Gravestone art’s beauty subject of Historic Deerfield tours

  • Historic Deerfield Museum Educator and tour guide Ellen Zale leads tours of the Old Burying Ground on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • A gravestone designed by Solomon Ashley for his father, Jonathan, at the Old Burying Ground in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • A gravestone designed by Solomon Ashley for a woman buried with her child in the Old Burying Ground in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • An information board at the Old Burying Ground in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Participants engage in Gravestone Art Tours at the Old Burying Ground in Deerfield on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • The Old Burying Ground in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2021 9:02:15 AM

DEERFIELD — History lovers took to the Old Burying Ground at the end of Albany Road over the weekend to admire the seldom-recognized beauty of gravestone art.

Historic Deerfield held Gravestone Art Tours, with a focus on the craftsmanship of Solomon Ashley, a late 18th-century gravestone carver from Deerfield. Led by a guide, tour groups wove through arrays of gravestones in various conditions, periodically stopping at different clusters to learn about the stories of those interred at the cemetery and the art that decorates their resting place.

According to Historic Deerfield Museum Educator and tour guide Ellen Zale, the people of Deerfield began burying their dead at the Old Burying Ground in the early 1700s and stopped when there was no longer room. Gravestones of Revolutionary War soldiers, staunch imperial loyalists and others are abundant. At the same time, though, Zale said the site harbors a wealth of unknown remains.

“There are plenty more people who are here, I could see, that are unmarked,” she said. “I wonder what we would find if we dug here.”

Many of those who were known in the cemetery to Zale and the rest of Historic Deerfield were not only clients of Ashley, but family members. For example, the site still has intact gravestones for Ashley’s parents, Jonathan and Dorothy Ashley, as well as smaller stones for the family’s multiple deceased children. Even Solomon’s brother, also named Solomon, was buried there after dying in infancy.

Regardless of who the client was in life, their Ashley-carved gravestones all shared aesthetic similarities. Ashley’s signature designs included elements such as abstract anthropomorphic figures and slanted “1s” to begin dates.

Those in attendance exhibited fascination with both the art and the history that has withstood the test of time. In Zale’s perspective, the reason for this interest was simple.

“I think learning about the past is always worth doing,” she said.


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