Local residents were treated to a walk through history Oct. 24 as local historian Frank Pagliaro led a tour of the 252-year-old historic Gilbertown Cemetery.
The event, which is a part of Easton’s continuing 175th Anniversary celebrations, began in the brisk morning at 10:30 a.m. as the Cemetery Committee dedicated its new information kiosk to its retired chairman, Gary Haines. Haines chaired the committee for 11 years, helping to shape it since its inception.
“Gary Haines was a tireless, hands-on, dedicated leader who served from 2009 to 2020 and was part of the original committee prior to becoming the chairman,” said Nanette DeWester, current committee chair.
The kiosk was installed on Sept. 19 and was built by Lucas Farmer and Boy Scout Troop 66.
“I was pleased to say a few words about Gary Haines during the kiosk dedication,” said Selectman Bob Lessler. “I expressed my appreciation to Gary for his role as the person who literally has done most of the physical labor associated with restoring and preserving the cemeteries that the town has responsibility to oversee.”
Lessler, who chairs the Easton 175th Committee, went on to call Haines “irreplaceable.” After the ceremony concluded, guests were treated to a tour of the cemetery and learned about its history and significance to the local area. The tour had strict masking and social distancing guidelines, but that did not deter the guests from making the most of their day among the dead.
The dank weather did not enliven any wayward spirits as Pagliaro weaved the tourgoers through the many headstones and footstones that make up the Gilbertown Cemetery.
“The tour was very engaging and enlightening,” said Lessler. “Frank Pagliaro, who is a member of our Easton 175th committee, as well as a member of the Cemetery Committee and a former member of the Historical Society, is an excellent guide.”
Built in 1768, the Gilbertown Cemetery is the final resting place of numerous individuals who have an important place in the history of Easton and the surrounding area. The grave of Samuel Staples, the namesake of Samuel Staples Elementary, resides in Gilbertown, as do local war heroes such as Major Jabez Hill, who died fighting for freedom in the Revolutionary War.
Although it was not a ghost tour, the main motif of the day was — unsurprisingly — death, an ever-present feature of every community in human history. Easton is no exception. Pagliaro discussed the evolution of the graves and the pieces of symbolism etched on them that bear out how death and burial practices have played a large role in the history of the area.
“I talked a lot about death, particularly infant mortality, and as I feared, there was one little girl on the tour!” Pagliaro said. “Fortunately, she and her mom were troopers and enjoyed the tour as much as anyone else.”
One of the notable pieces of symbolism Pagliaro focused on was the facing of the grave markers. All of the headstones face west, and the footstones face east. In contrast to the stones, the bodies aligned so that the head is to the west and the feet are to the east. This comes from Christian practices that when the dead rise out of their graves on Judgement Day they will face the rising sun to the east, where the savior shall come from.
Despite the very Christian symbolism, burials were handled by the authorities in 18th century New England, as the church was not invested in burial powers. This is why there is no church attached to Gilbertown Cemetery, with the nearest church at the time being an Episcopal church about half a mile away.
Guests left with a much deeper understanding of how death and dying influenced the history of Easton, as well as the cultural importance of the Gilbertown Cemetery.
The celebration of Easton’s 175th Anniversary will continue with other events. The virtual bike race that has been going on all month will reach its end on Halloween and the Easton Arts Council will accept scenes of Easton until Nov. 13 for its photo contest. For more information about upcoming Easton 175th events please go to easton175.com.