All Hallow’s Eve, which eventually became shortened to Halloween, is the day before All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), the day in the Christian church year that is set aside to remember the dead, including the saints (hallows) and martyrs. While Halloween has now become much more of a celebration of candy and costumes, its roots are solemn, and reflect the desire to remember those that have gone before us.
Of course, the places that are most often associated with this purpose are graveyards or cemeteries. For historians and genealogists, cemeteries are not places filled with ghouls and spirits to fear, but filled with sources of information and history.
In colonial America, typically the dead were either buried in family burial plots on large estates, or in the church graveyard, or even under the church floor, as had been done in Europe. The sites of the church graveyards were often on hills or other places of high ground, so that flooding would not cause problems. Eventually, as the areas under the church floor and in the church burying ground were filled, burial grounds were moved to the edges of town, becoming the “town cemetery.”
As attitudes slowly changed toward death, the rural cemetery movement began in the mid-1800s. Families sought rural, open, park-like grounds for their loved one’s final resting place, beautifully landscaped, and inviting families to visit, walk the paths, have a picnic, linger and enjoy the elaborate headstone sculptures.
Later in the early 20th century, the park concept evolved further to the open, flat, lawn type of “memorial park” cemetery, where the headstones and markers were placed flat to the ground, leaving no visible signs of markers for the dead.
A visit to a cemetery can be very interesting and informative. Aside from revealing the birth and death date of the deceased, headstones are often decorated with symbols: a cross, or a skull, or a flag or a rose. Each symbol has a particular meaning and can provide further information about the deceased. Epitaphs may also be present and provide even further information.
In Ewing, we have four cemeteries, curiously located in pairs. At the intersection of Scotch Road and Carlton Avenue (high ground in Ewing), there are two: the Ewing Church Cemetery, and the Ewing Cemetery. The other two, St. Hedwig’s Cemetery and Fountain Lawn Memorial Park, are located on Eggerts Crossing Road, just before the border with Lawrenceville.
The Ewing Church Cemetery is by far the oldest of the four, and is arguably the oldest continuously-existing entity in the township, dating back to 1709. Its pleasing grounds are a favorite of genealogists, as members of many early area families can be found here. It has been open to all faiths for many decades, and served as a preferred “rural” cemetery to Trenton residents when the city cemeteries began to fill.
In keeping with the season, and for those interested in hearing about some of the prominent and noteworthy people who rest in the Ewing Church Cemetery, I will be leading a tour through an older portion of the cemetery on Sunday, Oct. 8. We’ll meet at 2:30 p.m. by the gate to the right of the 1867 Sanctuary, and walk primarily on paved roads in the cemetery.
However, we will need to walk on the grass for part of the tour, so wear appropriate footwear. I’ll talk about the “spirits” there: the spirits of enterprise, art, innovation and civics which are represented by people resting in the Ewing Church cemetery—long gone, but not forgotten.
At 4 p.m., following the tour, author, WDVR radio host and singer/songwriter Gordon Thomas Ward will be spinning ghost tales of New Jersey and entertaining patrons at the 1867 Sanctuary. Both events promise to be fascinating—and a great way to get into the “spirit” of the season!
Do you have a Ewing story to share? Contact Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org.