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When Building Was Demolished, Headstones Were Discovered

November 18, 2018

By Mina Corpuz

mcorpuz@sentinel andenterprise.com

LUNENBURG -- When plans were made to raze a building used by the Cemetery Commission since the 1930s, members removed headstones awaiting repair and discovered more than 75 markers in and around the building, many belonging to veterans.

“We didn’t realize how many were out there,” said Bill Tyler, a member of the Cemetery Commission. “It was very tedious to (remove them) because we didn’t want them to break.”

Nearly all of the markers discovered are made of slate and white marble. Some were fractured at their base and others were just in pieces.

“It is sad some of these stones were forgotten, but it wasn’t intentional,” he said.

Tyler said the oldest of the stones may be from the Revolutionary War era.

Some of the marble headstones belong to veterans, including William Kilpi, a Sgt. 1st Class in the U.S. Army who served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War. He was born in 1921 and died in 1985.

Tyler said some of the armed services headstones found could be duplicates of ones that are still standing at cemeteries in towns or at other burial sites, like the Fort Devens Cemetery.

Previously, Cemetery Department employees brought broken headstones to the former Holman Street building, torn down about two weeks ago, with the intention of repairing them, Tyler said. Over the years they have accumulated, he said.

They came from the town’s two cemeteries: North Cemetery, which is across the street from the department’s building, and South Cemetery, which is across town on Page Street. Both have grave sites that date back to the 1700s.

Before the demolition project, the commission’s policy was that if a headstone toppled over, employees leave them there, he said. That way, the department knows which burial site it belongs to.

Typically, the Cemetery Commission hires someone to come repair and reinstall the headstones, Tyler said.

Moving forward, the commission and the Lunenburg Historical Society -- where Tyler serves as vice chair -- will review burial records to find out where the headstones belong.

Once that happens, repairs can be made and family members can be contacted, he said.

“It’s going to be a project that takes time,” Tyler said. “If we can find where (a headstone) originally was, that’s half the battle.”

The commission and Historical Society will work through the winter to search records and start matching graves with the uncovered headstones, he said.

That research will only work for stones with names or partial names on them. Tyler said they haven’t decided what to do yet about the ones that don’t have names.

Volunteers like the Boy Scouts, whose members have done projects at the cemetery, and researchers interested in history could helpful for the headstone project, he said.

As a cemetery commissioner, Tyler said he likes helping out in town and how his role intersects with history. All of his family is buried at North Cemetery, so he cares about maintaining it.

“This (project) is really is important to me to make sure it’s taken care of,” he said.

The Cemetery Department’s building had been on Holman Street since the mid 1930s. A new garage, which will be built by Monty Tech students, will be used to store vehicles and equipment to maintain the town’s cemeteries.

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