Lyons Cemetery aka Coburn-Lyons

The Coburn-Lyon Cemetery on Pulpit Rock Road in Pelham, NH, is the only private family cemetery surviving in Pelham today, and is maintained by the town at this time. We stumbled upon this little place serendipitously one lovely afternoon while looking for off-the-map cemeteries. It’s not off the map, and certainly hard to miss, tucked in as it is between the much-larger Hebrew (Israel Brotherhood) and Polish (St. Casimirs) cemeteries – both were for Lowell, MA residents, although located just over the border in NH – but it was a sweet little place, and very well cared for (having had a Pelham, NH police chief named Lyon in charge of the cemetery department may have helped. ).

There are many more people buried here than there are stones for, but efforts can be seen that show plaques bearing multiple family member names and new monuments that are intended to remedy the missing stones to some degree.

“It received its formal documentation in 1875 (it was actually built in 1843) when Bradley F. Lyon and George D. Coburn recorded a deed which read in part “Therefore in consideration of the love and affection we bear to our kindred we hereby donate, give, grant, convey and confirm to the lineal descendents of said William R. Lyon and Gilbert Coburn through all succeeding generations forever, an equal right and privilege with ourselves in said lot for all entombment or burial uses and for no other use or purposes whatsoever except to ornament and improve the same in a manner suitable for such use.”  -Town of Pelham

Tapho has found little information regarding these two families, but they must have been the closest of friends. To the rear of the plot, in the photo above, can be seen what we presume is a receiving tomb built into the hill. The dedication in 1843 by William and Gilbert is carved into the granite lintel. It’s difficult to make out, but we think it says:

“Built By
Mjr. G. Colburn & W. R. Lyon
AD 1843″

Some of the monuments at Lyons:

A similar stone missing it’s plaque – also note the beautiful 12-15″ thick stone walls that look recently redone:

Below is an old listing of burials at Coburn-Lyons. One can see from the photos that there are a few later burials that would not be included in the following historic list. Taph has included this for  genealogical purposes, as there is seemingly so little readily available online for this graveyard.

Edward Coburn , Died Jan. 26, 1809, aged 88.

Hannah Butterfield Coburn , Died Oct. 3, 1806 , aged 84

Roger Coburn , Died Apr. 16, 1833 , aged 68

Sarah Reed Coburn , Died Nov. 13, 1844 , aged 81

Gilbert Coburn , Died Jan. 12, 1863 , aged 66

Cynthia Spalding Coburn , Died Nov. 5, 1888 , aged 84

Sabrina Coburn , Died Oct. 31, 1864 , aged 64

Gilbert Sylvester Coburn , Died May 19, 1864 , aged 34

Nathaniel Coburn , Died , Oct. 1, 1835 , Ae 58 y’rs & 9 mo’s.

Gilbert Tenney , Died March 27, 1852 , Aet. 24 yrs

Silas G. Tenney , Died March 13, 1851, , Aet. 21 yrs.

Stephen Wood , Died , Sept. 9, 1849 , Aet. 62 y’rs.
Cloe wife of Stephen Wood , Died Aug. 2, 1872 , Aged 86 y’s, 5 m’s.

William Wood , Died , Feb. 28, 1873 , Aged 45 y’rs 5 mos.

Solomon Wood , Died , Oct. 7, 1844 , Aged 21 y’rs 4 mo’s.

Martha J. dau. of Eliphalet & J. Coburn , Died Dec. 18, 1861 Aet. 21 y’rs.

Almira F. Dau. of Eliphalet & Jaminah Coburn , Died Apr. 4, 1838 ,Ae. 1 yr & 3 m’s.

Sophronia B. Coburn , Died Oct. 25, 1853, Aet. 47

Jeptha Coburn , Died Feb. 18, 1860 , Ae. 74 yrs

Hannah , his wife, Died May 24, 1868 , Ae. 77 yrs

William , Died , July 31, 1840 ,Ae. 22 yrs.

Benjamin , Died Nov. 12, 1834 , Ae. 5 ms.

Isaac Coburn , 1815-1896

Augustus Coburn , 1820-1898

Sybbel , Died , Jan. 3, 1865 , Ae. 27 yrs.

Alice Coburn , 1824-1901

Thomas J. Bailey , Died Oct. 1847 , Ae. 36 yrs.

Caroline Coburn , His wife, Died , June 5,1865 Ae. 52 yrs.

Emeline , Their Dau. Died , Nov. 3, 1857, , Ae. 20 yrs.

Jonathan Lyon , Died Aug. 2, 1831 Aged 2 yrs.

Lucy Read Lyon , Died Feb. 1,1844 , Aged 90 yrs.

Wm Read Lyon , Died Aug. 14, 1849 , Aged 68 yrs.

Mary Richardson Lyon , Died Oct. 10, 1831 , Aged 45 yrs.

German Senter Lyon , Died June 18, 1826 , Aged 12 yrs.

Bradley Varnum Lyon , Died Oct. 13, 1875 , Aged 52 yrs.

George W. , son of G.S. & C.R. Lyon, Died Sept. 16, 1855 , Aged 1 yr. 8 ms. 8 dys.

