STORIES IN STONE
by Melvin G. Williams, Scholar in Residence
Atheneum Society of Wilbraham
People have sometimes lamented the absence of a more complete historical museum in Wilbraham. "How good it would be," they say, "if we could view all those artifacts and documents of our beginnings more than two centuries ago." Perhaps they are not aware that in fact there are two historical museums in the community.
Better known is the Old Meetinghouse on Main Street, built in 1793, originally the house of worship of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Its collection includes furniture dating to the seventeenth century, records of military service from the Revolutionary War, and the chalice that belonged to the Reverend Noah Merrick, first pastor in Wilbraham. Among many other items are toys, clothing, school books, letters, and Indian artifacts.
But we have another, unique, historical museum which records many generations of the men and women and children who lived and died here.
This outdoor museum is the Adams Cemetery on Tinkham Road, whose stones are among the finest cultural relics we have of the colonial and early federal periods. There are so valuable, in fact, that they would surely have been placed indoors long ago if they were not marking private graves.
What is it about this old burying ground which attracts both schoolchildren and their grandparents on sunny afternoons? Not famous names like Revere or Bunker; their graves are to be found closer to Boston. Not accounts of Indian raids; they are in Old Deerfield. Not even very many details of the famous events in history are here. Instead, the arched redstones that stand back from a busy street tell the less dramatic story of the people who once lived here.
They must have been humble, decent folk, according to the record of their stones. They memorialized "the Reverend and Worthy Noah Merrick" with an impressive table stone. They eulogized Captain David Shields as one "who served during the whole revolutionary war and for eight months was imprisoned by the British. He lived a true patriot and an honored citizen of the country he fought and suffered to redeem." And they remembered Timothy Mirick, in later years to become so well known as the rattlesnake victim in "The Ballad of Springfield Mountain."
It is the close-knit families rather than individual notables, however, that are revealed on most of the stones. Women are identified as wives and mothers, young people as sons and daughters. It is easy, for instance, to imagine the joy at her birth that brought the name Thankful Experience to the Colton's daughter, and just as easy to imagine their grief at her early death at the age of sixteen.
For some persons it is enough just to read these stories in stone. But either for a school project or just for fun, others photograph of the stones or write down the epitaphs. As one fourth-grader told me after her first visit, "I never knew that a graveyard was so much fun."
Yes, Wilbraham does have an outdoor historical museum. And the admission is free.