The Faces of Old Parish

If you have ever walked through a colonial era graveyard, you will see rather foreboding winged skulls, death’s heads, and sometimes even crossbones carved in slate, a reminder that death was nothing to trifle with. As decades passed, these depictions slowly evolved into winged angels or nondescript cherubs.


By the mid- to late 18th century, however, gravestone art began to incorporate portraiture. At this point, the slate gravestones’ tympanum (or arch) began to depict the faces of men, women, and children, with a hint of character. 


Most of these effigies were not actually representative images of the deceased. Stones were often completed by the cutters when they had free time, before a particular death had occurred. The tablet was left blank, its lettering to be completed as needed. Other stones were commissioned long after a burial. Thus, the face on the stone was generic.


Some, however, were detailed depictions and actually bore a resemblance to the deceased. A few incorporated the proper clothing, hairstyle, or accessories to become even more distinctive and accurate. According to gravestone historian Harriette Merrifield Forbes, some of these portraits in stone “give us the only suggestion we have of what some minister, school teacher, or honored ancestor” looked like.


None of the gravestones in Old Parish Cemetery are that personalized or elaborate. They are, however, a charming group, some more intriguing than others. All of them have been there for about 250 years, however, waiting for you to come by and say hello.

The Obelisks of Old Parish

In the mid 19thcentury American cemeteries and burial grounds began to sprout ancient cultures’ art forms to memorialize the lives of those interred there. A common monument throughout Ancient Egypt was tekhenu. The Greeks who saw these Egyptian monuments used the Greek term 'obeliskos' to describe them, and this word passed into Latin and ultimately to English as obelisk.  During the 19thcentury early American design motifs were heavily influenced by ancient cultures, Greek revival, classic revival classical studies and dress.


The obelisk is best described asa tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape or pyramidion at the top. Obelisks in ancient times were typically carved from one stone with pure uplifting lines and took up relatively little space at their base.  Left uncarved, they were less costly than large elaborate sculpted monuments. Egyptians typically placed a pair of obelisks at the entrance to their temples to mark the path inside. The Romans quickly appropriated the obelisk shape and soon the structure spread throughout the Roman empire to the point where there were more “Egyptian” style obelisks outside of Egypt than in Egypt.


One of the earliest obelisk monuments in America is the Constitution Monument in St. Augustine, Florida erected in 1814. Closer to home the Bunker Hill Monument standing 221 feet high was constructed between 1825-1843.  This monument constructed of blocks of Quincy granite commemorates the Battle of Bunker Hill June 17, 1775.


The more well-known American obelisk is the Washington Monument completed in 1884 standing 555 feet high, one of the tallest in the world, and was inspired by the Bunker Hill monument.


Norwood’s Old Parish Cemetery was 100 years old when the obelisk shape began to appear in America’s cemeteries.  We are fortunate to have several examples in our cemetery that are stunning in their setting and gleam white once our volunteers have cleaned them.


Rev. Thomas Balch

Thomas Balch (October 17, 1711-January 8, 1774)[1] was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts to Benjamin and Mary (Prentice) Balch. Little is known of Thomas' early years before 1733. It was in this year that Thomas graduated from Harvard College and went on to study theology. Later, on June 30, 1736, he was ordained and appointed to lead a new church establish at South Dedham, Massachusetts.

On October 11, 1737 Thomas married Mary Sumner. Together Thomas and Mary would have eight children.

In 1744, when the War of Austrian Succession broke out in Europe, the Committee of War chose Thomas to be a Chaplain to the forces that led an assault at the Siege of Louisbourg[2]. This siege was carried out, by the British, against French forces in modern Canada. 

John Henry Hale 1837-1864 

Civil War Veteran Interred in Old Parish Cemetery

In 2018 during the OPPV cleaning and documenting of the obelisk gravestone of Rev. H. G. Park (1806-1876) in Old Parish, the grave of a previously unrecorded veteran of the Civil War was discovered.

H. G. Park was ordained as minister of the South Church of Dedham in 1829. In 1830, he married Julia Bird, daughter of George Bird of East Walpole. They had 4 children; Julia died in 1835 and Park left the South Church later that year to serve in parishes throughout Massachusetts and Vermont.

