Graveyards Inspire Curiosity and Learning in October

Learning Lurks Amongst the Gravestones in Historic Cemeteries

Rich with community history, cemeteries across western Massachusetts offer families a variety of rich learning experiences this fall. From gravestone rubbings to tours of historic burying grounds, there are many ways in which families can tap into the knowledge buried amongst the graves.

Accompanying fall’s spook-filled Halloween celebrations come opportunities to explore and learn about cemeteries and graveyards across western Massachusetts. Filled with stone markers that chronicle a community’s history, local cemeteries can provide visitors with a look deep into the past. Some local communities have been existed for over 300 years, and gravestones in such places speak volumes about centuries past. Everything from the names of buried people to the style of the stone can tell visitors something about the time period to which that a headstone dates back. And on top of learning about the history of a place, visitors can celebrate and honor the things that members of generations past have contributed to their present day community.

A study of a local cemetery (or a few of them!) can help students to understand how individuals’ life stories contribute to the re-telling of history. For young cemetery explorers, making gravestone rubbings is a fun way to introduce the study of headstones, and can help children learn that cemeteries don’t have to be scary. Turning the beauty of hand-carved headstones into a similarly beautiful art-producing activity adds to the intrigue of a cemetery, but decreases the fear factor.

Boden Cemetary - Letterboxing-3

To broaden and deepen independent cemetery studies, browse through resources offered by The Association for Gravestone Studies. The locally-based organization offers resources for learning to preserve and conserve cemeteries, support for decoding the symbolism found on headstones, and extensive online archives. For a look at cemeteries a bit further from home, apply what you’ve learned by exploring nearby burial grounds to images historic headstones from around New England.

In addition to self-guided studies of cemeteries are many upcoming opportunities for community-based learning surrounding cemeteries. From walking tours to stone carving, these intergenerational community events offer a wide range of exciting learning opportunities!

18th Century Cemetery Tour – On Wednesday, October 8th, 15th, and 22nd, Historic Deerfield will offer tours of the village’s historic burial ground on Albany Road. Learning about Deerfield’s inhabitants past can help to deepen understanding of the village’s history. Tours take place at 12noon. 413-774-5581. 84B Old Main Street. Deerfield, MA. ($, museum passes available from local libraries)

Stockbridge Cemetery Life and Times – On Saturday, October 11th at 4pm, volunteers from the Stockbridge Library’s archives will guide a tour of the cemetery focused on the history of its growth and development, as well as debate about these things within the community. 413-298-5501. Main Street. Stockbridge, MA. (<$)

Holyoke’s Historic Cemetery – On Saturday, October 18th, join representatives from the Wistariahurst Museum for a tour of historic Forestdale Cemetery. Established in 1862, the cemetery is the final resting place of some of the city’s founders. Registration required. Tours held at 3pm and 6pm.413-322-5660. Rock Valley Road. Holyoke, MA. ($)

Gravestone Carving – Visit Historic Deerfield on Saturday, October 18th to learn about the fine art of gravestone carving – specifically, what it looked like during in early New England. Demonstrations will take place from 10:30am-4pm. 413-774-5581. 84B Old Main Street. Deerfield, MA. ($, museum passes available from local libraries)

Cemetery Spirit Walk – The Sheffield Historical Society’s annual Spirit Walk takes place on Saturday, October 25th at the town’s Center Cemetery. Held from 2-4pm, the tour will provide families with historical background on the burial ground. 413-229-2694. Berkshire School Road. Sheffield, MA.

Mt. Hope Cemetery Tour – Tour Belchertown’s Mt. Hope cemetery with the Belchtertown Historical Association! A guided walk through the cemetery will take place on Sunday, October 26th from 4-5pm. Park Street. Belchertown, MA. (FREE)

Photo credits: (c) Sienna Wildfield

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