QSJ’s series on MDI cemeteries …

Brookside cemetery – first in a series …

When the leaves fall, the whole earth is a cemetery pleasant to walk in. I love to wander and muse over them in their graves. Here are no lying nor vain epitaphs.

Henry David Thoreau

SOMESVILLE, May 31, 2020 – Cemeteries occupied a more tactile presence in my brain after the deaths of my parents who are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, owing to my father’s service in three wars – WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The sweep of Arlington with its rows of perfectly aligned gravestones is a serious jolt to the senses – beauty, majesty and macabre memories of war all in the same space and time. It’s confusing, enervating and exhalting at once.

I had a less complicated reaction when I trekked through the Paris Metro to Père Lachaise cemetery to visit Jim Morrison’s grave. That was more of a pilgrimage. I played “This is the End” on my guitar near the gravesite. Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Rossini and Oscar Wilde’s graves nearby did not hold the same gravitas for me.

About 15 years ago, Steve Taylor, of the Taylor family which owned the Boston Globe, took my family on a sail on his 45-foot sloop to Frenchboro, where we had a fabulous lunch on the patio of the town’s only restaurant – a lobster shack. After lunch we walked around the tiny village and ended up at the cemetery. That was when I came upon the name Lunt because every other headstone had the name Lunt.

It was a vivid encounter with the colloquial integrity of Maine, its harshness demanding a simple and direct purpose and accomplishes it with stoicism and a plain vernacular.

According to the MDI Historical Society:

“Israel B. Lunt (1796-1861) and his brother Amos, were early settlers on Long Island (Frenchboro), arriving around 1822. Other family members soon followed and the Lunts were instrumental in establishing the community.

“Israel Lunt started a business of shipping wood, dried fish, and paving stones to various places on the Maine coast and to Boston. He also established a store on the island and owned a wharf and interest in several schooners. Lunt purchased the whole island in 1835 and employed many island residents in hauling fish to dry, unloading supplies and working on his vessels.”

As a storyteller, I am drawn by the pull of the cemeteries on the Quietside and elsewhere and how they define community – from the Somes, to the Stanleys, to the Lunts and, of course, the Fernalds.

There are 95 graves with the name Somes in the Brookside Cemetery – not exactly a surprise as it is located in the middle of Somesville. They are accompanied by clusters of Higgins, Fernald, Leland, Richardson, Smith, Mason, Holmes, Grant. Each had double digit number of headstones.

A stream nearby connects Somes Pond with Mill Pond. It’s a few hundreds yards from the iconic Somesville bridge and completes a visit to this historic village.

The cemetery is on land that was part of a 100-acre parcel owned by Abraham Somes in 1808 according to the Salem Towne Jr. map.

Virginia Somes Sanderson in her 1982 book The Living Past: Being the Story of Somesville Mount Desert, Maine and Its Relationships with Other Areas of the Island said that this cemetery was originally called the Somes Family Burying Ground, “known to have been in use in 1780 when an unnamed person had been interred there … The fifteen dollars a lot, charged in 1891, was not enough to ensure proper care. That year A. J. Whiting had built a retaining wall and path along the brook; he was also responsible for the erection of a graceful wrought iron fence and an entrance gate, on which the words ‘Brookside Cemetery’ can be seen today.”

I actually knew someone who’s buried here – Mr. Higgins (Victor) of A.V. Higgins market whom I have referenced in earlier posts.

You may also trigger a lively debate as to who is the most famous person buried here.

Certainly the most famous person with an international reach is Marguerite Yourcenar, novelist, essayist, and short-story writer who became the first woman to be elected to the Académie Française (French Academy), an exclusive literary institution with a membership limited to 40.

The Encyclopedia Britannica wrote:

“Yourcenar’s literary works are notable for their rigorously classical style, their erudition, and their psychological subtlety. Her masterpiece is Mémoires d’Hadrien (1951; Memoirs of Hadrian), a historical novel constituting the fictionalized memoirs of that 2nd-century Roman emperor.

“Her works were translated by the American Grace Frick, Yourcenar’s secretary and life companion.”

I couldn’t find her grave on my last visit. But I will continue to look.

Tim Garrity, MDIHS’s historian, had this to say, “She is very famous in the Francophone world, though not so well known by Americans. French-speaking tourists often stop by the Somesville Museum and ask where she is buried. Carl Little wrote about her in a recent issue. 

Garrity introduced me to Cemeteries of the Cranberry Isles and Mount Desert Island, the most extensive book on local cemeteries by Tom Vining. “You might give a thought to Tom’s extraordinary commitment to documenting over 7,000 gravestones!”

Garrity also pointed out a monument to the Civil War soldier James M. Parker. “We have his correspondence with his sister. From his letters and other information we can gather, he was an admirable young man. His comrades named the local Grand Army of the Republic lodge after him. Here’s a story about him and some other young MDI men who were far from home in the war.  