Almira Lyon , Aged 42 yrs. , Called home , May 5, 1859.
Joseph E. Lyon , Died , Aug. 1, 1857 , Ae. 37

Edwin W. , Son of J.E. & S.T.Lyon , died Apr. 20, 1852 Ae. 6 ms.

Sarah Clark Lyon , Nov. 1, 1817 – Apr. 14, 1903
Sophia Jane Lyon , Apr. 26, 1821 – Apr. 29, 1903

Cynthia Senter Lyon , Feb. 14, 1829 – July 1, 1898

William Lyon , Born Oct. 28, 1807 , Died Jan. 19, 1854
Lavinia R. his wife Born Oct. 26, 1814 , Died Sept. 2, 1847 ,
Ann S. his wife , Born May 1, 1819 , Died (illegible) Age unknown.

Feb. 10, 1869 , Ellen Leora , Dau. of , Wm & Ann S. Lyon , Born June 19, 1852 Died Sept. 10, 1852

– Listing courtesy of the Pelham NH Historical Society; from the William Thomas Historical Collection

-All photos: TaphoTribes.


Life and Death – in Density

Most taphophiles are probably aware that one day, should human population continue unhindered or slowed, the places we love to haunt will be no more.

Already, modern cemeteries have reduced, in many areas, the human element to merely a notation on a flat ground marker for ease of mowing; even having regulations regarding how much can be written on such impersonal and almost invisible markers.  These small markers don’t have much longevity; they sink rapidly; the ground overgrows them except in the most populous and maintained urban cemeteries. Many more people are opting for cremation, and as an environmentally-aware person, I cannot disagree with this process, and indeed will choose the same. But we will mourn the day when these luscious time capsules, such as Highgate in London, and Staglieno in Italy, are no more. It’s hard to imagine that they will be gone one day – but they will. We will need the land.

I find little interest in sterile modern ‘memorial’ cemeteries. They are not welcoming, they have no soul. At best they are ‘pretty’ grounds; more often, they are cold and impersonal, like Arlington National – a place where any alien looking on might think it was a memorial celebrating merely the sheer number of dead that could be made to go and die in war. Forest Lawn in Los Angeles is another example, although some of the older intent and charm may still be found in the oldest sections – Forest Lawn is a perfect representation of what the funeral industry has become: a profit machine. A quote from their page:

“My first glimpse of Forest Lawn Cemetery showed it to be a little country cemetery, of ten acres developed, forty-five undeveloped; with no buildings, no improvements, with the exception of a grove of olive trees and a few scattering headstones. Such a picture most of you have seen many times. Forest Lawn’s other assets were a total of 1400 interments, and yearly gross sales of $28,000.

Today, twelve years after we took charge, Forest Lawn Cemetery is Forest Lawn Memorial Park—Park it is, because the visitor rarely recognizes that he is entering into a so-called “cemetery”. Forest Lawn now comprises over 200 acres, with a total of 28,464 interments, sales amounting to more than one million dollars per year, and total assets aggregating ten million dollars. It averages 300 interments per month, and 81 weddings per month. Our payroll of yesterday showed an organization of 406 employees, including an Architectural Department of 12 Architects and an Engineering force of like number.”

Highgate and the many other lovely old cemeteries would tolerate no such convenience for it’s caretakers; it is complex, crowded, and monuments were built to commemorate the deceased…not for the convenience of the groundskeepers (ie, the profit margin of the corporate owners). We think society in those days might have been offended at the very notion.

But we digress. Following are some images that portray the very density and population issues I began this post with, and why it becomes obvious that one day, burial will be a thing of the past, if not outright banned. China, for one example, already heavily penalizes, financially, for full burials – which are very few now. Cremation and no permanent memorial place is the wave of the future, and even the green burial movement will not slow that trend down.

Kyoto, Japan

Cemetery at Asyut, Nile valley, Egypt

Washington Jewish Cemetery at Bay Parkway, Brooklyn, New York City

American war cemetery in France

St. Raphael’s Catholic Cemetery, Cheung Sha Wan, Sham Shu Po

Chung Yeung Festival(重陽節): Massive Graves at St. Raphael's Catholic Cemetery (天主教聖辣法厄爾墳場)

La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

The Valley of Peace cemetery in Najaf, Iraq

Cemeteries are unsustainable at the human population rate that the world currently allows.  Already, in many countries, economics and population density lead to the poorest taking up residence in cemeteries; a painful, poignant political statement.

Serbia: Living In A Tomb

Manila: Alive amongst the dead

As many as 10,000 people live in the North Cemetery in Manila, which covers 54 hectares and is the oldest cemetery in the Philippines, dating from the 19th century. It is probably the most well documented.


Manila: the luxury of a crypt


The Tomb for a Living Corpse in Philippines (6)

Life in the Cemetery (19 pics)

Cairo, Egypt: City of the dead

Cairo, City of the Dead   It is estimated that between 50,000 and 2 million people live in this cemetery. Since most tombs are built as rooms, they are easily converted to living spaces. Electricity is even brought in to some.

