Peace and Quiet

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“I find it interesting that some people say they don’t want to live near a cemetery,” says Dan Krueger, manager of Beaverdale Memorial Park. Cemeteries are places of peace and tranquility, after all, not danger or hex, and people like Krueger work to make them so.

The rolling stretch of land that Beaverdale occupies—divided in two by Pine Rock Avenue and neighboring the main campus of Southern Connecticut State University—was made a cemetery in 1929. Its prime patrons were the Farnhams, a wealthy local family whose plot stands alone near the corner of Pine Rock and Fitch Street. The single headstone topping this top spot is surprisingly modest. Rectangular markers in the ground extend forward from the main stone, noting individual graves and catching stray leaves, and an evergreen tree, perhaps a white fir, rises behind.

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The evergreen aside, the Farnham plot sets a clear tone for the rest of the park, whose many other established plots—now marking the final resting places of 31,000 people—are uncommonly spacious, at least for New Haven. Despite all the room, nearly every plot here has just a single headstone, and though there are noticeable differences between them—a custom carving here, or some negative space there, or a pop of rose or black amid a row of grey—most fall into a relatively narrow range of sizes and styles, with only occasional ostentation.

The effect is calming. Unlike in many graveyards, where it can feel like the dead are still competing for earthly supremacy, the casual Beaverdale stroller is freed from scanning endlessly elaborate stones, and is thus freer to notice the bigger picture. That includes gorgeous, storybook trees, whose rich, late-summer green leaves have just barely begun to reveal autumn’s blush. It also includes a blushing serenity in your mind, which grows stronger the deeper you walk into the northern section, where the vast majority of gravestones rest. The whir of passing cars, already mitigated by an outer lining of hedges, is lost entirely. The drone of mechanical ventilation, coming from a tall SCSU building across Fitch, is softened by distance, and by the breezy rustling of long, leafy limbs.

Krueger identifies this section of the grounds, on the north side of Pine Rock, as the original. “It just grew from there,” he says, now spanning 45 acres total, with ample space for more plots.

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In contrast to the aesthetic continuity of its occupants’ headstones, Beaverdale, a nonprofit and nonsectarian organization, is diverse when it comes to people. Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of any other faith (or lack thereof) are welcome. Diversity also extends to its plant life, much of which flowers in spring, including crab apple and cherry trees. The flora in turn attract fauna, among them deer, woodchucks and even a few coyote.

In the center of one of the park’s oldest grass plots is one of its more notable elements: a step-up installation featuring a stone relief of a book. Set between two orb-capped pillars, the book is flipped open, the iconic square-and-compass emblem of the Freemasons resting across its pages. Krueger confirms this denotes the park’s Masonic section, as do various other clues alluding to the fraternal society’s moral code and devotion to craft. Surrounding the monument, grave markers, flush to the ground, contain similar symbols, indicating that those buried here were members of the mysterious order.

Another park standout is Beaverdale’s community mausoleum, a sleek stone building located in the newer half of the cemetery. Open to visitors from morning to early evening, it’s a quiet space with simple chandeliers hanging from a high ceiling. The stone island in its center has something like 150 niches for cremation urns.

The crypt also has space for 656 caskets, each with an outward-facing stone that can be custom-etched for the occupant. Designs that have already been implemented include a dove; a yin-yang; the circle-and-triangle of Alcoholics Anonymous; and a detailed depiction of a motorcyclist speeding down an open highway. Such designs stray from the strictness with which most community mausoleum decorations are regulated—a progressive sway that gives Krueger special pride.

As far as cemeteries go, he says, Beaverdale is “pretty new. I like the fact that there is some diversity to it, and I’m very proud of the fact that we offer families a lot of different options for memorializing their family members.” Although the cemetery itself doesn’t sell granite or stone monuments, it does offer bronze markers embossed with the usual information—names and birth/death dates—and, if desired, additional ornamentation. Small clear cameos containing pictures of the deceased, many of which can be seen in the park, can be fused to markers or stones, giving families a novel way to visually memorialize the buried. Beaverdale also keeps an online database of grave locations and a “memories and more” section on their website, where family members can input reflections and wishes.

Some visit their lost loved ones more religiously than others. “We had a gentleman whose wife was buried over here,” Krueger says, gesturing, “and probably for ten years we could set our clock to him, because he would come in every morning at the same time.” You might spot pebbles and other found objects resting on some graves, suggesting they’ve been visited recently. A large plot of grass filled with the graves of veterans is peppered with small American flags, which Krueger says are placed by the same visitor each Memorial Day.

Of course, you don’t need a purpose of solemnity to visit Beaverdale. A purpose of solitude will do.

Beaverdale Memorial Park
90 Pine Rock Ave, New Haven (map)
Open daily from dawn to dusk.
(203) 387-6601
www.beaverdale.net

Written by Emerson Smith and Dan Mims. Photos 1-11 by Dan Mims. Photo 12 by Emerson Smith.

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When she isn't writing, Emerson is painting. When she isn't writing or painting, she's holding a yoga pose, taking a long hike, eating a good meal, enjoying the smooth sounds of an Atmosphere album or swigging an ice-cold whiskey ginger.

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