In 1837 Park married for a second time; Elizabeth Bird, the sister of his first wife, Julia. Their son, Henry Martyn Park (1842-1864) enlisted in the 40th Massachusetts Volunteers in the Civil War at the age of 20. He was wounded three times in battle. On May 20th, 1864, Henry was taken to the hospital at Fortress Monroe in Virginia and died there on June 18, 1864. He is buried here with his father and mother. This much was known.

But, on the back of the gravestone, we found another story. In 1863, the daughter of Elizabeth and H. G. Park, named Julia Bird Park (1838-1921), married John Henry Hale, of Bernardston, Massachusetts, a community in which her father had served as pastor. Hale also enlisted in the Civil War and, as indicated on the gravestone, was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. He is buried with his wife Julia Bird Park Hale, who never remarried, in the Old Parish Cemetery alongside her family.

An additional interesting note. There is a stone engraved to John Henry’s memory in Bernardston, MA. After contacting parties there, it seems that this stone, which also lists the name of John Henry’s brother, was erected as a memorial to the two at a later date.

In 1885 The Massachusetts General Court passed an act allowing for the regrading of the Old Parish Cemetery in Norwood.  Click on the button at left to read the act. 

1872 hand drawn map from memory of South Dedham circa 1744

1850 South Dedham

1858 South Dedham

While documenting the graves on the hill at Old Parish Cemetery, it was discovered that the site of the grave of Revolutionary War veteran Jeremiah Kingsbury has been misidentified for over 100 years! The 1890 Plan of the Old Cemetery designates Jeremiah Kingsbury as being buried in lot #1, which belongs to the Samuel Pond family. Instead, he is buried in a row of gravestones near the burial place of Thomas Balch. This Memorial Day, for the first time in decades, Kingsbury’s grave is appropriately decorated with flowers and a flag.

1876 Norfolk County Atlas


O.H. Bailey & Co., Pub., 1882.

Plan of


 Located in


 Surveyed By

Caleb Ellis Nov. 1890

Old Parish Cemetery

Updated from 1890 by John Anderson in 2019

Norwood Messenger 1943 


 1741  A piece of land about three quarters of an acre, is laid out on the right of Capt. Ebenezer Woodward and given by him to the South-Precinct for the use of a Burying place forever.

copied from Dedham History (Mans)


2020 Winter Improvements


During the winter/early spring months, the Cemetery Department has completed restoration work at the Comey/Cummings lot (lot 43). An early photo shows the basic lay-out of the lot and stones prior to 1881 when Chester Comey died. 

Chester Holbrook Comey was born on February 22, 1832, in Foxboro, Massachusetts. He was educated at Pierce Academy in Middleboro and at Bridgewater Normal School, graduating in the class of 1852. He married Sarah D. Rich on August 27, 1855 in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The couple had four children, only one of whom (Charles Rich Comey, born in 1856) reached adulthood. 

Chester Comey was the Everett School master in South Dedham from 1857 through July, 1863. The family left South Dedham in 1869. In 1880, he was an agent for a fire and life insurance company in Boston. He died on March 31, 1881, in Cambridge at the age of 49. Chester Comey was buried and his grave stone erected in the lot with his children, Frank, Louisa, and Philip.

Some years ago, Comey’s stone was broken and the children’s stones were vandalized and scattered. This winter, after resetting the granite coping, these stones were returned to their original positions. Paul Ranalli even discovered the base of Chester Comey’s stone, which had been removed to the Highland Cemetery basement decades ago. The stone has been repaired and reset. Comey’s newly re-erected stone is now legible and it reads: 

Chester H. Comey

Born Feb. 22,1832

Died Mar. 31, 1881

He Doeth All Things Well


Behind this stone are the graves of his children: Louisa Greenby Comey (1862-1867); Frank Holbrook Comey (1859-1859); and Philip Robinson Comey (1871-1872). The small gravestone of one of these children is still missing. Comey’s widow, Sarah D. Rich Comey Pevear, who remarried after his death, died in 1907 and is also interred in this plot.


The small stone to the left of the Comey stones belongs to Arthur E. Cummings. He was the son of George S. and Sarah A. Cummings. Arthur was born in 1857 and died in 1861.


We want to thank the entire Cemetery Department, especially Paul Ranalli, Charlie Walsh, Tony Scavotto, and Pete Lefevbre, for all the good work they have done over these winter months. 

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