVr 11th 1742 AGED 45.

Mr. Carter was a "Silk Dyer and Scowerer" who had a little trouble with his servants:

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Last night, Pete and I watched Helvetica (2007), the documentary about the typeface. Unfortunately, I did not like it nearly as much as I thought I would.

Pete and I are the type of people who should have enjoyed this film. Neither of us is a graphic designer, but he is a software engineer with a particular interest in user interface, while I have spent the last week analyzing the lettering on a series of Newport gravestones in an effort to attribute them to individual carvers. We were primed to like this movie.

And yet, it was disappointing. I can identify at least three specific problems I found annoying:

1) Lack of historical context: The whole point is that Helvetica was introduced in the 1960s by modernists who wanted to replace the messy, subjective, nostalgic typefaces of the 1950s with something clean, crisp, neutral, and universal. Except for a brief (and wonderful!) segment on which a graphic designer flips through a magazine from the '50s to show some before and after ads, the film provides no examples of the "before" that Helvetica was meant to correct. I would have liked a bit more background — how did typefaces change over the course of the early 20th century or even *gasp* the 19th century? Not a whole long segment, just a 3-minute montage to place Helvetica in its historical context.

2) Lack of specific context: Who are these people being interviewed? Yes, I see that this one is the son of the original designer and this one is a modernist designer who helped make Helvetica ubiquitous. But what about random youngish designer #1? Why do I care about him? And random youngish designer #6? Isn't he just repeating what random youngish designers #2-5 have already said? Who is he anyway? Well, they displayed his name (in Helvetica), so I guess that's all the information I need.

3) Lazy filmmaking: For an hour and a half, the film follows this format: rambling interview, montage of Helvetica visible in a street scene, rambling interview, montage of Helvetica visible in a street scene, rambling interview, montage of Helvetica visible in a street scene, etc. etc. Repeat. For a film about graphic design, the filmmakers could have used more technology than a single camera, aimed alternately at a speaker and a street scene. Where was the cool graphic interlude showing us why Helvetica's proportions are so lovely? Where was the "here's this poster in five different fonts — see how they convey such different messages" scene? About a dozen people assert that a typeface can convey a message, but until the segment with the 1970s "postmodernists" about 3/4 of the way through, they were just telling, not showing.

In the end, the way this film was Helvetica translated into movie form. It was crisp, clean, and uncluttered. This philosophy actually exposed the central fallacy of Helvetica, which is the belief that text can be transparent, neutral, and universal. As it turns out, without context, it's all just dull and unimportant.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mariners' Angel

Here's another interesting stone from Plymouth, MA. Most of the work — the lettering and the stars — was done by the same carver who was responsible for those strange, possibly machine-made urns.
The central design is wholly different. The hand-carved ship and waves are lovely and the angel, while slightly awkward, is nice in an American primitive sort of way. I'm sure I've seen something similar painted on a wooden shingle or stitched on a pillow in the Old Sturbridge Village gift shop.

The image of an angel watching over a ship isn't exactly subtle, but it is poignant in a graveyard crowded with cenotaphs dedicated to men who died at sea.

Happy Birthday, Brighid!

My little sister is 13 today!

Since I was 12 when she was born, I remember Biddie's babyhood best of all. At the moment she was born, my brothers and I were just sitting down to watch the 6:00 showing of Toy Story at our crappy local movie theatre with our cousins. Even though she was born at a few minutes before 6, the midwives recorded her birth time as a few minutes after 6 because 6:00 was the cutoff for staying overnight. If a baby was born before 6, mom and baby went home the next morning — after 6, they got a two night stay. That meant that my mom got to spend Thanksgiving cuddled up in bed, rather than with the extended family. She has often said it was the best Thanksgiving ever.

Biddie in a pleasant mood:
Her christening was held at a reenactment in Rhode Island. The priest at our church didn't often do off-site sacraments, but when my mom asked him to do the christening, he was reading a Civil War-themed novel and took that as a sign. I baked dozens of pound cakes for that christening and never liked them much after that. I also embroidered little green shamrocks on the ruffle of her christening bonnet. You can sort of see them in this picture (Bid at christening with her godmother, cousin Mary Ellen):
Another happy baby pic (Christmas, 1996):
We don't see that expression much anymore. This is more typical:
Enjoy your teenage years, Biddie!

