Monday, February 8, 2010

Cemetery Commission Will Join in Bristol's 225th

There's a good group of people looking after the city's graveyards. I checked in on the Cemetery Commission tonight and wrote this for Tuesday's edition of The Bristol Press (

BRISTOL -- The Episcopal Diocese is looking for help with its ancient cemetery on Stearns Street, according to Ellen Zoppo, who chairs the city Cemetery Commission.

Zoppo said when she spoke with representatives from the diocese, she suggested they might be able to affiliate with a neighborhood organization or neighboring church.

She mentioned St. Joseph’s Church, which has a nearby cemetery, and the Federal Hill Association, Zoppo said, adding that she believes the dioceses will pursue “partnership possibilities” with both of them.

“They seemed very interested in those ideas,” Zoppo said.

Zoppo said she hasn’t heard from diocese officials since letting them know that for financial reasons, the city wouldn’t assume responsibility for the cemetery.

She said the diocese had assured her they would put a plan in place to care for the cemetery, but that she didn’t know yet what it would be.

The commission, which intends to participate in the city’s 225th birthday celebration, is planning an event at the Lewis Street cemetery, which at the time was known as the Old North Cemetery, said Zoppo.

When the commission met Monday, members talked about plans for the event, slated for April 18.

Commissioner Marjorie Budge said Bob Merriman has agreed to talk about his family’s history for the occasion.

Hap Barnes has also agreed to participate, representing his family, which has many members buried there.

Deanne Levesque, who also serves on the commission, said she’d identified 34 soldiers from the American Revolution who are buried in the cemetery.

Mike Saman, another commissioner, said the cemetery also has seven Civil War soldiers buried there.

“That’s quite a bit,” he said.

The commission plans to mark the soldiers’ graves and possibly have volunteers available to speak about the individuals.

More than 50 members of the Lewis family are buried there, including Josiah Lewis, the family patriarch. Budge said his was the first burial there, on May 1, 1772.

In addition to family members and volunteers to speak about the soldiers, the American Clock and Watch Museum may get involved, said Zoppo, contributing information about early Bristol clockmakers who are laid to rest in the Lewis Street burial ground.

The program on the Lewis Street cemetery will be presented first at the Bristol Historical Society and Museum, then for the general public at the cemetery, said Zoppo.

The program may include a guide to some of the more interesting gravestones.

Saman said the inscriptions are detailed, almost telling a story.

“Some of them are really different,” said Saman. “The sayings are really unique.”

Zoppo said some of the presentation may also discuss the materials used, including brownstone and marble as well as the idiosyncrasies of the stones.

“Everybody’s been in a cemetery, whether willingly or not,” said Zoppo, who said the public may find it interesting.

Though there was some discussion about cleaning the stones before the event, it could prove problematic because the commission would have to secure permission from the probate court first.

Budge said cleaning the stones isn’t the crucial part.

“We’re focusing on the history,” she said.

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