Ferry across the Styx

1800’s, owned by Wayne & Eileen Schoenecker
1800’s, owned by Wayne & Eileen Schoenecker

Ashton Funeral Home, Easton, PA

Horse-drawn Hearse 1878 from Argentina. Source

Houston, TX funerary museum. Note sleigh hearse to left. Photo credit

1880’s Rockfall horse-drawn. Photo credit

Crane and Breed Six-Column Glass-Side Hearse. Photo credit

A modern reproduction by the Great Northern Livery Company, Inc.

Unidentified; possibly Houston, TX Funerary Museum.

Unidentified museum, possibly Museum of Civilization, Canada.

Museum of Civilization, Canada.
No info given. Source
Spanish; possibly Museum of Civilization, Canada. Source
No info given, likely Spanish or South American. Source

1916 Cadillac Carved-Panel Hearse by A. Giessel and Sons
1916 carved-panel Cadillac hearse owned by by A. Geissel and Sons

1930 Cadillac Cathedral Hearse by James Cunningham Son and Co.


Contemporary Asian. Source

Asian funerary hood bling. Source

No mention of hearses is complete without deviating from their original purpose, of course, and giving a nod to those creative types who make them their own (images hotlinked to sources):


Lastly… this creation wins for sheer determination: Tapho gives you…
The Carthedral:


Liminal Space

Is there anything more symbolic of a liminal place than the gate of a cemetery? Whether simple, crude, ornate or elaborate, they mark the threshold of a most literal change for people.

Galisteo, NM old cemetery. Photo credit

Gostynin Landsmann cemetery gate at Montefiore Cemetery, NY.  Photo credit, Julian H. Preisler

Cemetery Gates

Old cemetery gate at Dinas-Mawddwy, Gwynedd, Wales. Photo credit: Karen Lee

Shiloh National Cemetery (Gates placed by War Department in 1911).


Frankfort Cemetery, KY


Old Clinton Cemetery gate in Georgia

Clinton Cemetery, Georgia. Photo credit

Greenwood cemetery entrance, Brooklyn, New York. Photo credit

Roxas Catholic city cemetery, Capiz, Phillipines.

The inimitable Highgate in London. Photo credit


Forest Hills cemetery, Utica, NY. Photo credit


In conclusion, after all these grand entrances, Taph thinks she’ll just slip out the back for now:

photo credit

Season of Silence


Cloister Cemetery in the Snow (1817-19)
by Caspar David Friedrich

The Old Cemetery, Hopkington, MA
South Cemetery, Boxborough, MA
Photo credit: Muffet
Pet Cemetery; Edith Wharton Estate
Photo credit: David Dashiell
Jewish Cemetery by Karina
Cemetery Père-Lachaise under the snow
Photo credit: ~Pyb
New London Road Cemetery, Chelmsford (England)
Photo credit: Kevin Faye

“I didn’t see any people there any more, but the candles were still burning. 
The feeling of timelessness was very strong.”
Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
Photo credit: Michael Webster
~ fini ~


A Tisket, A Tasket – A Coffin or a Casket?

Coffins always have hinged lids, caskets have tops that 
remove completely and are screwed on after viewing.


A subcategory of taphophilia is often an additional interest in period funerary practices and accoutrements, both from the cultural and artistic viewpoint. How a culture treats it’s deceased can reveal much about it’s people, and no one took funerary arts into a more thoroughly romanticized and morbid period than those clever Victorians of the 19th century. From post-mortem photos to elaborate caskets and even burials where a mother could go down and sit beside her child during storms, they reached the peak of funerary arts and crafts before the onset of embalming changed many practices forever.
Recreated Victorian funeral parlor, National Museum of Funeral History. Houston, TX

On to the examples: coffins or caskets –

Victorian iron.
Victorian glass childs coffin.
One of only three surviving glass coffins, it is on display at
the Museum of American Glass in Millville, NJ.
Thanks to for this, and the following image -great finds.

One of the other surviving glass coffins, at the
National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX.
(Yes, in the background, you are seeing a casket built for three people.)

Copper viewing casket. Age unknown.
Body basket.
Research has determined that these were most often used by undertakers to transport a body from the place of death to the funeral home. Typically they have wooden bottoms and canvas handles, and were made in various sizes, from infant to adult.
There are sketchy reports that they were occasionally used for viewing, but I have been unable to substantiate this, and it seems unlikely for several reasons; not the least being rapid body decomposition in their time.
Victorian, wooden, hinged viewing window, on wheeled trolley.

Closeup of viewing window.

ElaborateVictorian drop-down viewing coffin.

Left: 19th c. Fisk iron casket with hinged viewing faceplate. (1849/50)
Right: 19th c. cast iron casket with viewing window.
These caskets were generally custom ordered and fitted to the occupant,
and also sometimes filled with alcohol to preserve the remains – 
possibly this aided in transports over distance, etc; see The Lady In Red.
Thank you to a reader who sent the following info:
“Your second last image (which was taken at National Museum of Funeral History) depicts two cast iron coffins, not one cast and one wooden. The example on the left is a Fisk and likely dates to 1849 or 1850. Although I do not know the manufacturer of the coffin on right, I own one, and believe it dates to 1860s.” – 60crown
Mahogany, unlined child’s coffin (never used), c. 1900.
Donated to the Wood County Historical Center.