Friday, November 21, 2008

"No Irishman Need Apply"

While working on my Longfellow House project today, I came across a rather bizarre letter from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to James T. Fields. Longfellow starts off the letter,
Cambridge, Sept. 19, 1850
My dear Fields,
Patrick Cummings called on me today; and not wishing to tell him to his face that “no Irishman need apply,” I told him to call on you tomorrow. Will you be kind enough to say, that I shall not need his services, this being the way least likely to give offence. His recommendations are good so far as character goes; but no farther.
Not very remarkable, beyond revealing HWL as both a bigot and a coward, unless you consider that the 1850 census records show that four servants, including one Irish-born woman, one Irish-born man, and one Newfoundland-born woman, lived with the Longfellows in 1850. The census page devoted to Brattle Street in Cambridge is dated Sept. 17, 1850.
So what gives? Did Longfellow fail to notice the Irish already living in his house? Or did their age indicate that they were long-time residents of the USA, and therefore somehow less Irish?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

101 Ways, Part 66: Frozen to Death

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

On the day after Christmas in 1778, the brig General Arnold ran aground on a sand bar in Plymouth harbor. As freezing water flooded the lower decks, more than 100 crewmen were forced onto the deck, where more than 70 froze to death in a snowstorm that prevented rescuers from reaching their doomed vessel. Read all the gruesome details here.

Most of the dead were buried in a mass grave on burial hill, but a few were sent home to their families. Dr. Herbert Mann, age 21, was buried in North Attleborough, MA. His eloquent epitaph is quoted in Dickran and Ann Tashjian's Memorials for Children of Change: The Art of Early New England Stonecarving:

In Memory of
who with 119 sailors with Captn.
James Magee Master went on board
the Brigg General Arnold in Bos
ton harbour Decr. 25th 1778
hoisted sail and made for the sea,
& were immediately overtaken
by the most tremendous snow
storm with cold that was ever
known in the memory of man,
& unhappily parted their Cable in
Plymouth harbour in a place call'd 
the cow-yard & he with about 100 
others were frozen to Death, 66 of 
which were buried in one Grave.
He was in the 21st Year of his age.
And now LORD GOD Almigh-
ty just & true are all thy ways,
but who can stand before thy cold?

I haven't been to North Attleborough yet, but I have a few pictures from the common grave in Plymouth:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mourning Figures

As an antidote to those ugly urns, I bring you some early 19th-century mourning images. I've written about this genre before, but have found a few more examples since then.
Mary Elizabeth Churchill, Plymouth, MA (1819)
(Note: If you zoom in on this image, you can see that it is signed by a member of the Soule family in the lower right corner.)

Callaghan Family, Cambridge, MA (c. 1860)

Mary Frances Stoddard, Providence, RI (1833)

Sally Gardner, Harvard, MA (1818)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mustache Mania

Google has a new service: photos from the LIFE collection. The 1860s section should provide hours of quality mustache-gazing for your enjoyment.

If you need more mustaches, check out Mustaches of the Ninteenth Century.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Unusual Urns

These stones can all be found on Plymouth's Old Burial Hill. All date from the first half of the nineteenth century (1821-1855). I'm not quite sure what to make of them. The first two look like something from an art deco frieze, the second two have a little Middle Eastern flair, and the final two look like late 20th-century interpretations of ye olde folke art.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ballad Genealogy

A few weeks ago, Pete took me to a Great Big Sea show at the Orpheum for my birthday. It was a great show, and even though they did play a lot of songs from their new album, they played a healthy dose of traditional music as well, including "The River Driver," a song from the logging camps of Newfoundland. Since I can't turn my brain off, I spent the duration of this song wondering about the origins of this song, which is clearly related to several other well-known songs.

The chorus of "The River Driver" should sound familiar to anyone with a passing interest in English/Scottish/Irish folk music:
I'll eat when I am hungry and I'll drink when I am dry,
Get drunk whenever I'm ready, get sober by and by,
And if this river don't drown me, it's down I'll mean to roam,
For I'm a river driver and I'm far away from home.
When I got home, I went through my iTunes library and identified other songs that include the "I'll eat when I'm hungry . . ." line. As it turns out, these songs have variations of another phrase in common: "I'll build me a castle on some green mountain high / Where I can see my darling as she goes passing by." Other similarities include the phrase "far from my home" and a theme of separation from a lover, often because her parents disapprove of the match.

These songs come from all over the British diaspora, from Newfoundland to Louisiana, from Appalachia to Ireland, recorded by music archivists and icons of popular music alike. They clearly have a common ancestor. I can't find an obvious antecedent among the Child Ballads, but it's there somewhere. I've found some sources that link these ballads to an 18th-century ballad called "The Cuckoo," but nothing older than that. Any suggestions?

