By Sally Cary
Sally Cary has lived in the Barre area for 35 years, coming originally from Connecticut. She has a degree in English from Russell Sage College in New York. She's done research for aldrich Public library on cemeteries and has developed a special interest in cemetery history.
When I was very much younger, I thought cemeteries were places to be avoided, places where there were ghosts who haunted and things that went bump in the night. One shut one's eyes and held one's breath until the cemetery had been passed. Now that I am older, I find cemeteries are fascinating places fascinating because of the beauty of memorial art, the various styles and designs, the skills and craftsmanship that go into the cutting and sculpting a material as hard as granite. Many memorials are truly works of art. Hope and Elmwood cemeteries are often termed "the show places of the Barre Granite Industry."
Elmwood cemetery is the older of the two. It is located at the intersection of Washington and Hill streets in Barre. In 1808 the Congregational Church building was completed just east of the present site of Lincoln School in what was then called Gospel Village. At that time Ezekial Wood, a deacon of the church, donated four acres of his farm for a church-yard burial ground in the manner of the English burial grounds. In 1854, the plot was expanded in size and appropriately named Elmwood cemetery because of its many stately trees. Again in 1920 there was a need for further expansion to the present size of approximately twenty-seven acres.
At Elmwood one can see a variety of styles in monumental design from the very early colonial tablets through the more elaborate and romantic designs of the Victorian era to the contemporary art of the twentieth century. The earliest monuments are found in the "old part" nearest Lincoln School and date from the early 1800s. Most are made of slate or marble; however, local granite predominates in Elmwood. Scattered here and there are a number of zinc metal monuments which were popular after the Civil War. One of particular note is the D. A. Camp memorial. Another zinc monument is on the back side of the cemetery. Legend has it that during prohibition a panel could be removed and bootleg liquor could be stored inside.
Elmwood holds much historical interest. Early residents are buried here Dr. Robert Paddock and his son Dr. Lyman Paddock, first doctors in Barre; John and Rebeckah Goldsbury , first settlers; Rev. Aaron Palmer, the first Congregational minister; Robert Parker, first quarrier; Chapin Keith, judge and tavern-keeper; Joshua Twing, owner of the first foundry and mill; Ira Day who entertained General Lafayette at his tavern in South Barre; Pliney Wheaton who furnished the granite for the state capitol building in Montpelier. And interred here are many more men and women who have contributed to the early life and growth of Barre.
Over on the back line are granite fence posts marking the boundary. Further along is the monument for Levi Bolster and his wife Calista. Take note of the beautifully carved cherubs at the four corners of the family name stone. Mr. Bolster was a business man and banker and founded what is now the First Vermont Bank in Barre. Further along is the monument to William Barclay, Sr. It is a unique, handcarved spiral column rising some thirty feet and topped with a polished urn. Not far from there is the "Jackson Angel" memorializing Dr. J. Henry Jackson and his son Dr. Joe Jackson. It is an unusual piece sculpted from one block of granite. The background cross is "shell rock pitch," all done by hand and now an almost forgotten art.
There is the monument of Jacob and Mary Spaulding a marble statue on a granite pedestal erected by grateful students in remembrance of "his enduring work of faith and labor of love." (Spaulding High School was named after him.) One of my favorites is "Little Max," a charming statue in memory of a curly headed, three-and-a-half year-old boy, dressed as little boys were in the 1890s with his high button shoes and a dress.
Dr. D. C. Jarvis is interred in Elmwood many of many interests a physician, a musician, a nutritionist and author. There is R. A. Nichols, a railroad engineer, whose memorial features a handsome 19th century engine and cab carved on polished granite. Beyond is the Carrie Wheelock monument. She was an active social and civic leader and founder of the Barre Historical Society.
Nearby is a life-size bust of William LaPointe, former Barre mayor, playwright and friend of labor. Further along is the W. G. Cumming mausoleum with a beautiful bronze door embellished with pine cones, laurel and lilies. Mr. Cumming was a machinist and manufacturer of granite cutting tools. On the lawn facing Hill Street is located a granite watering trough moved from the City Park in 1960. There are four bronze lion heads on each side of the base. Since horses no longer refresh themselves there, the Granite City Garden Club fills the trough each year with flowers which bloom until frost. The John G. McLeod memorial is beautiful in its simplicity, a sarcophagus with a lovely mourning figure.
Some works of memorial art executed by hand a century or more ago would be difficult to duplicate today. One is filled with awe and respect for the artistry, the skill and craftsmanship of the designers, the cutters and the polishers. Each craft has made a contribution to the beauty of Elmwood. Truly a walk through Elmwood is a walk through history.
Where Elmwood is Barre's link from the past to the present, Hope is Barre's link from the present to the future. Hope is a uniquely beautiful cemetery that boasts of some of the finest examples of memorial art ever created in this country.