"..Nor the demons down under the sea.."

“And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”

Milan’s Monumentale Cemetery

Memorial To A Marriage by sculptor Patricia Cronin
Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY

– all images above found on Pinterest, Gardens and Cemeteries board
and are the property of their respective photographers.


An Etruscan Sarcophagus from the Late Classical or Early 
Hellenistic Period (350-300 BC) found in Vulci, Lazio Italy.

Thomas de Beauchamp and Katherine Mortimer his wife, Earl & Countess of Warwick.

St. Mary’s, Warwick. Wikipedia Commons image.

The clasped hands of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset KG (+1444)
and Margaret, Duchess of Somerset (+1482) Wimborne Minster. Tomb abt.1450

Richard Fitzalan III, 13th Earl of Arundel (ca 1307-1376) and his second wife Eleanor.
In his will Richard requested that he be buried “near to the tomb of Eleanor de Lancaster, my wife; 
and I desire that my tomb be no higher than hers, that no men at arms, horses, hearse, or other pomp, 
be used at my funeral, but only five torches…as was about the corpse of my wife, be allowed.”

The wife was Catholic and the man Protestant; at that time they

weren’t allowed to be buried together.”  Location unknown; Europe.

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Rochester, NY

The Children

Nothing touches people as a child’s grave can. Innocence ended; a life barely begun, the joy and promise inherent in a child suddenly gone. The Victorian/Edwardian era brought children’s memorials to a level not seen before, but we sometimes still see similar in modern times.

Victorian American Children’s Culture
Scholars from many fields have studied aspects of the history of childhood. While there is little consensus on an overarching theory of childhood, those who focus on late-nineteenth-century Anglo-America agree that it was an era in which an ideal of childhood arose that stressed the natural innocence and joyfulness of children, their right to a labor-free childhood, and the responsibility of adults and the state to protect children’s dependency. The new field of pediatrics, a movement to provide infants with safe milk, compulsory education, kindergartens, societies for the prevention of cruelty to children, child labor laws, a new body of literature for children’s entertainment, and a large class of objects catering to children’s perceived needs all document the new positioning of children as the hub around which the upper- and middle-class American home revolved in the late nineteenth century. Vivianna Zelizer identifies this as an era of “profound transformation in the economic and sentimental value of children.”
The Baby-in-a-Half-Shell: A Case Study in Child Memorial Art of the Late Nineteenth Century
by Annette Stott

The above photograph is all over the internet, and I’ve been unable to determine the photographer or location. The following photos are hotlinked to their sources; and are the result of a stroll through Pinterest, unless otherwise noted.


Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Boston MA

 Forest Home, the German Waldheim Cemetery, Chicago


 Paris Cimetiere du Montparnasse

 J.B. Sarpy Morrison, Died 1876 andJulia Olivia Morrison, Died 1870
Calvary Cemetery, Missouri

 Detail of Julia’s memorial

Chippiannock cemetery, Rock Island, IL

Francis Bentley Craw, Lakeview Cemetery, 1847

Crystal Springs Cemetery, Copiah County, Mississippi
Tapho note: The shell motif stones were mail order,
customizable to degrees dependent upon one’s wallet.


“..a few of my favorite things…”

 “The little girl waiting for her mother” By Ferdinando Marchetti
Viareggio (Lucca) – Monumental Cemetery

This amazing and haunting photo is the work of Isabelle Cooper,
who graciously allowed us to share it with you. -Taph

 Baby memorial garden, London Rd., Coventry, England

Southern USA



“A daughter, a sister
A painter of rainbows”

“Natchez – 10 yr old Florence died in 1871. She was extremely frightened of storms and her grief-stricken mother had Florence’s casket constructed with a glass window at the head. The grave was dug to provide an area, the same depth of the coffin, at the child’s head, but this area had steps that would allow the mother to descend to her daughter’s level so she could comfort her during storms. To shelter the mother, metal trap doors were installed over the area the mother would occupy.”
After the mother’s death, the glass window was cemented over to prevent vandalism, but you can still go down the steps to where the mother sat.

Iowa City

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
– from a headstone in Ireland

Halloween, cemeteries, and vandalism

Halloween (which I love), unfortunately also often means vandalism for too many cemeteries. Just Google ‘cemetery vandalism’ tomorrow morning.

I wanted to do an article on cemetery legends and hauntings, but decided against it for fear of encouraging excursions and increasing the risk of vandalism by even the well-intentioned.

Being a Massachusetts resident, surrounded by some of the oldest cemeteries in the country, I cannot emphasize the fragility of many of our cemeteries and monuments. Some of our oldest slate stones will surrender a large piece, sliding off, at even a moderate touch. Deliberate vandalism is not something I can understand. If you go to a cemetery, even just for the spooky, fun, most superficial reasons – why would you then want to destroy it?  What drives the urge to break someone’s headstone, that’s stood through time and weather for who-knows how long – sometimes hundreds of years?


