Pieces of 1847 gravestone reunited, solving part of Whately mystery

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-21-2024 6:41 PM

WHATELY — On Feb. 2, 1847, Dr. Myron Harwood and his wife Judith welcomed their daughter Mary Eliza into the world.

Unfortunately, the sixth of eight children was not meant to be, as just six short weeks later, the newborn, like many in that period, died.

Over the next 177 years, the marble marker potentially marking Mary’s grave was somehow broken, separated and lost, leaving the sole physical reference to the baby on the family’s obelisk in Whately’s Center Cemetery. That is, until the two pieces of the marker were reunited this spring, finally laying the mystery of the gravestone, and Mary herself, to rest, after a resident discovered one part of the stone.

The story of the marker’s reunification with its other half begins in 2022, when Dr. Rebecca Jones noticed a piece of marble underneath an invasive rosebush in her yard on Chestnut Plain Road. The Harwoods lived on the Jones’ property in the mid-1800s.

“To be honest, I knew it was there for a long time, I just didn’t know it was a gravestone,” Jones said on Friday.

Thinking it was just a rock, Jones let it sit until May 4 of this year, when she and her partner finally pulled the rosebush up and discovered there was actually text on the marble: “Judith Harwood, died Mar. 13, 1847 AE. (aged) 6 wks.”

Following a call to some friends, including Whately Historical Society President Neal Abraham, research was soon conducted on the stone and they discovered the marker was not for Judith, but rather for 6-week-old Mary.

Although one part of the mystery was solved, the location of the top half of the gravestone was still unknown.

In plain sight

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The mystery shrouding the bottom half of the marble marker lingered for just a couple weeks, when Abraham, who is also a cemetery commissioner, was doing some routine maintenance around the grounds on May 23 to “keep the cemetery looking spic and span.”

While cutting grass near the old tobacco barn on the south end of the cemetery, Abraham noticed some marble stones — covered in “green slime” from rain and grass trimmings — tucked between the building and its foundation.

Upon seeing them, he approached one and turned it over, and saw it had text engraved into it: “Mary E. daughter of Myron &.”

“I happened to turn one of them over and at the top of it, it said ‘Mary E.,’” Abraham recounted. “We eventually figured out the part of the headstone [Jones] had found had a name, but it had the name of [Mary’s] mother. … The birth and burial date, we figured out, was the right set of dates for Mary E.”

“The idea of the stone sitting like a puzzle piece,” Jones added. “It’s just so fascinating.”

When the two pieces were finally reunited, they fit perfectly, bringing a bit of closure to this quintessential New England small-town story of residents discovering and preserving their own history. The full engraving on the stone reads: “Mary E. daughter of Myron and Judith W. Harwood, died Mar. 13, 1847, AE. 6 wks.”

“It’s been really fun. … It’s all just so truly local,” Jones said, adding that it was satisfying to bring some closure to the mystery, even if it’s just a footnote in history, because while stories like this are small in the grand scheme of things, “they paint a neat picture.”

The Harwoods

Myron and Judith Harwood had very involved lives in Whately, with Myron serving as a physician in town and both of them serving as members of the local congregational church, according to “History of the Town of Whately, Mass.,” a narrative history of the town written in 1899 by James Crafts.

Myron died in 1877, while Judith died in 1862.

“As a citizen he was highly esteemed, always at the fore for every improvement, progressive in every way calculated to broaden and better his native town,” Crafts wrote, noting the doctor’s surgical skills and his participation in the church choir. “He was born, grew up and lived all of his long life beloved and respected by all.”

In a fitting coincidence, it was a modern-day doctor who helped close a chapter in the life of a 19th-century physician. Jones, a dermatologist, said the experience has piqued her interest as a doctor, particularly when considering how doctors of history lived through epidemics such as typhoid and rheumatic fever.

In an even more fitting coincidence, the reunification of the marker came just in time for the Whately Historical Society’s “Childhood in Whately: 1771-1950” exhibit, which brings together a collection of toys, photos, journals, costumes and more to explore how children lived and worked in the town.

The Historical Society’s museum, located at Town Hall at 194 Chestnut Plain Road, is open on Tuesday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon and from 10 a.m. to noon on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

While the mystery of who the stone belonged to has been solved, the next biggest question remains, and likely will for the rest of time.

How did one part of the stone end up about a half-mile away from the rosebush?

And, even more confusing, when was the stone broken and how did no one see this stone under the bush, despite the Harwood home burning down in 1910 and then being rebuilt in 1911?

“It’s credible to believe that maybe this stone was there because she was buried there [near the rosebush],” Abraham said. “How did part of it migrate to the Center Cemetery and part of it was lying face down under a rosebush?”

Strangely enough, Abraham said there is no evidence of any other marble grave markers for any of Mary’s siblings, but just this week, when taking another look at the obelisk for this story, he noticed a piece of marble sticking out from underneath the monument.

Is it another marker? Is it just a stone used to leverage the obelisk into an upright position? Abraham said he plans to get his tools to take a peek.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.