Chat with superintendent enriches Rye cemetery visit
An average of 50 annual burials since Ireland took position in 1981
Keeping Central Cemetery well maintained is a vocation for Ed Ireland
Cemetery browsing has never been a hobby of mine, but after spending some fascinating time under a cloudless blue sky at Rye Central Cemetery chatting with its superintendent, Ed Ireland, I can certainly identify with those people who do like to wander through graveyards envisioning the past.
Early in our conversation, Ireland conveyed to me, with a sly grin, the importance of his position in the town of Rye. ďIíve got a lot of people under me,Ē was the way he put it, and by the time I left Central Cemetery I knew that he was speaking the truth.
Ed told me that he went to work for the town of Rye in the highway department in 1978. He took the job of cemetery superintendent in May of 1981. Since then 1159 burials have taken place at Central Cemetery, an average of about 50 per year.
It is apparent that Mr. Ireland takes a lot of pride in the appearance of Central Cemetery. Working along with some part time help provided by Doug Gaskell, he works seven days a week to provide Rye residents with a beautiful and well-maintained place to inter their family members. He says he very much enjoys being his own boss and is thankful for the good relations that he enjoys with the cemetery trustees and other town employees. Even though the cemetery is located on busy Central Road, one is struck by the quiet of the location, broken only by an occasional airplane on its descent into Pease.
In the spring and summer there is plenty of mowing and trimming to be done. Come autumn the many beautiful maple trees that encompass the grounds drop their leaves, and the work load is increased. Winters bring snow removal. All seasons require the preparation of burial sites.
According to Ed, digging these days is done with the use of a small backhoe. In the winter the ground may be frozen to the depth of two feet, or even much more. In those conditions modern methods are used. Instead of needing the services of a jackhammer to dig through frozen turf, a special propane heater is used to thaw out a three-by-eight-foot section of ground. Two feet of frost can be melted this way overnight, and deeper frost can be melted in a bit longer time.
Ed informed me that when Central Cemetery was first opened in 1891, a lot capable of handling eight people could be purchased, with perpetual care, for twenty dollars. It's hard to find a bargain like that these days. Currently the maximum size lot that is available handles four people, and the price is five hundred dollars. There is a section of the cemetery that does not allow monuments, and lots there can be purchased for $350.
In the last two decades a development has occurred that has dramatically changed the capacity of Central Cemetery and, without question, most other cemeteries. This development is the popularity of cremation as an alternative to interment of a complete body. Cremation allows a much greater density in the usage of cemetery plots. While it was rare to choose cremation twenty years ago, today about 25 percent of families decide on it. Sometimes when cremation is the family choice, a cemetery is not used at all as the deceased may have asked that his or her ashes be scattered at sea or some other location.
Ireland acknowledges that his job does involve some stress. During the winter, deer make themselves at home. The ornamental shrubs planted around the grave markers provide some wonderful food, and the solitude of the surroundings only encourages the hungry animals to make themselves at home. Extensive damage is done by these marauders every year, and snowy winters that make food hard to find can increase the problem. Edís advice: For some reason, deer do not like the taste of Alberta Spruce and will leave them alone even when they are very hungry. Ed has also seen coyotes sprinting across the open expanse, and wild turkeys feeding on the grass. Until now, his experiences with wild animals do not include the bear and moose that are rumored to be in town.
Central Cemetery was founded in 1891. Prior to that time individual families buried their dead in private plots scattered about town. During the bicentennial in 1976, work was done to identify these family plots, and 49 known sites were found. At that time a lot of brush was removed from many of these historic sites, headstones were found and marked, and access was often improved.
When Central Cemetery was opened, families were encouraged to close their individual plots and bring the remains to a central point. That move met with some success, but many private cemeteries still exist in Rye.
Ed watches over many notable personalities who are interred in Central Cemetery. John Locke (stone at left), a victim of an Indian attack on Straw's point in 1691, is one of them. Standing in the cemetery at the monument of a man killed in an Indian raid as a jet plane roars overhead certainly results in time warp in oneís mind. Three hundred years has passed since that raid, but close your eyes and you can imagine stealthy warriors in the brush not far away.
Ed points out that Herb Philbrick of I Led Three Lives fame is another notable, as is Richard Morton, former owner of the Ocean Wave Hotel, whose body was carried from the church to the cemetery in a procession of horse drawn carriages. Surveying the peaceful setting of the cemetery, itís easy to imagine the days when a horse drawn conveyance was not an unusual way of transporting bodies. Indeed, it must have been the norm for years as opposed to todayís motor driven hearse.
As I completed my time with the very affable Ed Ireland, I confess that I will return some day soon to do a little cemetery browsing. My interest has definitely been piqued.
Photos by Hank McFarland
August 4, 2005
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