“I take interest in the fact that I’ve supervised putting a lot of these people in here over the years because I’ve been doing funerals and things.” Wearing a powder blue button-up shirt that matched the April sky, Pastor Tim Haut glides down the black pavement that winds around the hills, cracked from time. Through his silver-rimmed glasses, his eyes survey the rolling hills of tombstones and massive oaks. Smiling, as if still in awe of the land he has trod hundreds of times, he adds, “I think it’s a wonderful place.”
Pastor Tim Haut, the fatherly face of Deep River’s First Congregational Church, leads the way through Fountain Hill. The cemetery itself is a fountain of hills, rippling down in waves of tombstones. Over seven-thousand souls are remembered here.
The first gravestone in Fountain Hill was placed in December of 1851, but others have been dead for much longer. “There was that cemetery down by the Baptist Church in Deep River for many years,” Pastor Tim explains, recalling how the town founders decided to build a bigger cemetery up on Fountain Hill. “They moved a lot of the big graves up here. Dug the people up—what was left of them.”
The town of Deep River was established in 1635. When a town has been around for almost four hundred years, it is certain to have a lot of deceased to honor. Pastor Tim often leads tours in this endless park of remembrance during October, but this exclusive tour was at the brink of spring.
His eyes squint and his neck cranes forward in his search for his favorite stories. It doesn’t take long for him to spot the unfinished grave of major league baseball player Paul Hopkins. The slab itself is missing the year of death, though he passed away in January 2004. “Nobody could have it done I suppose. He has some relatives, but distant relatives.” Yet this was a man who was a relief pitcher for the Washington Senators, played eleven games, and pitched to Babe Ruth during his major league debut. That day, September 29, 1927, would be Hopkins’s claim to fame for the rest of his life.
“I think it was the seventh inning, the bases were loaded,” the pastor recalls, “he got two strikes on it. His best pitch—a curveball. He said ‘I’m gonna strike him out.’ And he threw the curveball. This was such a good curveball; he knew he had him.” But he didn’t. Infact, this would be the pitch that earned Babe Ruth’s fifty-ninth home run that season. And even though Hopkins would later strike Lou Gehrig out, the young man was crushed.
“When he went back to the dugout, he cried, ‘That’s what I’m going to be remembered for.’”
Thankfully for Hopkins, he gained fame later in life. The once-upon-a-time pitcher was recognized for being the oldest living player in major league baseball and he received many fan letters before he passed.
Not all of Fountain Hill’s heroes are remembered so famously, or even have a legible headstone. One fellow minister from this area of Connecticut is buried with a tombstone that is so weathered and blackened by time that it takes Pastor Tim a moment to spot. His name alone is barely readable on the blackened, lichen covered stone. But there it is, now slightly leaning after so many years. This minister was George Hefflon, an active advocate for persons with hearing disabilities.
“You can hardly see it. It says ‘minister to the deaf mutes’—word that they used to use. We don’t talk like that anymore.” Minister Heflin preached in fourteen different churches across the Connecticut-Massachusetts area. His sworn duty in life was to help deaf people get the care and assistance they needed. “His religious beliefs were that God had a special concern and love for everybody.” The pastor folded his hands in front of his belly, looking down fondly.
“He was considered quite a hero of his time.” the pastor marvels, dropping his hands to his sides. But he frowns, going on to lament, “You know, with the stone in this condition, you wouldn’t realize that this was such a significant person.” The pastor shakes his head, marching away.
“His religious beliefs were that God had a special concern and love for everybody.”
Thankfully, one grave remains mostly legible in the older part of the cemetery. “He’s one of the well-known characters in Deep River. William Winters.” Otherwise known as Billy Winters or Uncle Billy, he was a runaway slave that escaped from the South via the underground railroad. His life is depicted in a book written by Deep River Historical Society’s Rhonda Forristall, simply titled Billy Winters: One Man’s Journey to Freedom.
Due to his troubled beginnings, Billy was always paranoid that someone from his past would make the trip North to get him—or worse, send a bounty hunter. But Billy had a strange strategy to combat his fears.
“He said he used to wear a disguise.” Pastor Tim chuckles, “Black runaway slave with a red wig. You know, I think it would draw attention to yourself.” He joked that it must have worked because they never caught him. We all have our methods. Though, it’s hard to imagine how he wore it when he was cooking. “His specialty was seafood; fried clams and oysters and so forth. I think it was called the Oyster House.”
When Billy wasn’t cooking food, he was cooking up schemes to help his fellow slaves escape. He made earnest efforts to help them find freedom in the North or in neighboring countries like Canada. Deep River was considered a safe haven for runaway slaves like Billy. “There’s several homes in Deep River that claimed that they had a hidden room right in the basement, or behind the wall. They said at one time, there was a tunnel where they could go from one house to another.”
Billy Winters’s spot is not too far from one of the highest spots in the graveyard, where there is a stone bench that looks over Pratt Cove. “Watch the sunrise there,” Pastor Tim recommends. “That’s a beautiful view.” Honestly not a bad spot for a picnic if not for it being in a cemetery. Try making that suggestion to a Tinder date.
A more mysterious beauty of the graveyard is on the second tallest hill. Near the newly erected flagpole is a boulder the size of a dumpster. The rock stands alone, with nothing to keep it from tumbling down like in the classic Indiana Jones escape scene. It has simply stayed there. Two small plates have been nailed into either side of the mass, rain-stained but readable. The back reads, “The earth did quake, the rocks rent.” And the front plate reads, “God is the rock, his work is perfect.” Pastor Tim reads them in his gentle yet clear preacher’s tone. Then he asks, “And yet who would have put it here?”
