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 18thcentury, 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) 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. This siege was carried out, by the British, against French forces in modern Canada.
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