By Meghan Peterson, Ph.D.
Candy corn, pumpkins all a-fright…yes; it is that time of year. Ghosts, goblins, and ghouls abound. Is that a mucket you hear? Or is it just the eve of Halloween drawing near? What about a bit of centuries-old history right here in Haddam? How about some good, old-fashioned cemetery research? How about some or all the above?
As it turns out, this past July, the Old Burial Yard at Thirty Mile Island Cemetery Association decided to “move forward with a project” on the namesake cemetery, according to Cindy MacNeil-Sola, the association’s President. MacNeil-Sola is a published genealogist (author of My Patchwork Quilt) as well as owner of Spirit and Balance, LLC in Higganum, Conn.
The cemetery is located on Route 154, across the street from Walkley Hill. Established in 1667, Thirty Mile Island Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Haddam. Of note, the oldest headstone remaining there dates to 1711, according to MacNeil-Sola.
Questions swirl around the Thirty Mile Island Cemetery, such as: “Are there burials closer to Route 154” “Were the stones ever moved back? “Where are the unmarked graves?” MacNeil-Sola explains. In a first step to pursue answers, the association hired a company owned by a historical & landscape architect, Tom Elmore, founder of Suffield, Conn.-based GeoNav Group, LLC. Elmore’s company will “utilize cutting edge technology to document buildings, landscapes headstones and other features above ground,” MacNeil-Sola says. In addition, the company will “work side by side with Waltham, Mass.-based Radar Solutions International, Inc. which will be doing the ground penetrating radar.” This GPR (ground penetrating radar) tool “will show us any soil that has been disturbed below ground. It detects and reflects signals from the subsurface objects and changes in material properties to show voids and cracks, which is where the graves would be.” The companies will “work together to sync GPR & LiDar data to create a single data that includes both above and below ground data and pictures in a single file. This will be shown as if looking at the cemetery from above,” MacNeil-Sola adds.
The Association will present on the project – free and open to the public – on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 at 2:00 p.m., at Haddam’s Brainerd Memorial Library. MacNeil-Sola notes that the presentation is for “sextons of other cemetery’s, archaeologists, historical societies, the Connecticut gravestone network, along with the Association of Gravestone studies and the public to see what we have been working on and what we will be moving forward with.”
MacNeil-Sola outlines future components of the process: “Our next step is to raise money to reproduce the original fence and enclosures on the families burial plots.” Looking ahead, MacNeil-Sola says, “in the spring we are bringing a company in to show us how to clean the headstones, and at that point we will raise money to repair and restore so many headstones a year until it’s complete.” Eventually, “the information will go into the GIS system at the Town of Haddam,” and “we will be bringing it over hopefully to the [Haddam] Historical Society; we have to work that out, but it will have public access. I’m a published genealogist, so it’s very important to me to be able to have people find this information.”
The Association plans to create a membership group for friends of the cemetery as well as hold future fundraisers to achieve the Association’s mission and goals.
Elizabeth Malloy, Executive Director of the Haddam Historical Society, says “I think the project is very exciting, and I look forward to hearing about the team’s findings.”
Mark your calendars for Nov. 2 and hope to see you at the Brainerd Memorial Library for a bit of historical digging…pun intended.
The Thirty Mile Island Association, comprising a non-profit & volunteer-based board of directors, consists of: Cindy MacNeil-Sola – President; Amy Roper, Vice President; Melissa Gibson, Treasurer; Maryjean Conrad, Secretary; Dave Costa, Jan Sweet and Jon Kwant.