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Andover Headstones Combine Humor, History, and Loss

A. VENSEL/The Phillipian

The Olmsted brothers, who designed the cemetary as it currently exists, also designed major road and park systems across the country.

Interspersed between the trees by Samuel Phillips Hall and Pine Knoll Cluster, the Andover Chapel Cemetery has stood for over two centuries as a memoir to Andover’s past, present, and future. The gravestones in the cemetery feature familiar names such as Bancroft, Graves, and Fuess[b][c], and continue to serve as a reminder of the legacy of notable figures at Andover to this day.

The cemetery also features six of Andover’s former headmasters, all of whom serve as a part of Andover’s history — the fifth Head of School, Osgood Johnson, who led an anti-slavery rebellion along with students is buried in the Andover Chapel[d][e] cemetery. Gail Ralston, Office Manager of the Chaplaincy, noted that alongside the former Heads of School, instructors who enjoyed their teaching experience at Andover have also asked to be buried in the cemetery. The most recent burial was Dudley Fitz, who was known for his tendency to cancel his classes.

“One of the more recent teacher’s names who also recently had a plaque on the [Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center] was an English teacher named Dudley Fitz, who was known as the teacher who missed the most classes in the history of Andover. His gravestone is filled with pranks and entertaining elements as well, as visitors can only look at his grave marker when lying on their back and looking up,” said Ralston.

According to Ralston, the idea of building a cemetery was first brought up after a Seminary student died of illness in 1810[f][g]. To address this issue, Andover and the adjacent Seminary collectively purchased land in order to provide their students with a proper burial.

Ralston said, “The two main schools involved in building the cemetery itself were Andover and the Seminary, in which they built the cemetery in 1810. In the early 19th century, when a Seminary student named Lewis LeConte Congar died, they approached Isaac Blunt, who ran a tavern right where Paresky Commons is placed now. They negotiated to purchase one acre of land from Blunt in order to bury their students. In fact, several graves in the cemetery are actually students like Congar, who died during their studies.”

In subsequent years, family members of students and professors were given permission to be buried in the Andover Chapel cemetery as well. Around 1896, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” requested that both her husband, a former professor at the Seminary, and her favorite son be buried together in the Andover Chapel cemetery.

Ralston said, “After arriving to Andover in 1852, [Stowe and her husband] bought the workshop building for Seminary students, renovating it into Stowe House. The reason the Stowes are buried here is because during their residence, one of their sons Henry died in Dartmouth from a drowning accident and was brought to Andover for burial. Since Henry was Harriet’s favorite son, she wished to be buried with him when she died.”

According to Kevin Block, Manager of Grounds, it was not until 1908 that the cemetery had its current form and design. Block noted that the architects not only designed the cemetery itself, but they also provided a layout for future years that are followed to this day.

“Originally, the cemetery started out as one acre, with no design whatsoever. But at one point it expanded to two acres, because too many people were starting to be buried there. After that, the Olmsted brothers, who were famous architects in the whole country, came and laid it out, providing with future plans as well,” said Block.

Currently, the workers of Office of the Physical Plant clean the graves and cemetery on a weekly basis for maintenance, while also working on renovations and long-term projects such as planting trees.

Block said, “From our standpoint as grounds managers, we are in the cemetery weekly, spending our time mowing, weed whacking, and making sure all the stones are clean. It is pretty time consuming from that standpoint. Throughout the year, we are working on projects here and there just to keep up the maintenance. We are currently almost finished with our project of renovating the south and west walls of the cemetery. The maintenance crew has also worked on multi-year projects, where we focus on planting trees and grass over a long period of time.”

Despite its historical significance and values to the school, Connor Aalto ’22, found the cemetery to have little connection to the students due to its difficulty to approach.

Aalto said, “I feel like the cemetery would give more historical significance to the students and faculty of the school if more people had more awareness about it and were taught about it. Right now, it is really an insignificant part of our lives at Andover, because none of us know about it. More importantly, I don’t think we really respect cemeteries as much as we should, as they are places where we can learn about people’s past lives. It just seems like a very intimidating and scary place. If the space seemed more friendly, it would have been better for us to go.”