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.

1 comment:

Robert J. said...

Ugh, the folks in Windham don't know the difference between an f and a long s. They are not the same.

The "renewed" stones are quite interesting. It must have been a distinct project of some person or group of people in the region in question at that time.