Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Going to a the Cemetery


     Sunday, May 6th, 2018, was a day, not unlike today here in Portland, Maine.  It's over-cast with the possibility of showers.  Actually, when I left my house on Melbourne Street, van packed with three portable tables, a dozen rakes, rolls of garden bags, work gloves, water bottles and snacks for the workers, and sundrie other items, it was raining lightly.  I was hoping people would show up and not be discouraged by a few raindrops.  The nine young Junior Girl Scouts had spent many hours planning, preparing and encouraging people to participate in this annual Spring Cleanup at the Grand Trunk Cemetery.

     They would not be disappointed!  About twenty-five children, parents, grandparents, and old 'Friends of the Grand Trunk Cemetery' did come to work, share stories, re-unite, and play.  I borrowed the title of this post from a short article by Jennifer Fulwiler:
I think one of the biggest benefits of these events, the way they give you a sense of comfort about the cycle of life.  There's a palpable sense of connectedness among both the living and the dead.  Those of us still living are connected to one another, and we are connected to those who have passed, just as those who have passed were connected to one another, and to those who died before them.  We recognize names scrawled on name- tags, just as we recognize names carefully chisled on tombstones, and there is a feeling that we're surrounded by loved ones, both those alive on earth, and those alive on the other side.

     Since the very beginning of this project to recover, the remnant of this ancient brial ground, there has always been a sense of celebration; we refer to our fall Planting events as a parties  There has always been a joyous atmosphere and a sense of commaradery while working together for the common purpose of honoring the dead.  

     All of this was so evident this past Sunday with the activities, the hard work, the re-uniting of descendants of those interred here, and the educating of the young who will, hopefully continue to see the importance and value, of caring for our ancient cemeteries.  I'll let the pictures tell the story.

Ben and Norma Sawyer, descendants of Anthony Sawyer, grandson of the first Sawyer, Isaax Sawyer, Sr. who settled here in 1725

MaryAnne Wallace and Lynda Allshouse among the daffodils.

Kayla Theriault began this project in 2010, and continues to support the work at the cemetery

The tables set up in the field with crafts.

Mother and Daughter at the Bake Sale table to raise funds toward the new Cemetery sign.

The old Hoop and Stick game

You've got it, Grandfather!

Engaged in the Historical Scavenger Hunt

Janet Christopher, Machigonne Service Unit Manager has been a great supporter
 from the very start!

It takes team work!

Norma and Ben Sawyer have come out to support every event..

These two Brownie Girl Scouts learned a bit of cemetery history.

A supportive brother and a willing son:  thanks to young Mr. Hanscom!

The girls gather around to recive my thanks for a job well done!

Kayla shares her Girl Scout experiences.

The painted stones are a welcome addition.

Many 'Thanks" to Lilly Denis, Caitlin Rohde, Nora Hansom, Estelle Jones,Sophia Scola, Lindsey Bickford (not in pic),Ally Brady, JoJo Philbrook, Hadleigh McPartlan, and their Leaders:  Staci Hansom and Cheryl Denis.

     Many thanks to all who participated in the Annual Spring Cleanup Party.  This was a wonderful celebration of the living among the souls of those who died long ago in Portland and the East Deering Community.  For those of you who follow this blog, I hope when you are in Portland, you will take a little time to visit the cemetery behind the Presumppscot School.  Enjoy the gardens, sit for a moment and reflect in the quiet and peace of the burial 
There was a bit of giggling from the girls when they read my shirt. 
They thought it read: "I see Dead People"

 An Addition

     I wanted to include the histrical scavenger hunt which the girl conducted for participants.  Thought it might be of interest to folks who might like to visit the cemetery this summer.  Although, for the time being, we've removed the small flags in favor of the traditional graveside flags for Memorial Day, a careful following of the hints, might be helpful and fun.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


     Yesterday, I met Joe Dumais, Superintendent for Portland Cemeteries at the GTC to decide where our long-awaited sign would be placed to mark the location of the East Deering/Grand Trunk Cemetery.  Many residents in Portland have asked for such a sign because they really had no idea where the cemetery was located.
We will have the sign placed close to the driveway entrance to the Presumpscot School showing that the cemetery is behind the school.  

