Spring has come to Massachusetts. The sun rises early, the birds start to chirp, we hear the commuter train start its rush hour runs. We saw a deer at the edge of the meadow just behind our motel. It's much too nice to stay indoors and we are essentially caught up with the backlog of genealogically-related photocopies we made last fall, so we've started once again hunting dead relatives with camera and clipboard. Rhode Island state capitol
(The train, which starts from the station just below us on its run into Boston, reminds us of what "bells and whistles" really means: we hear first the bells of the barriers at the grade crossing, then the train whistle, which varies considerably depending on the weather, the direction of the train, and who is driving - one engineer has a jaunty toot-ta-toot.)
Cities are nice to visit on weekends, when they're not crowded with office workers and the traffic is light. Sunday we drove into Providence, just to sightsee. Parking the car near the state capitol, we admired its elaborate white marble architecture and wondered who might want to use the little round towers on the roof.
A block south of the capitol people were working up the crowd preparatory to starting a Walk For Life, and guards were posted at the crossings to let the walkers move through.
We went to the Visitor center at the Roger Williams National Historic Site, run by the National Park Service. The story boards along the walls overemphasized his good points. While he fled to Rhode Island because his religious views were not accepted in Massachusetts, colonial Rhode Island never developed anything like modern freedom of religion, and as he grew older, Williams himself grew less tolerant. Of course people who write story boards like to tell an attractive story, so that they will continue to attract tourists. Garden nursery school, Cambridge
Benefit Street is a lovely stretch of historic houses, shops and small flower gardens. These old homes are not the earliest settlements, however; Providence was burned to the ground in 1675 by Indians.
The next day the weather was still lovely, so we drove to Cambridge, to check the old burying ground. Once again, we found some intriguing carved stones, including a pair for an eighth-great aunt and uncle. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century tombstones were often carved out of longer lasting slate, rather than the cheaper limestone which was used in the early nineteenth century in these parts. But all monuments eventually become unreadable, so we're surprised that so few New England cemeteries have had their inscriptions published.
As we walked out of the gate we saw a sign for the Garden Nursery School, which our two toddlers attended in 1964-6. In nice weather the kids would play in the graveyard occasionally. We never realized that so many kinfolk were buried there!
Whenever we get close to a good university, we like to visit the bookstore. The Harvard Coop had three full shelves of colonial history, and we brought seven of them home with us, plus some more fiction.
Tuesday morning we drove down the South Shore, visiting cemeteries in Marshfield, Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth. In each, we roamed the old burying Kingston church and graveyard grounds, taking pictures of ancestors' headstones. We can see efforts to preserve some of these old stones, sometimes by encasing the remains in cement, sometimes by covering them with thin copper sheeting.
These graveyard visits may seem a bit strange, but we enjoy them for several reasons: they are peaceful and usually pretty, with lots of trees and grass and birds; there's the pleasure of actually locating a grave of someone whose history we have been assembling bit by bit; seeing groups of families helps us to imagine the patterns of friendship and support of these families so long ago; and it reminds us that the subjects of our research actually lived here.
Marshfield and Duxbury were pleasant surprises - lovely towns with winding narrow roads and gracious homes -- some of them quite old -- and lots and lots of flowers. These are not tourist towns. In Duxbury we were the only non-residents in the Milepost Restaurant. The place smelled of old money.
While we found quite a few gravesites for ancestors who died in the eighteenth century, there were very few actual stones from the seventeenth century. In a number of cases the old stones have been replaced by modern monuments, paid for by the descendants of the early settler.
Plymouth has become such a tourist destination that they moved their tombstones from down in the flats (where the Wax Museum is now located) up to Burial Hill, with a lovely view of the harbor. We didn't ask what happened to the remains of the forefathers, but we might guess!
Once you get off the freeways in the Northeast, the roads snake through the countryside, following the old paths used by the Indians and later the settlers. Flowers are everywhere; today we noticed lots of honey locust trees in full bloom, along with beds of iris.