GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY:  Johnston's Historical Cemetery 63, a plot of mysteries with more questions than answers

By RORY SCHULER
Posted 7/30/21

Some cemeteries tell their own story.

The headstones deliver the names of the interred; the dates of birth and death.

The monument style or type of stone can provide insight into the …

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GRAVE RESPONSIBILITY:  Johnston's Historical Cemetery 63, a plot of mysteries with more questions than answers

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Some cemeteries tell their own story.

The headstones deliver the names of the interred; the dates of birth and death.

The monument style or type of stone can provide insight into the socio-economic status of the buried.

Grand, polished, ornate granite: wealthy.

Small concrete marker with hand carved inscriptions: poor.

An engraved design can provide a glimpse into the personality of the dead.

But some cemeteries provide more questions than answers.

“There are mysteries here,” said Johnston Historical Society President Elise Carlson, as she ducked under the forest canopy covering Cemetery No. 63.

Around 50 tiny pink flags stand out against the brown leafy ground. Each flag marks a stone; a suspected burial plot.

“It’s hard to say when this cemetery was in use,” Carlson said, reading off a few legible dates. “Every pink flag you see marks a stone.”

Many are just chunks of granite; conspicuous in their placement.

Volunteers have had a difficult time discerning graves from random rocks.

“Sometimes you can tell because they’re placed almost in rows,” Carlson said.

Several clues suggest Johnston’s Historical Cemetery No. 63 was primarily in use during the early 19th Century.

The tiny graveyard off Hartford Avenue occupies a small section of land at the edge of Snake Den State Park.

“This is one of six cemeteries in Snake Den,” Carlson said.

The historical cemetery sign has thoroughly rusted; the elements have crafted a smear of brown, rather than an original bearer of information.

Carlson referred to Cemetery No. 63 as the John B. Brown Lot, though it’s unlikely Brown is buried there.

A stone marks the grave of Brown’s son, John Allen, however.

John Allen, son of John B. and Milly Brown, died March 7, 1819, at the age of 15 weeks.

One polished headstone stands in memory of the Brown Family; rather than describing a single individual buried underground, it lists the family’s lineage like an engraved family tree.

Many stones lay flat on the ground.

Some are tiny, the size of tissue box.

A few scarred by inscriptions; lichen growth making legibility difficult.

Some are merely marked by initials; most likely footstones.

Not all footstones have a headstone in Cemetery 63. And not all headstones have a footstone.

The site had been completely overrun by vegetation for at least 100 years.

The volunteers of the Historical Society’s Cemetery Committee, however, have brought some respect back to the burial ground, working hard to Heimlich the choking weeds.

They planted the pink flags and have been trying to maintain the cemetery.

“This may be a headstone,” Carlson said, bending down to inspect a fairly flat, but unassuming rock. “Just when you think you’ve found them all, look, there’s another.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a weekly series looking into the conditions and history of the town’s nearly 100 historic cemeteries. The Johnston Historical Society needs help. Anybody interested in volunteering to help maintain an old cemetery in town, by mowing the grass and/or clearing weeds and debris, is urged to contact the Society by calling 401-231-3380.

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