The entrance to Hope cemetery from Upper merchant Street is one of simple, dignified beauty. The figures represent Peace and Salvation. It was sculpted by Carlo Abate, cut by Gino Tosi and Enrico Mori, three unusually gifted men. This entrance sets the mood of artistic merit and serenity one finds with. Hope cemetery was established in 1895 and consists of approximately seventy-five acres, beautifully cared for and landscaped.
Perhaps the one memorial that stands out is the one to Elia Corti. He was a truly gifted young Italian who carved, among other things, the four panels on the Robert Burns statue on the front lawn of Spaulding Graded School. Please take a close look at those panels. They are beautifully and meticulously carved with great attention to detail.
On Elia Corti's grave site is an outstanding piece of memorial art. It is extraordinary because it is cut from one block of granite. It is life size and we are told that it is a remarkable likeness of the man. Mr. Corti is seated in front of a shell rock pitched stone. His hand rests on a shortened column. It is complete in every detail showing the seams in his coat, the folds of his tie and the creases in his trousers, the buttons and button holes down to the last thread. The tools of his trade, calipers, chisel, square and hammer are at the foot of the shortened column. The palm leaf on the other side symbolizes Spiritual Victory. This memorial was lovingly and carefully carved by his brother William Corti and his brother-in-law John Comi.
The tragic story of Elia Corti at the age of thirty-four years is a tale of human interest. According to the Barre Daily Times of October 5,1 903: "He was shot in the stomach and mortally wounded at a meeting in the Socialist building on Granite Street. Corti died at midnight last night at Heaton Hospital in Montpelier having lived about thirty hours after he received the bullet. The shooting occurred at 7:15 PM on Saturday evening and was the outcome of a general discussion between the socialists and anarchists present. Andrew Garetto was arrested and charged with the shooting. Garetto was sentenced to serve not less than ten nor more than twelve years in state prison." On his release he returned to Barre but left shortly after and it is believed that he went back to Italy. Elia Corti and his monument are very much a part of the story of memorial art.
If you check the death dates on the stones at the north end of the cemetery, you will see that many died during the flu epidemic in 1918 and 1919. If you look at the birth and death dates on many of the other monuments, you will note that those interred died at a relatively young age anywhere between thirty-five and fifty years. Silicosis, tuberculosis and allied lung diseases were the cause. It is said that you could stand at one end of a granite shed and not see the other end, the stone dust was so thick. Dust collectors and suction devices were made obligatory in 1934.
It is difficult to pick out any one special monument. Each is different, each reflects the wishes of the individual buried and the creative talents of the designer. There is the Vanetti mausoleum with the stainless steel doors that frame beautiful granite filigree inserts. On the back is a stained glass window depicting the "Last Supper." Nearby is the Palmisano monument featuring a faithful reproduction of Michelangelo's "Pieta."
Look for the Dente Angel, the Bettini chair and the Ladrie cross. Find the bird in the floral front of the Bilodeau stone. Look at the four little angels at the top of the Comolli spire. "(It is in back of Elia Corti.) And while you are there look closely at the carving on the G. Colombo monument. Speaking of angels, please see the Brusa "Sitting Angel." Then there is the Calcagni colonade, the Russo ship, the contemporary design of the Yaeger stone, the Bianchi Celtic cross and many more outstanding pieces of art sculpted in stone. Hope is as much an art gallery as it is a cemetery.
Monument decoration is symbolic whether it is religious or secular. It is easy to recognize and interpret the symbolism. Here are a few: the Chi Rho, a contraction of the name Christ in Greek, IHS is a Latinized contraction of Jesus, the Alpha and Omega or the Beginning and the End. Some of the crosses used are the Maltese, the Latin, the Celtic as well as the Christian cross.
Flowers are universally used and each has its meaning: morning glory resurrection; pine and cone healing; rose love; palm spiritual victory; oak honor; ivy friendship; lily purity; grape and vine Christ and His followers; thistle Scotland, and the acanthus leaf usually seen at the top of a column meaning heavenly gardens. A broken tree trunk or shortened column means cut down in the prime of life. A draped urn is sorrow, the anchor is hope, the lamb is a favorite to commemorate a child and the flame means eternal life. Some people have had their hobbies or their life style or whatever else is meaningful to their lives sandblasted on a polished surface.
Why did the Europeans and the Italians in particular come? America was the land of golden opportunity. Italy at the end of the nineteenth century was in turmoil, a loose group of city states and fiefdoms all quarreling with one another. There was a great deal of economic, social, religious, and political unrest. Those Italians who had been trained in carving stone in the northern area of Italy felt that they could better themselves and the lives of their families in this country. They came to Quincy, Massachusetts; Westerly, Rhode Island; Rutland and Barre, Vermont.
There was unrest over most of Europe. The Scots and the English came as well as the Norwegians and the Spanish. Each nationality made its contribution to the monumental stone industry. Lady Liberty in New York harbor had beckoned. And so we have benefited, our heritage enriched and it shows in our beautiful cemeteries, a lasting tribute.