That question echoes across hundreds of cemeteries the day after Halloween. It is never answered, even when the vandals are caught; there is never a reason. There can be no reason for an irrational act of destruction, I suppose.

One brilliant solution is the example set by Portland, Oregon, and the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery. After an unprecedented act of vandalism in 2000, where over 80 stones were broken or damaged, this group formed to restore the damage. One idea born of this group was to conduct the Halloween night Tour of Untimely Departures through the cemetery; a spooky, candlelit tour, weaving tales from the residents of the cemetery -some of whom you will meet at their tombstones, in period attire, telling their ghastly tales of untimely demise – with local legends and chilling atmosphere. This insured the security of the cemetery that night, generated revenue and increased interest. I hope this idea sparks similar ideas in other places that confront recurring Halloween vandalism. Even high schools or college drama departments could volunteer for such projects in lieu of an interested outside group being available. Many historic cemeteries already offer tours; if they do not offer them on Hallows Eve itself, it may well be worth considering.

Finally, in order not to be a complete buzzkill for Halloween, Tapho wishes you all the very best Hallows ever.

 Above animated graphic is the marvelous work of the talented Kevin Weir.
All images not copyrighted to TaphoTribes are linked to their source.

Early New England Funerals

Old Plymouth Colony, National Geographic, photo by David Shettleroe

I found the following a fascinating read; it is a copy of Customs and Fashions of Old New England, by Alice Morse Earle, published in 1893. Enjoy!   -Tapho

The earliest New Englanders had no religious services at a funeral. Not wishing to “confirm the popish error that prayer is to be used for the dead or over the dead,” they said no words, either of grief, resignation, or faith, but followed the coffin and filled the grave in silence. Lechford has given us a picture of a funeral in New England in the seventeenth century, which is full of simple dignity, if not of sympathy:

“At Burials nothing is read, nor any funeral sermon made, but all the neighborhood or a goodly company of them come together by tolling of the bell, and carry the dead solemnly to his grave, and then stand by him while he is buried. The ministers are most commonly present.”

As was the fashion in England at that date, laudatory verses and sentences were fastened to the bier or herse. The name herse was then applied to the draped catafalque or platform upon which the candles stood and the coffin rested, not as now the word hearse to a carriage for the conveyance of the dead.

Sewall says of the funeral of the Rev. Thomas Shepherd: “There were some verses, but none pinned on the Herse.” These verses were often printed after the funeral. The publication of mourning broadsides and pamphlets, black-bordered and dismal, was a large duty of the early colonial press. They were often decorated gruesomely with skull and crossbones, scythes, coffins, and hour-glasses, all-seeing eyes with rakish squints, bow-legged skeletons, and miserable little rosetted winding-sheets. (-the Calvinistic nature of this period; see TaphoTribes post, Anatomy of a Gravestone)

1667   –Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.  Click to enlarge
1702   –Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.  Click to enlarge
See a further dissertation on these two broadsides here.

A writer in the New England Courant of November 12, 1722, says: “Of all the different species of poetry now in use I find the Funeral Elegy to be most universally admired and used in New England. There is scarce a plough jogger or country cobler that has read our Psalms and can make two lines jingle, who has not once in his life at least exercised his talent in this way. Nor is there one country house in fifty which has not its walls garnished with half a Score of these sort of Poems which praise the Dead to the Life.”

“Beneath this Ston’s
Int’r’d the Bon’s
Ah Frail Remains
Of Lieut Noah Jones”
“Here lies cut down like unripe fruit
The wife of Deacon Amos Shute.”

Funeral sermons were also printed, with trappings of sombreness, black-bordered, with death’s-heads and crossbones on the covers. These sermons were not, however, preached at the time of the funeral, save in exceptional cases. It is said that one was delivered at the funeral of President Chauncey in 1671. Cotton Mather preached one at the funeral of Fitz-John Winthrop in 1707, and another at the funeral of Waitstill Winthrop in 1717. Gradually there crept in the custom of having suitable prayers at the house before the burial procession formed, the first instance being probably at the funeral of Pastor Adams, of Roxbury, in 1683. Sometimes a short address was given at the grave, as when Jonathan Alden was buried at Duxbury, in 1697. The Boston News Letter of December 31, 1730, notes a prayer at a funeral, and says: “Tho’ a custom in the Country-Towns ’tis a Singular instance in this Place, but it’s wish’d may prove a Leading Example to the General Practice of so Christian and Decent a Custom.” Whitefield wrote disparagingly of the custom of not speaking at the grave.

We see Judge Sewall mastering his grief at his mother’s burial, delaying for a few moments the filling of the grave, and speaking some very proper words of eulogy “with passion and tears.” He jealously notes, however, when the Episcopal burial service is given in Boston, saying: “The Office for the dead is a Lying bad office, makes no difference between the precious and the Vile.”

