Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cemeteries - The Restoration of Hillside Cemetery in North Adams, MA

Why do we flock to cemeteries?  Why do we act like the dogs in the movie UP when the word cemetery is mentioned?

This is our last earthly connection to our ancestors, and the further back in time we go, sometimes the only earthly connection we have.  We go to cemeteries to find that connection to our ancestors, our great grandmothers and great grandfathers.  Whole families can be buried together in a private cemetery or together in several abutting lots in a public cemetery.

We tell ourselves that it is just good methodology, doing a reasonably thorough search of all the sources of information, but it's the connection we crave.  So why do cemeteries fall into disrepair?  Is it that we have lost interest?  Do we no longer care about cemeteries and the graves of our families?

No, I don't think that's true.  I think we get busy being busy in our lives.  We don't want to take the time to learn how to properly take care of the stones, because we are busy doing something else.  We don't want to take pictures of old stones, because our kids won't appreciate it anyway.  They're too busy texting.  But this isn't everyone, let me tell you about some extraordinary students from MCLA (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, formerly North Adams State College)

Students at MCLA spend time in the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams, Massachusetts helping to preserve these precious pieces of our history.  They choose to help Roger Eurbin of the North Adams Cemetery Commission preserve our precious past.  The college encourages all of their students to do something to give back to the city that hosts their college.  These students could choose a great many other venues to give back to their community, but they choose the hot sun and the extremely hilly cemetery as their place of choice to pay it forward.

Hillside Cemetery of North Adams is a marvelous cemetery and is listed as a National Historic Preservation site.  It spans both sides of Route 2, the older section being on the Brown Street side of the street, and the "newer" section being on the other.  Hillside is a closed cemetery, but those who own lots and wish to be buried there may still do so. Military graves of Revolutionary War heroes through possibly the Vietnam Era await remembrance in Hillside.  Roger and friends have slowly been trying to straighten memorial stones and footstones that are threatening to fall over or worse, fall down one of the steep hills in the cemetery.  Embankments have crumbled making traversing this beautiful cemetery more difficult, and some stones have disintegrated to the point of either being unreadable or have lost their bases and now lie on the ground or both. They are constantly cutting back the brush that threatens to swallow some of the graves and are working hard to make sure that those graves that are to have perpetual care actually get that care.  Roger, especially, tries to personally look after the veteran graves of Hillside.  He feels a duty to those who served our country from its very beginnings to now.

I first met Roger when I was looking for my 2nd Great Grandfather, John H Adams, and his wife Julia F Loomis, and Anna, who I thought at the time would be his mother.  It turns out that Anna was their daughter, who hadn't lived long.  He was able to lead me directly to their resting places.  What a thrill it was to see where they were!  No longer were they just names on a page, they were real.  While traversing up and down the greater and lesser hills and knolls of Hillside, I found Buckleys, other Loomis's, Briggs and other possible collateral lines.  It's going to be fun searching for these long-lost people and see if they're relatives of my direct lines.

As a newer member of the +Western Massachusetts Genealogy Society (WMGS), I volunteered to help out Roger and Hillside.  I am the Chairperson of the Restore Hillside Cemetery Project, and I am organizing a day of working on Hillside - righting stones with Cemetery Personnel Supervision, taking photos of stones before their faces are destroyed, and transcribing the cemetery stones.  This will not only preserve the cemetery and its remaining memorials, but will allow Roger and myself to create a searchable index, so the Cemetery personnel can more easily assist researchers in finding their lost family members.

I will be publishing a date for this restoration project as soon as the membership of WMGS vote on a day.  It will be in early fall of 2014, so keep your date books open, and spread the word.  The more the merrier.  Please feel free to contact me directly.