Digging through the ancient records of the Grand Army of the Republic, Rhonda Forristall, town curator, discovered that veterans of the Civil War would come to a specific spot in the cemetery to hold their annual service of memorials. “She believes it was here,” Pastor Tim concludes, gesturing his broad arm to the boulder.
In addition, Forristall told Pastor Tim that she felt the inscriptions on the boulder, particularly “the one about how the rocks—it was a description of war; how it feels to be in the midst of war.” It was soon after this discovery was made that the flagpole was erected, so that the tradition would be remembered. As to who or what exactly rolled this boulder up these hills remains a mystery. “It’s a huge rock.” Pastor Tim remarks. “It’s massive. So, imagine how it could be moved or placed here.”
An impressive feat no doubt. Perhaps as impressive as one captain Samuel Mather. His marker is a towering white obelisk, with lichen clinging to its corners and crevices. Thankfully, the lichen has not covered the names and images that decorate it, such as his beloved clipper ship. This is the same ship he captained when he discovered the fastest route from New York to Australia during the days of the Gold Rush. “He had set a world record for the fastest crossing of the ocean from New York to Melbourne, Australia, on a mailing ship. I forget what it was, maybe seven days.”
From this, he was enlisted into the Union Navy. This is unfortunately where our great Captain met his end, at the young age of thirty-eight. “They sent him down to Florida,” the pastor recalls, to fight the rebels off the Florida coast. There he charged the U.S. steamer Henry Andrews. “And he was killed by a stray shot.”
With his gorgeous monument, it is fair to say that the captain shall never be forgotten—especially with the woman frozen in stone, who guards his memory from above. Pastor Tim lovingly refers to this creature and her sisters as the “ladies of the cemetery.” These massive stone monuments, depicting women in roman-like robes, look down at the dead bittersweetly. “This one is interesting,” he notes, adjusting his glasses before placing his hands on his hips. His spine arches back to truly admire the towering woman, “because she’s leaning forward like she’s gonna scatter flowers on the ground.” He then smiles, “But she has never fallen off.”
Further into the cemetery is a beautiful jade-like stone monument. This stone was placed to remember two sisters. Engraved on the sides is a ribbon of text that reads, “Our Lost Jewels.” One daughter died at only twenty-one, but the other at the frightening age of thirteen. “What happened that, two young girls should die so young?” Pastor Tim frowns, his fingertips brushing the side of the grave, a melancholy drooping his shoulders. “How sad, and this is their legacy. How do you think of the heartbreak of the parents and the family? Matter of fact, we don’t know the family, right? I mean, there’s no marker for the parents. These are for the daughters.”
Hiking over the hills and mounds of graves, Pastor Tim looks up to the canopy. The sun flickers between baby buds blooming through the skeleton trees. Chickadees chirp their spring song above us. Walking on, the conversation turns to considering how some of these monuments are pristine, as that of the girls, while others are worn and almost forgotten, like the minister.
“You know, the hard thing about death is that eventually the world passes you by. I’m telling you stories that I’ve looked up, but they’re historical oddities. We don’t really know these people. Right? This is the sadness of knowing that every one of these people, every one of these names, had a story…” He pauses a moment. All at once the endless rows of lichen riddled stones seemed overwhelming. Bowing his head, he continues down the path, one hand resting on his chest, close to his heart. “They had a lifetime and experiences and some of them must have been beautiful stories. And I look at these and think how sad it is.”
“This is the sadness of knowing that every one of these people, every one of these names, had a story…”
There is a new weight in the air, as the pastor trudges closer to the Jewish designated part of the cemetery. A top each grave are piles of little round rocks. “At a Jewish cemetery people will often leave a stone on top of the grave to say, ‘I’ve come and visited you.’” And none are so visited in this section as Sol LeWitt. His gravestone is hard to miss, a polished black cube with a symbol with milky-gray lines within a square. At first glance, it appears to be something alien to a gravestone.
“He did art, modern art.” the pastor says, “That was sort of typical of him. He developed sort of visions of shapes, simple things like this cube—kind of clean and simple. At the synagogue there’s a big Star of David, and the scrolls and things are behind it. But he designed that. It was very colorful.” Pastor Tim pulls out his phone to show the design. It was almost dizzying to see the primary colors used in such a way. “This became so famous that they decided to order yarmulkes with his design on it for the men. Then they thought, ‘I don’t know, maybe we could sell a hundred.’” They have since sold many more than a mere hundred. Now, a single yarmulke of that design costs about forty-five dollars—before tax.
“His works are on exhibit at the Metropolitan—the museum of modern art, and all over the world.” Pastor Tim wags a finger feverishly, “So, if you’ve never heard of this cemetery or never been to Deep River before, you might have heard of him.”
Walking past the pond at entrance of Fountain Hill, Pastor Tim laughs at a thought, “They used to skate on that pond. At one point this hill went all the way down to the elementary school. This was considered the greatest sledding hill in town because you could start way up there. But then they put these hedges in that kinda ruined it.”
Ice skating and sledding in a graveyard, a place to mourn and celebrate life, “I’ve always liked the idea that a cemetery is not just a graveyard, but it’s a place where there’s still life. And people come and walk their dogs, or sit by the pond, or enjoy the beauty of the trees.”
Towards the end of the tour, Pastor Tim shared his favorite grave. “I always stop here on the tour. It’s Lucy Southworth. We don’t know anything about her life.” A gracious friend found a photograph of her and gifted it to Pastor Haut. He now keeps the image in his office.
There is the simple line left on her stone: She hath done what she could.
“I think it could mean two things, like, she didn’t have much going for her, but she did what she could with it, or it could mean that she really used the energy in her life to do what she could in this world—to make it a better place.”
Marina Capezzone is a staff writer for the Blue Muse Magazine
Header Photo Credit: Marina Capezzone