There were, as a rule, two sets of bearers appointed under-bearers, usually young men, who carried the coffin on a bier; and pall-bearers, men of age, dignity, or consanguinity, who held the corners of the pall which was spread over the coffin and hung down over the heads and bodies of the under-bearers. As the coffin was sometimes carried for a long distance, there were frequently appointed a double set of under-bearers, to share the burden. I have been told that mort-stones were set by the wayside in some towns, upon which the bearers could rest the heavy coffin for a short time on their way to the burial-place but I find no record or proof of this statement. The pall, or bier-cloth, or mort-cloth, as it was called, was usually bought and owned by the town, and was of heavy purple, or black broadcloth, or velvet.

Richly-draped catafalque or bier, Victorian period

It often was kept with the bier in the porch of the meeting-house; but in some communities the bier, a simple shelf or table of wood on four legs about a foot and a half long, was placed over the freshly filled-in grave and left sombrely waiting till it was needed to carry another coffin to the burial-place. In many towns there were no gravediggers; sympathizing friends made the simple coffin and dug the grave. (Note: There are two surviving Hearse Houses in New England today)

In Londonderry, N. H., and neighboring towns that had been settled by Scotch-Irish planters, the announcement of a death was a signal for cessation of daily work throughout the neighborhood. Kindly assistance was at once given at the house of mourning. Women flocked to do the household work and to prepare the funeral feast. Men brought gifts of food, or household necessities, and rendered all the advice and help that was needed. A gathering was held the night before the funeral, which in feasting and drinking partook somewhat of the nature of an Irish wake. Much New England rum was consumed at this gathering, and also before the procession to the grave, and after the interment the whole party returned to the house for an “arval,” and drank again. The funeral rum-bill was often an embarrassing and hampering expense to a bereaved family for years.

This liberal serving of intoxicating liquor at a funeral was not peculiar to these New Hampshire towns, nor to the Scotch-Irish, but prevailed in every settlement in the colonies until the temperance-awakening days of this century. Throughout New England bills for funeral baked meats were large in items of rum, cider, whiskey, lemons, sugar, spices.

Silver coins, abt.1700 – British Museum

To show how universally liquor was served to all who had to do with a funeral, let me give the bill for the mortuary expenses of David Porter, of Hartford, who was drowned in 1678.

“By a pint of liquor for those who dived for him………………..        1s.
By a quart of liquor for those who bro’t him home…………….        2s.
By two quarts of wine & 1 gallon of cyder to jury
of inquest ………………………………………………………………        5s.
By 8 gallons & 3 qts. wine for funeral……………………………  £1 15s.
By Barrel cyder for funeral ………………………………………..       16s.
1 coffin………………………………………………………………….       12s.
Windeing sheet …………………………………………………………….18s.”

Even town paupers had two or three gallons of rum or a barrel of cider given by the town to serve as speeding libations at their unmourned funerals. The liquor at the funeral of a minister was usually paid for by the church or town — often interchangeable terms for the same body. The parish frequently gave, also, as in the case of the death of Rev. Job Strong, of Portsmouth, in 1751, “the widow of our deceased pasture a full suit of mourning.” (Note: See rum in New England)

Hawthorne was so impressed with the enjoyable reunion New Englanders found in funerals that he wrote of them: “They were the only class of scenes, so far as my investigation has taught me, in which our ancestors were wont to steep their tough old hearts in wine and strong drink and indulge in an outbreak of grisly jollity.

Look back through all the social customs of New England in the first century of her existence and read all her traits of character, and find one occasion other than a funeral feast where jollity was sanctioned by universal practice. . . . Well, old friends! Pass on with your burden of mortality and lay it in the tomb with jolly hearts. People should be permitted to enjoy themselves in their own fashion; every man to his taste — but [Puritan] New England must have been a dismal abode for the man of pleasure when the only boon-companion was Death.”

This picture has been given by Sargent of country funerals in the days of his youth: “When I was a boy, and was at an academy in the country, everybody went to everybody’s funeral in the village. The population was small, funerals rare; the preceptor’s absence would have excited remark, and the boys were dismissed for the funeral. A table with liquors was always provided. Every one, as he entered, took off his hat with his left band, smoothed down his hair with his right, walked up to the coffin, gazed upon the corpse, made a crooked face, passed on to the table, took a glass of his favorite liquor, went forth upon the plat before the house and talked politics, or of the new road, or compared crops, or swapped heifers or horses until it was time to lift. A clergyman told me that when settled at Concord, N H , he officiated at the funeral of a little boy. The body was borne in a chaise, and six little nominal pallbearers, the oldest not thirteen, walked by the side of the vehicle. Before they left the house a sort of master of ceremonies took them to the table and mixed a tumbler of gin, water, and sugar for each.”

It was a hard struggle against established customs and ideas of hospitality, and even of health, when the use of liquor at funerals was abolished. Old people sadly deplored the present and regretted the past. One worthy old gentleman said, with much bitterness: “Temperance has done for funerals.”

