The Easton Cemetery Committee explored the historical Lyon Cemetery at the third tour of its 2020-21 series. Local historian Frank Pagliaro led the Oct. 23 tour of the small family cemetery.
Pagliaro sought to bring back a sense of life to members of the Lyon family. “My goal in the presentations is to bring back the dead,” he said. “The people that are buried in this cemetery would have been your neighbors if you were alive then. When we walk into a cemetery, all we see is cold hard stones with names and dates on them … They had the same wants and desires and that’s kind of lost when you just look at stones.”
Lyon Cemetery, on Sport Hill Road, is home to approximately 50 headstones, and possibly additional unmarked graves. Stones range in dates from 1801 to 1881. Many of the stones contain images of angels. Others include Bible verses or simple writings for people to reflect on while looking at them.
Despite the cemetery’s advanced age, many of the stones are in remarkably good condition. “It’s a very simple cemetery,” Pagliaro said. “The stone styles are also very simple. Typical of the late 18th century, these are sandstone tablets with tripartite tympanum (referring to the oldest stones in the cemetery) … The rest are marble stones. Marble does not weather well unfortunately, but most of them are in pretty good shape.”
Community members who participated in the tour gained insight into the individual lives of the Lyon family. Richard Lyon, one of the most notable and eldest members of the family, settled in Fairfield in 1649. He is said to have been a member of Oliver Cromwell’s army during the English Civil War and escaped to America.
Olius Levi Lyon was another notable family member who the people on the tour had the opportunity to learn about. Olius was a member of the Union Army during the American Civil War. Following the battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia, Olius was taken to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina, where he later died and was likely buried in one of the many trench graves at the prison. Although Olius’s remains do not reside at Lyon Cemetery, a memorial headstone rests near the grave of his father.
Additional topics of the tour included insight into the region during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, industries along the Aspetuck River, religious affiliations of residents, and the Black population of Easton following the abolition of slavery.
Community members who attended the event found it to be a captivating educational experience. “I thought it was very informative,” Sara Terpak said. “I learned a lot about the history of Easton. I did not know cemeteries had foot-stones behind the headstones to mark where the bodies are buried. I always assumed bodies were buried in front of the headstones. Maybe it’s different at other cemeteries, but I thought that was really cool.”
“I thought it was just absolutely fabulous,” Harold Walpole said. “We drive by these locations so many times in the course of just living up here, and it’s just amazing how little we know about what goes on, or what has gone on. It was just fascinating to understand. It really crossed over so many different periods of time. I was really fascinated by the way that they didn’t actually show when people were born. They only showed when they died and they were very specific in terms of the age in years and months and days.”
The Lyon Cemetery serves as a reminder of the importance of local history. Despite living more than 200 years ago, members of the Lyon family laid to rest at this location were not so different from you and me.
All photos by Kaitlin Katzenback