Originally published in the Cape Cod Chronicle
We are starting Halloween early at the Orleans Historical Society with a presentation by the Gravestone Girls on September 13 at 7 pm.
The Gravestone Girls say they “endeavor to help preserve a rich folk art tradition unique to our nation.” They started out pursuing a hobby of preserving and appreciating the art of gravestone art by creating tomb rubbings for themselves. This grew into a business as artists- they are particularly known for a casting technique they created that exactly replicates the original gravestone carvings wh8ile ensuring no harm ever comes to the stones. And as their fame as artists grew, they became speakers on this history of New England graveyards, imparting their enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject.
Lead Graveyard Girl Brenda Sullivan will be in Orleans presenting an Orleans-centric version of their popular “Welcome to the Graveyard” presentation. It covers New England cemetery art, history and symbolism. The 90 minute tour of New England takes us from colonial burial grounds, through the rural cemetery movement of the 19th century and into 21st century locations. It examines why we have cemeteries and gravestones, why they look like they do and how styles and art have evolved over almost 400 years. But rather than using random examples from elsewhere, they are currently doing research trips to Orleans, so they will be able to talk about our specific cemetery and will use examples from the Orleans Cemetery. The Orleans Cemetery was begun around 1726 and is composed of three separate cemeteries- the oldest part by the Congregational Church is owned by the town and the larger part by the Orleans Cemetery Association, and there is also a small smallpox cemetery. It is still used today so should have examples from all eras and styles that can be used. By focusing specifically on our own town, when you visit the cemetery either to see loved ones, genealogical research, or for an afternoon walk, you can look around with much more educated eyes.
Town Historian Bonnie Snow does a monthly walk in the Orleans Cemetery (there are two more this year- September 28 and October 26 leaving from the Historical Society at 10 am). But the goal of her tours is to teach you about the history of the people who are buried- tell you about the lives of the people who populated the town at various times. In contrast, the goal of the Gravestone Girls is to put our cemetery and the gravestones into a greater context of funerary art and history in New England. Their goal in speaking is to inspire audiences “to go out and explore on their own; which might lead to graveyard clean ups, documentation projects and other fun and educational cemetery experiences”
Hopefully you’ll join us on the 13th! Admission is $15, $10 for OHS members. It’s going to kick off a series of events including the October Second Sunday lecture on the 1918 flu pandemic and Spookfest II at the Creepy Cabaret II on Halloween.
And we’ll cross our fingers that they will also bring some of their work to buy! I know I need some new art for my walls at home!