As soon as the larger cities began to accrue wealth, the parentations of men and women of high station were celebrated with much pomp and dignity, if not with religious exercises. Volleys were fired over the freshly made grave — even of a woman. A barrel and a half of powder was consumed to do proper honor to Winthrop, the chief founder of Massachusetts. At the funeral of Deputy-Governor Francis Willoughby eleven companies of militia were in attendance, and “with the doleful noise of trumpets and drums, in their mourning posture, three thundering volleys of shot were discharged, answered with the loud roarings of great guns rending the heavens with noise at the loss of so great a man.” When Governor Leverett died, in 1679, the bearers carried banners. The principal men of the town bore the armor of the deceased, from helmet to spur, and the Governor’s horse was led with banners. The funeral-recording Sewall has left us many a picture of the pomp of burial. Colonel Samuel Shrimpton was buried “with Arms” in 1697, “Ten Companies, No Herse nor Trumpet but a horse Led. Mourning Coach also & Horses in Mourning, Scutcheons on their sides and Deaths Heads on their foreheads.” Fancy those coach-horses with gloomy death’s-heads on their foreheads. At the funeral of Lady Andros, which was held in church, six “mourning women” sat in front of the draped pulpit, and the hearse was drawn by six horses. This English fashion of paid mourners was not common among sincere New Englanders; Lady Andros was a Church of England woman, not a Puritan. The cloth from the pulpit was usually given, after the burial, to the minister. In 1736 the Boston News Letter tells of the pulpit and the pew of the deceased being richly draped and adorned with escutcheons at a funeral. Thus were New England men, to quote Sir Thomas Browne, “splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave.”

Many local customs prevailed. In Hartford and neighboring towns all ornaments, mirrors, and pictures were muffled with napkins and cloths at the time of the funerals, and sometimes the window-shutters were kept closed in the front of the house and tied together with black for a year, as was the fashion in Philadelphia.

Hawthorne tells us that at the death of Sir William Pepperell the entire house was hung with black, and all the family portraits were covered with black crape.

The order of procession to the grave was a matter of much etiquette. High respect and equally deep slights might be rendered to mourners in the place assigned. Usually some magistrate or person of dignity walked with the widow. Judge Sewall often speaks of “leading the widow in a mourning cloak.”

One great expense of a funeral was the gloves. In some communities these were sent as an approved and elegant form of invitation to relatives and friends and dignitaries, whose presence was desired. Occasionally, a printed “invitation to follow the corps” was also sent. One for the funeral of Sir William Phipps is still in existence — a fantastically gloomy document. In the case of a funeral of any person prominent in State, Church, or society, vast numbers of gloves were disbursed; “none of ’em of any figure but what had gloves sent to ’em.” At the funeral of the wife of Governor Belcher, in 1736, over one thousand pairs of gloves were given away; at the funeral of Andrew Faneuil three thousand pairs; the number frequently ran up to several hundred. Different qualities of gloves were presented at the same funeral to persons of different social circles, or of varied degrees of consanguinity or acquaintance. Frequently the orders for these vales were given in wills. As early as 1633 Samuel Faller, of Plymouth, directed in his will that his sister was to have gloves worth twelve shillings; Governor Winthrop and his children each “a paire of gloves of five shilling;” while plebeian Rebecca Prime had to be contented with a cheap pair worth two shillings and sixpence. The under-bearers who carried the coffin were usually given different and cheaper gloves from the pallbearers. We find seven pairs of gloves given at a pauper’s funeral, and not under the head of “Extrodny Chearges” either.

Of course the minister was always given gloves. They were showered on him at weddings, christenings, funerals. Andrew Eliot, of the North Church, in Boston, kept a record of the gloves and rings which he received; and, incredible as it may seem, in thirty-two years he was given two thousand nine hundred and forty pairs of gloves. Though he had eleven children, he and his family could scarcely wear them all, so he sold them through kindly Boston milliners, and kept a careful account of the transaction, of the lamb’s-wool gloves, the kid gloves, the long gloves — which were probably Madam Eliot’s. He received between six and seven hundred dollars for the gloves, and a goodly sum also for funeral rings.

Various kinds of gloves are specified as suitable for mourning; for instance, in the Boston Independent Advertiser in 1749, “Black Shammy Gloves and White Glazed Lambs Wool Gloves suitable for Funerals.” White gloves were as often given as black, and purple gloves also. Good specimens of old mourning gloves have been preserved in the cabinets of the Worcester Society of Antiquity.

At the funeral of Thomas Thornhill “17 pair of White Gloves at £1 15s. 6d., 3 1/2 yard Corle for Serfs £3 10s. 10 1/2d., and Black and White Ribbin” were paid for. In 1737 Sir William Pepperell sent to England for “4 pieces Hat mourning and 2 pieces of Cyprus or Hood mourning.” This hat mourning took the form of long weepers, which were worn on the hat at the funeral, and as a token of respect afterward by persons who were not relatives of the deceased. Judge Sewall was always punctilious in thus honoring the dead in his community.

gloves; Mourning Ring, 1779

Rings were given at funerals, especially in wealthy families, to near relatives and persons of note in the community. Sewall records in his diary, in the years from 1687 to 1725, the receiving of no less than fifty-seven mourning rings. We can well believe the story told of Doctor Samuel Buxton, of Salem, who died in 1758, aged eighty-one years, that he left to his heirs a quart tankard full of mourning rings which he had received at funerals; and that Rev. Andrew Eliot had a mugful. At one Boston funeral, in 1738, over two hundred rings were given away. At Waitstill Winthrop’s funeral sixty rings, worth over a pound apiece, were given to friends. The entire expense of the latter-named funeral — scutcheons, hatchments, scarves, gloves, rings, bell-tolling, tailor’s bills, etc., was over six hundred pounds. This amounted to one-fifth of the entire estate of the deceased gentleman.

