Jacob Passy | A Bit Off
A literally local haunt
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012 08:10
October is my favorite month because of its famous last day. You can bet that I have Halloween on my mind once the foliage changes color and the air grows cold. I daydream about the thousands of costume ideas floating in my head, search frantically for Nicktoon Halloween specials on YouTube and eat way more candy than I should.
In short, I use this month to reclaim my childhood. Since coming to college, it’s been easier to seek out everything that’s spooky and fun. Massachusetts, after all, is quite conducive to this fall−time fanfare, since it is chock full of creepy, creaky houses and piles of crunchy leaves.
Therefore, I decided that I would use my love of this haunted season to seek out somewhere that embodied it nearby. Yes, I may find Ginn Library to be as scary as the next Tufts undergraduate, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. On the other hand, Salem Street Burying Ground is exactly what Dr. Frankenstein ordered.
The cemetery’s name is a bit misleading. You won’t find any witches here — to get that, you’ll have to make the roughly 30−minute commuter rail ride to the infamous seaport town. Instead it’s named for one of the two streets that it rests between, the other being Riverside Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Medford Square.
Salem Street Burial Ground’s proximity to this underrated square is how I initially found it after making one of my frequent trips there since discovering Ebisuya Japanese Market. Indeed, right across the street from a CVS Pharmacy, you will find an absolutely fascinating graveyard.
Yes, I know it sounds morbid. But anyone who is an American history buff needs to check this place out. While it may not have the name recognition or fame of the King’s Chapel Burying Ground in downtown Boston, it is definitely a sight worth visiting.
The first burial on the site, according to the corresponding stone marker, occurred in 1683. It continued to be used as a cemetery until 1881. According to records, it was acquired by the Town of Medford in 1717 and officially has around 450 people buried within it. That said, historians now believe over 600 are buried there, including countless slaves.
The cemetery is a part of the National Register of Historic Places, so you’ll surely find some fascinating details when you visit. Most of those buried on the site were among the richest people who lived in Medford. However, you’ll also find a memorial for soldiers from New Hampshire who died during the Battle of Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War.
The graveyard also provides a remarkable picture of social customs during the time period. For instance, many women are not referred to by first name and instead their tombs only feature their husbands’ names. Additionally, the birthdates of many are not listed — simply their age at death. You will also find some details that are indicative of tombstones from the time period, according to research I did after visiting, such as certain skull and willow tree motifs.
All of that being said, you will not need to know much about history to appreciate the cemetery for what it is. Even the least informed among us can appreciate the fact that one of Massachusetts’ earliest governors, John Brooks, is buried in Medford. For those who want to learn more, there is information about the graves at the Medford Public Library and Medford Historical Society.
What I loved most about this graveyard was that it simply has that rare ambiance — a mixture of creepy calmness and historical importance. That alone makes it a go−to destination near campus. So when you need a spine−tingling chill to get you in the eerie October mood, just take a trip down to Medford Square.
Jacob Passy is a senior majoring in international relations. He can be reached at Jacob.Passy@tufts.edu.