Post by Graveyardbride on Dec 10, 2016 12:38:38 GMT -5
Headstones, a Dying Artform
GROTON, Mass. – Carved monoliths in Groton’s Old Burying Ground loom like ghosts from centuries past. Once believed to be doorways bridging the dead into the afterlife, early headstones were chiseled with an artist’s eye by master carver William Park. More than 200 years later, Park’s descendants, Charlie Park and his wife, Carol, of Virginia, embarked on a road trip to Groton, hoping the weathered granite slabs would provide a key to unlocking their family history.
Charlie Park canvassed a headstone with tracing paper. Black crayon in hand, he moved in short, sweeping strokes. The words “Memento Mori” – a Latin phrase meaning “Remember Death” – bled through. The moment was eerily symbolic, because William Park spent most of his life helping people memorialize lost loved ones through pictures and words.
William Park emigrated from Scotland to America in 1756 and became a “grave marker,” using nothing but the sharp edge of a steel blade to coax a story from marble. Beginning with William in the 1700s, the Park family carved more than 8,000 headstones in cemeteries throughout New England. According to the Greenfield-based Association of Gravestone Studies, historic “cause of death” epitaphs in Pepperell were rated the best in New England. The headstones bear the Park family;s signature stamp. “We knew nothing of this when we came up,” said Carol. “We were just going to visit old Groton, and lo and behold, he was such a prolific carver.”
“It blows my mind,” Charlie, an eighth-generation descendent of William, added. “The attention to detail is unbelievable.”
Depending on a family’s desires, or how much they had to spend, headstones could take up to a year or longer to forge. This meant William often formed a close relationship with bereaved family members. “If you look closely and take the time to study the stones, you see the personality in them,” noted Eleanor Gavazzi, historian for the Old Burying Ground Commission. “Every cherub is different. He put a softness around them for a child.”
A cherub, a winged skull, a pineapple or a bird, each carving is unique. Looking around the Old Burying Ground, headstones are similar in size and shape. Tall and arched, they resemble doors. All headstones were once paired with footstones, serving as markers so people could avoid treading on the dead or digging a grave where someone was already buried. The body, Gavazzi said, was laid behind the headstone’s unmarked side, indicating the deceased was starting a new journey with a clean slate.
Searching for a link to the past, Carol and Charlie Park found a legacy to pass on to their own children in a small Groton cemetery. “William was much more than just an immigrant that came over and put headstones up for people,” said Carol. “In my mind, it’s really early American art. And he carved a path for others to follow.”
Source: The Lowell Sun.