     Thankfully, another crop of committed young Girl Scouts is spearheading a project to increase participation in our annual Spring Cleanup with many activities of interest to children and families who come together this Sunday afternoon to offer their service to the City of Portland and to beautify this sacred burial ground.  The girls will also sponsor a Bake Sale table with a donation jar to help raise funds for the new sign.

     As I waited for Joe to arrive, I wandered about the cemetery and was thrilled to see that many of the bulbs planted last fall, and previous autumns,  had blossomed; a truly welcome sight to greet the Cleanup participants on Sunday.

Daffodils among the leaves to be raked up.

At the Cemetery Entrance


      As I gazed on the bright yellow blooms, I thought about how far we have come to reclaim this small, sacred place, and how important a role the Girl Scouts, the young ones, have played in awakening the community to the importance of preserving our ancient cemeteries.  Cemeteries  serve not just as  monuments to the dead, but as records of the history of a place; in this case, the City of Portland and the Back Cove and East Deering communities. 

    When Samantha (Allshouse) Lopez and Kayla Theriault made the commitment to undertake their project to reclaim the Grand Trunk Cemetery,  what they found was a place in deplorable condition.  As Joe Dumais conveyed to this new group of Scouts: " the cemetery was the 'orphan child' suffering the results of age, abandonment, and extreme vandalism.  It really didn't look like a cemetery at all.  While the city did its best to cleanup the site, the Grand Trunk was only one of the twelve or so cemeteries for which the city is responsible.  He welcomed the girls' interest in continuing the work begun by Sam and Kayla and the other Girl Scouts, their families and the "Friends" of the Grand Trunk Cemetery.  
     The following is a brief pictorial history:

Condition of the gravestones for Simon Davis and Francis Smith
in 2010

Graffiti covering the stones of Silas and Frances Boothby

      The first cleanup at the Grand Trunk Cemetery took place in November of 2010 with Girl Scouts from my, then Junior Troop at Presumpscot School, where Samantha and Kayla, then Juniors in High School, asked for their assistance.  The city crew had come in previously to mow and pick up the broken branches and dead-fall from the trees.

These young ladies were 5th Graders here; 
they will graduate from High School this year!

     Through out the winter and early spring of 2011, Samantha and Kayla rallied community support making presentations to the East Deering Neighborhood Association, the Parents Council at Presumpscot School, Portland Trails and the Machigonne Service Unit, all while doing continuous research to prepare for the first ever tour of the Cemetery. 

      In May, they received help from their own sister Girl Scouts to ready the site for the tour where about thirty people from the community came on a blustery afternoon.  The girls prepared a brochure with historical information.

Dressed in period costume, Kayla and Sam led the tour of the cemetery

      After the initial events, annual Fall Planting Parties and Spring Cleanups were organized.  Families from the neighborhood, Girl Scout Troops, the Daughters of the American Revolution and our informal Friends of the Grand Trunk Cemetery came out to offer their service.  In 2014, the Girl Scouts of Maine Machigonne Service Unit was inspired by three, then Junior Girl Scouts to formally adopt the cemetery as a yearly project by encouraging Portland Girl Scouts to participate in both, the Fall planting and Spring Cleanup Parties.  These three girls planted small gardens with perennials  and daffodils.

Ella and Megan are 8th Graders today, and Emma, a freshman 
at Portland High School

     This Sunday, May 6th, 2018 from 1 PM - 3 PM, continuing the legacy of those Sam and Kayla, nine Junior Girl Scouts have decided that it is important to encourage the community to care for the Grand Trunk Cemetery by spending an afternoon cleaning and raking and taking part in some wonderfully planned activities.  

     The girls are Candidates for the Girl Scout Bronze Award, the highest level of achievement for Junior Girl Scouts.  In order to receive this award, girls must form a working team, determine a community need, decide on a viable and sustaining  'take action project' for that community while employing their individual and cooperative skills.  At this level, the project will involve about twenty hours of service.

     Here are some of the activities the girls have planned for those participating:

  • Old Fashion Games:  Crochet, Hoop&Stick, Bean Bag Toss (Soccer Field)
  • Crafts:  Pine Cone Feeder and Painted Rocks
  • Historical Scavenger Hunt (Cemetery)
  • Raking and Pick up of Brush and Limbs
  • Bake Sale Table

I invite those of you who are able, to come out Sunday afternoon to support these wonderful Girl Scouts and play among the daffodils at 
the Grand Trunk Cemetery