LUNENBURG – When plans were drawn to raze a building used by the Cemeteries Commission since the 1930s, members removed gravestones awaiting repair and discovered more than 75 markers in and around the building, many of which belonged to to veterans.
“We didn’t realize how many there were,” said Bill Tyler, a member of the Cemetery Commission. “It was very tedious to (remove them) because we didn’t want them to break.”
Almost all of the markers discovered are slate and white marble. Some were fractured at their base and others were just in pieces.
“It’s sad that some of these stones have been forgotten, but it was not intentional,” he said.
Tyler said the oldest of the stones may be from the time of the Revolutionary War.
Some of the marble tombstones belong to veterans, including William Kilpi, a sergeant. 1st Class in the United States Army who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. He was born in 1921 and died in 1985.
Tyler said some of the Armed Services tombstones found could be duplicates of those still in city cemeteries or other burial sites, such as Fort Devens Cemetery.
Previously, cemeteries department workers had brought broken headstones to the old building on Holman Street, demolished about two weeks ago, with the intention of fixing them, Tyler said. Over the years, they have accumulated, he said.
They came from the two cemeteries in town: the north cemetery, which is across from the department building, and the south cemetery, which is across town on Page Street. Both have burial sites that date back to the 1700s.
Prior to the demolition project, the commission’s policy was that if a headstone spilled, employees left it there, he said. This way, the ministry knows to which burial place it belongs.
Typically, the Cemetery Commission hires someone to come and fix and reinstall the headstones, Tyler said.
Going forward, the commission and the Lunenburg Historical Society – where Tyler serves as vice-president – will review burial records to find out where the gravestones belong.
Once that happens, repairs can be made and family members can be contacted, he said.
âThis will be a project that will take time,â Tyler said. “If we can find where (a gravestone) was originally, that’s half the battle.”
The commission and the Historical Society will work throughout the winter to search for documents and start matching the graves with the tombstones found, he said.
This search will only work for stones with names or partial names. Tyler said they hadn’t decided what to do about the unnamed ones yet.
Volunteers like the Boy Scouts, whose members have completed projects at the cemetery, and researchers interested in history could be of assistance with the tombstone project, he said.
As a graveyard commissioner, Tyler said he enjoyed helping out in town and his role cut across the story. His whole family is buried in the north cemetery, so he cares about maintaining it.
âThis (project) is really important for me to make sure it’s taken care of,â he said.
The Cemetery Department building has been on Holman Street since the mid-1930s. A new garage, to be built by Monty Tech students, will be used to store vehicles and equipment needed to maintain the city’s cemeteries. .