This first chapter is more of a mood setter/background. Next chapter starts the meat of the story. I plan on posting it in just a couple of days…
The appearance of the place depended entirely upon the whim of the weather and the vagaries of the seasons, and yet it was always monumental, regardless of the time of day or night. To the subjective observer, some places impart an impression of majesty, or serenity; a blessed effect that is sometimes evident in natural, but not altogether absent from man-made sites. Here, for example, a manufactured monument and the tomb it marked and consecrated were located in an urban park of surpassing natural beauty, thus enhancing and amplifying an overall effect of aesthetic charm and austerity.
Despite its impressive gravity, and its significance as the centerpiece of a picturesque cemetery, the monument was rarely accorded the respect and dignity it truly deserved; and furthermore, it received only a minimum of care and maintenance. As a result the stone had sunk into the little hillside upon which it rested; and the broad bronze embossed plaque that certified and honored the interred dead was hidden beneath a leafy veil of ivy tendrils, like an elderly derelict with unkempt hair covering his face. Moreover, the faded dedication was obscured by a beard of moss, draping across the sagging shoulders of the ponderous boulder that served as a capstone over the grave.
Scattered in all directions around the tomb and across the floor of the clearing that was nestled in a natural sugar bowl at the base of a wooded hill, could be found evidence of other gravestones, markers and monuments, throughout a churchyard-sized tract of land that had been segregated and preserved for historical significance by a pious and devoted generation that was itself long since passed.
The rich soil of the preservation contained the cherished remains of some early settlers to the area as well as a number of Revolutionary War soldiers. The inscriptions on their weather-worn headstones revealed that men of all ranks had been laid to rest in this peaceful vale, yet in this final muster their numbers would have amounted to less than a regiment. At the edge of the graveyard, close to a road that also bore his name, was the relatively well-preserved grave of Capt Daniel Weld, marked by a broad vertical slate obelisk that seemed to signify that the captain would forever guard the final resting place of his men.
From the time of the cemetery's consecration in the early 18th century and on through the years to the early part of the 20th century, dignitaries, military representatives and other officials had come here periodically to pay their respects, to dress and tidy the graves, to lay wreathes and flowers, and to utter convocations. But in recent years the number of visitors had fallen steadily until even holidays and anniversaries went by without remembrances. In fact the principal and most consistent visitors to the cemetery were the children from nearby neighborhoods. It was those children who were most familiar with the monument, who knew the layout of the grounds, and who had memorized most of the names on the headstones.
The area in which the cemetery was located, once a sparsely settled rural borough noted for verdant meadows, pastures and farmland, a 'country' destination for urban gentry; was now a densely populated city annex, another stop on the commuter rail line. Single family homes started appearing on the outskirts of the cemetery in 1890 and by the time the turn-of-the-century housing boom was over in 1915, they had hemmed it in on two sides. Schools, hospitals, churches, libraries and public transportation followed as per the natural demographic order of a growing town, and gradually the cemetery had disappeared behind the scrim of development.
The only public entrance to the cemetery consisted of a short flight of black granite stairs that looked as though the retaining wall along the boundary had crumbled in an orderly fashion at one suitable spot. The bus stop on the outbound route that ran along Weld St was intentionally placed adjacent to these stairs so that commuters would have a convenient waiting area. On any given day at quarter past any given hour folks would gather there to catch the bus to Cleveland Circle, a suburban terminal intersecting the streetcar line that ran from Brookline to Boston. Some commuters preferred this route as a more pleasant alternative to the inbound line, which brought them as far as the depot at Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, where they transferred to the antiquated, elevated trains on the so-called 'Orange Line' that connected towns north and south to the city of Boston.
However, the youngsters living in homes on the streets abutting the cemetery seldom had the need or the desire to travel anywhere outside the neighborhood, for local schools, churches and stores were all well within walking distance. For recreation they took to the park in which the cemetery occupied but a small corner. Donated to the city by a wealthy 19th century philanthropist, the greater park extended over approximately 500 acres of hilly woodland. Although the cemetery was created in 1711, and actually predated much of the city itself, it was subsequently annexed to the park by municipal decree.
Yet for those children who wished to conceal themselves during a game of hide and seek, or for those interested in using the decrepit headstones as slalom markers on winter toboggan and skiing runs, the cemetery was an ideal environment for outdoor fun.
In addition, the neighboring youngsters particularly valued the trees that shaded the area. These included a stunningly beautiful, aromatic and unusually symmetric pin cherry tree with low, tot-friendly branches that provided easy passage for novice climbers. On the brow of the ridge there was also a lone speckled alder, known locally as 'the caterpillar tree' because its distinct elliptical bright green serrated leaves were a favorite meal and dwelling place for gypsy moths. Further down the hill stood a stolid quercus alba, a giant whose outstretched limbs never sagged despite having ropes tied to them for the pleasure of the chubby children who dangled and swung in oscillating arcs beneath its canopy. Pear and chestnut trees yielded enough fruit to fortify several bands of young warriors with "ammo" for the battles they pitched against each other on the hillside.
Furthermore, the cemetery's proximity to the residential tract in which many of the children lived provided an additional advantage. Although separated from the neighborhood by the aforementioned granite wall, the hallowed grounds were elevated many feet above street level due to the lay of the land. Thus children playing in the hillside graveyard could look down upon their homes, and parents peering out from their back porches could tell at a glance whether their youngsters were in the peculiar playground.
Having been raised nearby, the children had no compunction about playing in a cemetery, and since no graves had been dug in at least a hundred years, there was nothing particularly eerie or forbidding about the premises. They were untroubled by the notion that traces of the interred dead might remain in the seemingly ancient burial plots; plus the grave markers themselves were hardly menacing, for, faded and fragile, they had at long last failed the test of time. Yet though the children traipsed with guileless innocence over the bones of their forebears, they were nonetheless intrigued by the graveyard, and among themselves they often discussed matters relating to the stones, the graves, and the dead.
These discussions always occurred during daylight hours, and they frequently took place at Child's Tomb, or more precisely, on a massive marble slab that was actually the lid of a submerged sarcophagus in which members of the Child family were laid to rest. Flat, broad, and level, the slab was located near the base of "little hill", the mound in which the larger memorial tomb that was to become the focus of so much attention and energy was embedded.