The River Driver
recorded by: Great Big Sea

Rye Whiskey
recorded by: Woody Guthrie

The Moonshiner
recorded by: The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem
The Moonshiner
recorded by: Bob Dylan*
*This version is substantially different from the Clancy Brothers' version.

The Cuckoo
recorded by: Hem

The Rebel Soldier
recorded by: Bobby Horton

Jack o'Diamonds
recorded by: Ed McCurdy

Stewball (or Skewball)
recorded by: Steeleye Span
(Steeleye Span's version does not include the relevant verse, which I found in Alan Lomax's American Ballads and Folksongs. Lomax recorded a version sung among African-American prisoners in the American South that includes the verse, "Gwine to build me a castle on de mountain so high / So's I can see ol' Stewball as he passes by."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Epaphroditus Champion

Name o' the Day:

Epaphroditus Champion.

Yes, yes, there is a saint named Epaphroditus, but it sounds quite similar to a number of unfortunate medical conditions. I would link to the Wikipedia page for epispadias, but it's NSFW.

Epaphroditus Champion paid for a gravestone in East Haddam, CT dedicated to Joel Jackson, a free man who had once belonged to one of Champion's relatives. Angelica Kruger-Kahloula mentions this stone in her Markers article as an example of former masters' self-identification as benefactors even after emancipation. It reads:


Epaphroditus Champion joins Epaphras Shrimpton among my favorite names beginning with the letter E. I don't know my New Testament very well, but Wikipedia tells me that Epaphras is a shortened form of Epaphroditus and that both mean "beloved by Aphrodite." Quite a name for 18th-century New England.

Now, With More Athy!

This stuff cracks me up. The Christian Broadcasting Network is very upset about those new "anti-God" ads on buses in DC.

I like to read articles about atheism written from a Christian perspective (it hones my understanding of where Christians are coming from), but I'm having a little trouble getting past the chronic misspelling of atheist as athiest.*

It's a-theist, as in not-theist,
not athiest, the superlative of athy: athy, athier, athiest.

Using my vocabulary skills, I can deduce from this context that athy must mean something along the lines of hopeful or optimistic:
But the athiest group hopes the ads will bring together residents who follow a humanist way of thinking.

*I wish to reiterate my mocking policy: Misspellings, minor grammatical errors, and punctuation faux pas are to be forgiven when they appear on a blog, in a personal email, or in handwritten correspondence. For my part, I am notoriously overgenerous with commas and am a poor typist. I reserve the right to mock these same errors when they appear in headlines, on printed signs, or in any other text that has been through an editorial process.

101 Ways, Part 65: Earth Life Closed

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

I am mildly fascinated by the phenomenon of women who outlive their husbands by 50+ years and make sure to draw attention to it on their gravestones. See Rebecca Martin for an example. I don't know if it's sweet or Miss Havisham-y.

Abigail Virgin of Plymouth, MA was one of these long-term widows.

Widow of
Capt. John Virgin
whose earth life
Feb. 13, 1880,
Aged 87 y'rs 7 mo's. 16 days
Blessed are the pure in heart.

Her husband, John Virgin, died in 1814 at the age of forty-seven. She was about twenty-one at the time.

Here's a better picture of the fine portrait of John Virgin. I wonder whether this was carved from a miniature — the shape suggests that may be the case and the good Captain looks quite youthful for 47, though that may be due to the carver's limitations:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

101 Ways, Part 64: Quitted the Stage

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

I've been reading a lot about African American gravestones lately. Here's an epitaph mentioned by Angelika Kruger-Kahloula in her article, "Tributes in Stone and Lapidary Lapses: Commemorating Black People in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century America" (Markers, 1989):

In memory of
Here lies the best of slaves
Now turning into dust:
Caesar the Ethiopian craves
A place among the just.
His faithful soul has fled
To realms of heavenly light,
And by the blood that Jesus shed
is changed from Black to White.
Jan 15 he quitted the stage
in the 77th year of his age.

North Attleborough, MA
picture available here

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

101 Ways, Part 63: Supposed Foundered at Sea

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

I recently reread Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War and was more impressed than I was on my initial read last spring. She manages to keep the reader emotionally invested while still historicizing the emotions of her subjects, which is not an easy thing to do. The central point of the book— that Americans had to adjust their expectations for the "good death" in the face of the scale, location, and circumstances of death during the Civil War — is powerful and well argued.

