The Rest is Grave-y

The Rest is Grave-y

E vergreen Cemetery’s 85 sprawling acres provide the final resting spots to over 85,000 individuals, including an array of New Haven’s passed-away notables: politicians, military greats and one Mary Hart, the resident ghost famous for her supposed midnight hauntings.

Of course, this collection of local histories, located off Ella T. Grasso Boulevard between Legion and Columbus Avenues, is more than a reminder of New Haven’s past; it’s also a part of it. It was largely in response to the grim prospect of older, smaller burial grounds running out of space—the city’s original burial ground on the New Haven Green stopped receiving new additions in 1821—that Evergreen was established in 1848.

Walking around the place today, it seems like a pretty good place to rest in peace. The grounds are placid and well-organized, with enchanting sculptures and impressive monuments and a pond.

It’s not New Haven’s only historically significant resting place, nor is it the oldest still in use. Opened in 1797, the Grove Street Cemetery, running along the north side of Grove between Ashmun and Prospect Streets, holds that latter distinction, boasting its own post-mortem roster of noteworthy figures you’re more likely to have heard about before.

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Evergreen Cemetery is larger and more diverse, though, which gives you the sense that it really captures the various lives and times of New Haven (and beyond). Here’s a handful of the figures buried in Evergreen, many of whom are helpfully listed on the “map of notables” made available to visitors:

  • Edward Bouchet, the first black American to receive a PhD and to graduate from Yale University, who died in 1918;
  • Civil War general and railroad parts manufacturer Edwin S. Greeley, 1920;
  • Louis Lassen, 1935, the founder of New Haven’s famed Louis’ Lunch and purported creator of the first hamburger;
  • Bronislaw Malinowski, 1942, one of the most influential anthropologists of the 20th century; and
  • Connecticut State Representative and President of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators John Martinez, 2002.

Motivated cemetery visitors will find plenty of interest should they venture off-map, or perhaps use a different map: the New Haven Museum, for example, has given lantern-guided tours of the grounds in past Octobers.

Speaking of eerie happenings at Evergreen, how about that ghost? Mary Hart, known as “Midnight Mary” to her giddy fans, was reportedly buried alive in Evergreen—at midnight, naturally—in 1872, and is said to haunt those who visit the graveyard at the witching hour. Her pink granite gravestone is inscribed with these words, in menacing caps: “THE PEOPLE SHALL BE TROUBLED AT MIDNIGHT AND PASS AWAY.”

With appropriate respect for the tale, which leaves room for a healthy dose of good humor, the cemetery’s general manager Dale Fiore has also felt the fear. Reporting one night to Evergreen in response to a mysterious after-hours alarm, he started getting jumpy—leading him to jump right into his car and careen out the main gate just before the clock struck 12.

Phew.

For a place filled with legend (most of it real), Evergreen Cemetery still plans for the future, making major improvements every 50 years or so. In 1902,  a memorial chapel, once used for services and now for storage (nonetheless a lovely building that enhances the landscape), was built. In 1956, the state’s second crematorium went up at Evergreen. 1999 saw new administrative offices, where the staff and board of the non-profit, non-sectarian organization do their work.

Those offices are also where amateur (or not) historians sometimes wander in, ready to begin their quest. “I like it when people come in looking for something, and they end up telling me their story,” Fiore says. “A cemetery is for the living.”

Evergreen Cemetery & Crematory
769 Ella T. Grasso Blvd, New Haven (map)
(203) 624-5505
www.evergreencem.org

Written and photographed by Cara McDonough. This story was originally published on January 24, 2013.

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Cara McDonough has been a journalist for over ten years. She writes regularly about family, parenting, religion and other issues for The Huffington Post and chronicles daily life on her personal blog. She lives in New Haven with her husband, two children and two dogs.

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