GROTON -- As she seems to end up doing every year, local historian Eleanor Gavazzi has been persuaded by numerous inquiries and requests to conduct a special, one of a kind tour of the town's Old Burying Ground scheduled for the end of the month, just in time for Halloween.
Gavazzi, however, is quick to add that her tour will not be focused on spooks and revenants but will concentrate as always on the stone carver's art as well as real life stories of those who have been interred at the cemetery over the centuries.
"A lot of what I'll do during the tour is to discuss symbolism and stone carving," said Gavazzi. "I'll also give a brief history of the era that people were buried in the cemetery and the different symbols on the stones. I'll gear my tour depending on the age and number of people who sign up. It'll be more in depth for a small crowd and broader in subject matter if it's a larger crowd. In any case, it'll all be based on history and symbolism of the Burying Ground."
The Old Burying Ground was first used sometime after 1680, about 25 years after Groton was established by order of the Massachusetts General Court. But even then, most graves went unmarked until 1704, when the earliest dated gravestone was erected commemorating the death of James Prescott on May 9 of that year. Prescott's headstone was carved by his father, Jonas, a local blacksmith and first of the family to move to Groton around 1675.
Scattered throughout the Old Burying
"This is just taking advantage of the season and because of the nature of Halloween," said Gavazzi of her upcoming tour. "Halloween is a holiday based on All Hallows Eve or All Souls Day and for that reason, is a holy day for some people. So my tours aren't meant to play up being frightening but to educate."
Gavazzi plans to hold the tour on Sunday, Oct. 28, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. with attendance limited to 30 or 40 people.
"I usually do a tour around Halloween because a lot of people are interested in just that element, so I figure, why not have them learn something at the same time?"
According to Gavazzi, over the centuries, between 5,000 and 7,000 people have perhaps been interred in the Old Burying Ground, which today can present a fascinating combination of the history of the town's settlers, its early social structure, religious beliefs, genealogy and its warfare with savage Indians (John Longley, who had been kidnapped by Abnaki Indians in 1694 along with his sisters, Betty and Lydia, is buried there).
"Although I won't really be talking about ghosts and such, some of the headstones in the cemetery do feature some skull imagery that ties in with old religious beliefs involving predestination, where no one is going to make it to heaven. In other words, we're all doomed! Otherwise, there's not too many scary things in the tour even though the Burying Ground can be a creepy place. But my tour is really not frightening."
In fact, Gavazzi's "Halloween" tour will differ little from many others she has conducted over the years, including those given for the benefit of local elementary school students that have proven popular for all ages.
"I give a tour of the cemetery to fifth graders for the school system every year and every year parents on the tour ask me about additional tours," said Gavazzi. "Some of the teachers at school even buy tours for Father's Day. And at Groton Fest people are always expressing interest."
Gavazzi said she limits how often she gives the tour because if conducted too frequently, the subject would get old fast.
"If I did more tours, the ones I do would not be as special as they are," explained Gavazzi. "I want people to realize that Groton is a special place and the tours I offer are special. They're the kind of thing that's meant to be enjoyable to people but it's also true that too much of a good thing is not so good."
Those interested in catching Gavazzi's harvest time tour are urged to call her at 1-978-877-3906 and make reservations.
The tour will cost $5 for adults while children can attend free.
Gavazzi recently recorded her wealth of information about the Old Burying Ground in a book entitled "We Were Alive in 1775: A Walking Tour of the Old Burial Ground in Groton" that reflects her deep love of the historic location, a love that must go unrequited.
"My only regret is that I can't be buried there!" declared Gavazzi.