These mourning rings were of gold, usually enamelled in black, or black and white. They were frequently decorated with a death’s-head, or with a coffin with a full-length skeleton lying in it, or with a winged skull. Sometimes they held a framed lock of hair of the deceased friend. Sometimes the ring was shaped like a serpent with his tail in his mouth.

Many bore a posy. In the Boston News Letter of October 30, 1742, was advertised: “Mourning Ring lost with the Posy Virtue & Love is From Above.” Here is another advertisement from the Boston Evening Post:

“Escaped unluckily from me
A Large Gold Ring, a Little Key;
The Ring had Death engraved upon it;
The Owners Name inscribed within it;
Who finds and brings the same to me
Shall generously rewarded be.”

A favorite motto for these rings was: “Death parts United Hearts.” Another was the legend: “Death conquers all;” another, “Prepare for Death;” still another, “Prepared be To follow me.” Other funeral rings bore a family crest in black enamel.

Goldsmiths kept these mourning rings constantly on hand. “Deaths Heads Rings” and “Burying Rings” appear in many newspaper advertisements. When bought for use the name or initials of the dead person, and the date of his death, were engraved upon the ring. This was called fashioning. It is also evident from existing letters and bills that orders were sent by bereaved ones to friends residing at a distance to purchase and wear mourning rings in memory of the dead, and send the bills to the heirs or the principals of the mourning family. Thus, after the death of Andrew, son of Sir William Pepperell, Mr. Kilby, of London, wrote to the father that he accepted “that melancholy token of y’r regard to Mrs. K. and myself at the expense of four guineas in the whole. But, as is not unusual here on such occasions, Mrs. K. has, at her own expense, added some sparks of diamonds to some other mournful ornaments to the ring, which she intends to wear.”

It is very evident that old New ‘Englanders looked with much eagerness to receiving a funeral ring at the death of a friend, and in old diaries, almanacs, and note-books such entries as this are often seen: “Made a ring at the funeral,” “A death’s-head ring made at the funeral of so and so;” or, as Judge Sewall wrote, “Lost a ring” by not attending the funeral. The will of Abigail Ropes, in 1775, gives to her grandson “a gold ring I made at his father’s death;” and again, “a gold ring made when my bro. died.”

As with gloves, rings of different values were given to relatives of different degrees of consanguinity, and to friends of different stations in life; much tact had to be shown, else much offence might be taken. I do not know how long the custom of giving mourning rings obtained in New England. Some are in existence dated 1812, but were given at the funeral of aged persons who may have left orders to their descendants to cling to the fashion of their youth. A very good collection of mourning rings may be seen at the rooms of the Essex Institute in Salem, and that society has also published a pamphlet giving a list of such rings known to be in existence in Salem.

As years passed on a strong feeling sprang up against these gifts and against the excessive wearing of mourning garments because burdensome in expense. Judge Sewall notes, in 1721, the first public funeral “without scarfs.” In 1741 it was ordered by Massachusetts Provincial Enactment that “no Scarves, Gloves (except six pair to the bearers and one pair to each minister of the church or congregation where any deceased person belongs), Wine, Rum, or rings be allowed to be given at any funeral upon the penalty of fifty pounds.” The Connecticut Courant of October 24, 1764, has a letter from a Boston correspondent which says, “It is now out of fashion to put on mourning for nearest relatives, which will make a saving to this town of £20,000 per annum.” It also states that a funeral had been held at Charlestown at which no mourning had been worn. At that of Ellis Callender in the same year, the chief mourner wore in black only bonnet, gloves, ribbons, and handkerchief. Letters are in existence from Boston merchants to English agents rebuking the latter for sending mourning goods, such as crapes, “which are not worn.”

A newly born and fast-growing spirit of patriotic revolt gave added force to the reform. Boston voted, in October, 1767, “not to use any mourning gloves but what are manufactured here,” and other towns passed similar resolutions. It was also suggested that American mourning gloves be stamped with a patriotic emblem. In 1788 a fine of twenty shillings was imposed on any person who gave scarfs, gloves, rings, wine, or rum at a funeral; who bought any new mourning apparel to wear at or after a funeral, save a crape arm-band if a masculine mourner, or black bonnet, fan, gloves, and ribbons if a woman. This law could never have been rigidly enforced, for much gloomy and ostentatious pomp obtained in the larger towns even to our own day. “From the tombs a mournful sound” seemed to be fairly a popular sound, and the long funeral processions, always taking care to pass the Town House, churches, and other public buildings, obstructed travel, and men were appointed in each town by the selectmen to see that “free passage in the streets be kept open.” Funerals were forbidden to be held on the Lord’s Day, because it profaned the sacred day, through the vast concourse of children and servants that followed the coffin through the streets.


– Text (except parentheticals) from Customs and Fashions in Old New England, Alice Morse Earle, 1893