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Book Bag

MASSACHUSETTS BOOK OF THE DEAD: GRAVEYARD LEGENDS AND LORE

By Roxie J. Zwicker

The History Press

www.newenglandcuriosities.com

Roxie Zwicker, a former Valley resident and Greenfield Community College graduate, has made a name for herself in the last 15 years as a host of folklore and unusual history tours in New England, focusing on ghost stories and other dark tales. She has a new book that examines some of the Bay State’s oldest burial grounds and their legends.

“Massachusetts Book of the Dead” includes profiles of three cemeteries in the Valley, including Knights Cemetery on Packardville Road in Pelham, where the gravestone of Warren Gibbs claims he was poisoned by his wife, Mary Felton, in 1860. The inscription on the stone reads in part, “Think my friends when this you see / How my wife hath dealt with me.”

As Zwicker relates, Gibbs’ brother, William, was so convinced his sister-in-law had killed Warren that he had a headstone proclaiming the case placed in the cemetery. Mary Felton’s family, incensed, had the stone taken down, whereupon William Gibbs replaced it, supposedly putting a curse on anyone who attempted to remove the new grave marker.

And in the Old Hadley Cemetery on Cemetery Road, near the original town common, one grave commemorates resident Mary Webster, who was accused of witchcraft in the death of a town deacon in 1685, dragged from her home and hung from a tree. Webster miraculously survived after losing consciousness and being cut down and buried in the snow; she lived until her peaceful death in 1698.

Zwicker’s book, which also looks at a burial ground by the former Northampton State Hospital, features photographs of old graveyards and close-ups of significant gravestones.

BUYING THE FARM: PEACE AND WAR
ON A SIXTIES COMMUNE

By Tom Fels

University of Massachusetts Press

www.famouslongago.org

Tom Fels, today an independent museum curator and writer specializing in art and photography, was once a member of Montague Farm, one of the early “back-to-the-land” communal experiments that sprouted in rural parts of the country amid the social and political turmoil of the 1960s. In “Buying the Farm,” he tells the story of the Montague Farm.

As Fels relates, the farm was started in 1968, primarily by a group of underground writers and journalists who, to escape some factional politics, decamped from New York City to western Massachusetts to make a go of communal living and organic farming. Fels, an Amherst College graduate, spent four years at the farm, from 1969 to 1973, and describes how it became largely self-sufficient, even as many members came and went.

As other communal farms and communities fell by the wayside, Montague Farm soldiered on for almost three more decades. Members became involved in different kinds of political activism, such as the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and early 1980s. The farm was finally sold to a Zen Buddhist organization in 2002.

Fels, who founded an online archive about Montague Farm, famouslongago.com, based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, also follows the lives and relationships of many of the original founders of the farm and others who came in their wake, using interviews and other first-person accounts.

Fels will read from “Buying the Farm” at a book launch at Amherst Books today at 5 p.m.

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