For some, a walk through a cemetery — surrounded by the dead — might seem creepy and scary. But for others it may be a peaceful and spiritual experience.  

Whatever the reason, cemeteries and burying grounds naturally take on an increased interest as Halloween approaches. A visit to one can not only help you get in the mood for ghosts and goblins but can also provide a great deal of historical information.  

And in honor of spooky season, Producer Dave Fraser visited two of the oldest final resting places in the area to learn more about the history and the mystery of these special places. 

This story originally aired on October 29, 2022.

Read the full transcript:

Michael Dobbs, Reminder Publishing: Halloween is the time when we sort of dare ourselves to think about death, we dare ourselves to to think about the mechanisms of death. The meaning of death.

Claire Carlson, Historic Deerfield: It was different back then. So, the English settlers were Puritans and they believed in predestination. So, when you’re dead, you’re dead. Your body is just a husk. 

The Burying Ground is located at the end of Albany Road in the village of what is now called Old Deerfield. 

Places of — to bury the dead were called burying yards, burying grounds, burying places. The word cemetery comes into use in the 19th century because it means a place of sleeping or a place of rest. The Puritans didn’t have that belief in the 18th century. 

Grave markers range in date from the late 1600s to the early 1800s, and they change over time. The earliest graves were probably marked with field stones or wooden markers, and those have since all withered away. 

And there are about two hundred and sixty six stones, two hundred and sixty five stones that are remaining in the burying ground. The oldest one is dated 1695. 

There are many stories of the old buildings being haunted in the village of Old Deerfield, including the Deerfield Inn. There is a few people — resident ghosts — who are very friendly in the Inn. 

The Burying Ground, doesn’t have so many stories about hauntings or spookiness, but recently there were people there at 4:00 in the morning doing an investigation. So, who knows?

Michael Dobbs: This is the beautiful Springfield Cemetery, which was opened in 1841. And at that point, it was considered what they called as a rural cemetery, because none of the houses, none of these buildings existed at that time. 

Whereas some people see this as a peaceful park, other people see this as a repository for the remains of literally hundreds of people from almost two hundred year span. And I…that’s a tad frightening for some folks. 

This was obviously a place that denoted a certain level of success, if you were, you were buried here in Springfield Cemetery. If you served in Congress representing Springfield, there’s a good chance from the 1800s, you’re buried here. 

The most prominent person, or the person they may have heard of the most, would be Thornton Burgess, the the author, the children’s author and naturalist. And he’s buried here. 

If you come up to the cemetery, you come up the hill and you’re close to Pine Street. That’s where you’re going to see this whole group of stones that date from the 1700s. And they’re pretty remarkable because at that point, they put a lot of information, even to the point of explaining to the reader not only who the person was, but how they passed.

Now, they misspelled preaching. They forgot the E. So, you see the added the E there. And I thought – when I first saw this, I’m thinking, “I hope they got discount.” You know? They screwed up. But, I understand typos. 

If you’re involved in any sort of local history, if you’re curious about where your community came from, um, visit a cemetery like this. Walk around, take a look, read some of the some of the epithets. 

And it doesn’t matter if you’re doing this in Springfield, or if you’re doing this in Westfield, or if you’re doing this in whatever community, older community here in the Valley, that’s got some history. I just find it to be a fascinating exercise. 

This is still a place that people come to walk in, and they come to to think in, and they come to to just enjoy a quiet moment, and may have nothing to do with who is buried here or that they’re coming to visit a particular grave. It’s – it’s all about the the the peace that actually this place represents.