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Burial Ground Looking Up

February 12, 2006
Commentary By Christine Palm

Spring Grove Cemetery is grand enough to hold the remains of poet Lydia Sigourney, artist Frederic Edwin Church and members of Hartford's illustrious families - Goodwin, Batterson, Loomis and others. And yet, Spring Grove is humble, too. In its 35 acres are more than 1,000 unmarked graves, including that of Hattie Gerhardt, who showed up at Sam Clemens' front door one day in 1881 and refused to leave until the famous author agreed to see her husband Karl's artwork. (Clemens consented, commissioned a bust of himself, and Karl Gerhardt went on to sculpt many famous figures, including Ulysses S. Grant.)

Buried here is Joe Watson, who was hanged for murder in 1904. And not far from the graves of 344 Civil War soldiers lie hundreds of recently deceased Hartford residents too poor to afford a marker.

Established at 2053 Main St. in 1845, Spring Grove had fallen into gross disrepair by the 1980s. Dozens of trees had died or become diseased, records were in disarray, graves were vandalized and the road was a dirt path. In the late 1980s, manager Caleb O'Connor began the effort to restore the cemetery. He was able to restore notable gravesites, including that of Church, the famed Hudson River School painter.

The renovation continued under Albert F. Lennox, who was appointed manager of the cemetery in 2004. Lennox, whose grandparents are buried there, spearheaded a move to reinvigorate the board of directors and raise private and foundation funds to restore Spring Grove.

Last year, the Hartford Preservation Alliance gave Lennox and his volunteers an award for the restoration. The group has pruned, cabled and fertilized 30 ailing trees, polished the cemetery's Gothic funerary art, including many zinc markers known as "tinnys," paved and extended the road, righted knocked-over gravestones, removed graffiti from monuments, created a memorial garden to firefighters and police, and computerized the cemetery's burial records.

"Cemeteries are central to any community's pride," says Laura Knott-Twine, executive director of the Preservation Alliance.

"These folks have honored both ordinary and notable citizens, and have taken a damaged historic cemetery and turned it into a place of reflection and peace that is inviting to everyone." For information on Spring Grove, call Lennox at 860/525-8502.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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