211021ind history

This cemetery near the Feuer Park baseball field has been extensively vandalized over the years. Recently, the Town of North Kingstown has had some restoration take place and has installed a fence around it.

As the Town of North Kingstown’s historic cemetery preservation official, over the years I’ve seen things that have propelled my emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other. A recent phone call from the NK Police Department regarding a 19th century era footstone found leaning up against the outside wall of a local tavern made me angry, as I can only see it as a sign of ignorance and disrespect by some misguided reveler. A few years back, a similar call from the local constabulary regarding a north-end resident who for some unexplainable reason had removed all the gravestones in a cemetery on their property, leaned them up against a tree in the woods nearby and replaced it with a “kiddy-pool”, left me furious and saddened by what this said about humanity in the 21st century. Town Highway Department workers have found numerous gravestones over the years on the sides of roads in our fair town and I have attempted, one by one, to get them back to where they belong — to return these memorial markers to the final resting places of the long dead souls that they commemorate. I’ve seen entire graveyards, located on the sides of the road or deep in the quiet woods of our community, smashed to smithereens by cowardly vandals or desecrated by spray-paint wielding miscreants. All these things make me sick at heart, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling. We’ve all seen it on the local news time and time again, gravestones tipped and broken, cemeteries desecrated and destroyed. What does all that say about the world we live in I wonder?

 But then on the other hand, this position, one required in each city and town by state law, has given me the opportunity to witness things that have warmed my heart and restored, to a degree, my faith in humanity. Two years ago I assisted a Girl Scout troop as they not only repaired and restored a historic cemetery near Mt. View, but learned life lessons from the stories of the folks buried in the graveyard they adopted. I’ve worked with Rocky Hill School middle school students on a similar project, watching them restore a fine colonial cemetery and then use it as a springboard for lessons on our nation’s history. I’ve seen families adopt a nearby historic graveyard and care for it as lovingly as they would their own ancestors. I’ve noted local businesses that have stepped up to the plate as well; caring for a nearby ancient family plot with the same intensity that they maintain their establishment’s landscaping. Call me an optimist, but these are the cemetery related experiences that I choose to focus upon; hopefully it is this kind of caring that reflects the character of our world.

So if all this has gotten you to thinking, let me offer up this idea. Each year, I try to feature historic cemetery maintenance in one of my columns and focus upon the Town of North Kingstown’s “Adopt A Cemetery” program. If you as an individual or a member of a family, civic group, or community organization have an interest in adopting a historic cemetery get in touch with me. The ancient community of North Kingstown has literally hundreds of historic graveyards, both big and small; many of which need care desperately. If you or your group would like to help, let me know. It’s one small way to make a big difference here in our fair town.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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