When I was in Plymouth this weekend, I was thinking about Faust's work when I came across the gravestones of Joseph Churchill (d. 1836) and Thomas Russell (d. 1786). Faust argues that 19th-century Americans expected to die at home, surrounded by family and friends who would hear the dying person's last words and witness the state of his or her soul at the moment of death. If someone survived childhood diseases and accidents, he/she was expected to lead a long life and die a "good death," which is why the the Civil War was so disastrous for their understanding of death — thousands of men died all alone, away from home, with no witnesses, often with no identifiable remains. Faust argues that Americans had to improvise new ways of dealing with death when their expectations became untenable.

But what about people from Plymouth and other maritime communities? Surely they would not be shocked by the deaths of young men far from home. You can't turn around on Old Burial Hill in Plymouth without tripping over a cenotaph dedicated to someone who died in Cuba or Guadaloupe or off the coast of France. What were the expectations about death in these communities and did the Civil War have the same impact on them as it did in other places?

Faust maintains that uncertainty about a loved one's fate was one of the cruelest tortures for Civil War soldiers' families. The men and women and Plymouth had a long history of coping with uncertainty.

Joseph Churchill's epitaph is a good example. His family doesn't really know what happened to him — all they can do is "suppose":

in memory of 
who Sail'd from Boston
Nov, 1836,
in the Brig Plymouth Rock
of Plymouth,
Bound to Rochelle in France,
and supposed Foundered
at Sea aged 54 years.
Also his Children
sea on board the Brig
Androscoggin of Portland
Aug. 1842, aged 37 yrs.
died May 2, 1839,
aged 22 yrs.

Thomas Russell's family faced similar uncertainty:

In Memory of
Capt. James Russell who died
Sept. 28, 1792 aged 32 years.
And also Mr. Thomas Russell
supposed to be lost at Sea in a severe
Snow storm Decr. 4&5 1786
aged 24 years, both Sons of the late

It seems unlikely that maritime communities' expectations of death could have been rattled as substantially as others' during the Civil War. They had a long history of uncertainty and cenotaphs.

One note: It seems that when someone was lost at sea, the placing of a cenotaph relied on one of two things happening: 1) fellow seamen returning with positive knowledge of the death or 2) the death of another family member who required a gravestone. Many, many "lost at sea" cenotaphs are dedicated to more than one person. Usually, pre-1800 stones dedicated to more than one person are intended for spouses, young siblings, or mothers with infants, but cenotaphs are often inter-generational or commemorate adult siblings. Tragically, these are often similar to the Russell stone — dedicated to 2, 3, 4, or more brothers lost at sea.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


This past weekend, I was in Duxbury, MA and noticed several strange objects: mid-19th-century reproductions of 18th-century gravestones placed directly in front of the extant of the older stones. Duxbury's Myles Standish Burying Ground claims to be "America's Oldest Maintained Cemetery," and, apparently, part of that legacy is a history of reproduction.

Reproductions are not unusual in New England graveyards. Some, like the Noah Brooks stone in Concord, MA, are erected by the deceased's descendants, either to replace a damaged stone or to commemorate a grave that never had a permanent marker:

Others replace stones that have been destroyed or removed to museums for preservation (Windham, CT):

Others appropriate older forms to emphasize connections to New England heritage (Cambridge, MA):

Still others are not really reproductions, but rather modern productions that seek to right historic wrongs (Marblehead, MA):

Some "reproductions" are actually stones with anachronistic designs, as in the case of John Stevens' gravestone in Newport (his son, William, carved a 17th-century-style gourds-and-leaves border on Stevens' stone in 1736). Sometimes, these anachronisms allow family members to have stones that are stylistically similar to relatives' stones, as in the case of Wheeler and Rebecca Martin of Providence, RI. When Wheeler died in 1836, he got a conventional (if somewhat old-fashioned by then) urn-and-willow design. His widow, Rebecca, outlived him by fifty-four years, dying in 1890. Her stone is nearly identical to his. The carvers at Henry F. Tingley & Co. were justifiably proud of their work and signed it in a prominent spot:

But among all of these types of reproductions and reworkings, the Duxbury examples are unique. I have never before seen a replica placed directly in front of the original, effectively obscuring the original from view:

The originals aren't even that old! Why the replicas? The 19th-century stones claim to "renew" the old, but why?

This one changes the imagery from soul effigy to urn-and willow:

There is one case where the original stone no longer stands:

Update: Here's a similar example from Connecticut.