The name with the most recognition is Theodore Roosevelt III, the president’s grandson.

Roosevelt was a Navy pilot during WWII and served as secretary of commerce for Pennsylvania. He was born in 1914 and died 2001. He is interred along with his wife Anne Babcock, who died the same year.

Margaret Ayre Barnes, who won the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel Years of Grace, is buried here as well. She was born in 1986 and died in 1967.

Cemeteries are the final great leveller, as our remains rest on an equal footing.


SOMESVILLE, June 6, 2020 – My fascination with cemeteries may be traced to my own rootless history.

I am part of the Overseas Chinese diaspora, which, next to Jews, may be the most traveled people in history. Perhaps as a result, the Chinese have an arcane practice of referring to their ancestral home for identity. Thus I am and will always remain a person from Tsingtao, China, even though I was born in Taiwan and did not visit Tsingtao until well into my Sixties.

My single mother married Ben Millstein, an American G.I. stationed in Taiwan, in 1959. We were whisked overnight to a community of American soldiers and their families. I went from Chinese school one day to an English-speaking missionary school without being able to utter an entire sentence in my new adopted language. But “military brats” are nothing if not adaptable. I learned to speak English fluently in nine months, and it became the foundation for my career as a journalist.

We moved every two years to my father’s various assignments – Fort Lewis in Washington, Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and of course Taiwan during the Vietnam War. Along the way, we saw some memorable sites – Clark Air Force Base outside of Manilla, Midway Island, Guam, Pearl Harbor, Kadena AFB on Okinawa, Incheon Marine base in Korea, Air Force Academy, West Point, Travis AFB and many more.

We did not accompany my dad on his tour of duty in 1969 to Long Binh, the huge supply base outside of Saigon, as families stayed home. While my dad was in Vietnam, I participated in a giant anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. My brother was on the other side as a National Guard weekend warrior called in to control the crowds.

An itinerant life filled with such vicissitudes with no pattern, no ample foundation and no consistency fuels my longing for deep knowledge about a single place – and I have chosen Mount Desert. When I tell people here I’m from away, I mean I’M FROM AWAY!

Charlie Richardson does not suffer from a lack of place in his existential makeup. Even his name – Charles Somes Richardson Jr. – makes a loud statement on MDI. As the scion of the oldest white family on the island he can trace his lineage back to 1761 when James Richardson and Abraham Somes from Gloucester came here to scout for a permanent settlement. I can trace my lineage only to my great-grandfather, a farmer in Tsingtao, born sometime in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.

On a partly sunny day last week, Charlie gave me a tour of his spread on Beech Hill and the family burial plot in particular. And I got a history lesson as well – from a Richardson no less.

Richardson and Somes sailed here on a Chebacco, a two-masted mass-produced boat which was the Ford F-150 of its time. When I questioned whether that was possible because Chebaccos did not come into prominance until after the Revolutionary War, Tim Garrity, MDI historical Society historian, assured me that was the case.

I was hooked. Not only did I want to know more about my neighbors up the road, I wanted to know more about the trip as a lifelong sailor.

This is where in this article you have permission to stop reading because things are about to get tedious.

The Chebacco is not the most famous of New England’s long line of working boats. The cat boat probably fills that spot.

Richardson and Somes, blessed by the governor of Massachusetts who wanted settlers to probe deeper into New England now that the British had gained an upper hand over the French, got into their boat and headed north. My guess that with favorable winds it was a two or three-day trip, hugging the coast.

For most of the time New England has a prevailing Southwesterly wind – from Greenwich to Marblehead. That means for most of the time when you sail down wind, you’re headed northeast – from Gloucester to Maine.

I imagined Abe Somes and James Richardson on their Chebacco setting their sail for a power course due east. Down wind and due east. Down East.

I tried to imagine their journey up the only natural fiord in North America. Without depths charts they must have had confidence that they would not crash onto rocks. They sailed up the sound with friendly tides until they reached a natural port and unloaded their gatherings. That would be today’s Somesville Village, the footing for MDI towns and villages.

I wondered why they didn’t port at today’s Bass Harbor. Perhaps they tried and turned away upon seeing the pile of rocks on the starboard side as you enter. From the water the fiord, which would later be named Somes Sound, seemed more inviting and less threatening.

To be sure they were not the first Europeans to set foot on MDI. Explorers and soldiers were here earlier. But they came here to settle, to seek a better life for their families.

Somes was a maker of barrels. Richardson milled timber. There was plenty of hardwood to be had, along with a stream of water running into Mill Pond. Richardson later would set up shop on the east side of the sound near a quarry.

By 1763, “there were nine households on Mount Desert and three on the Cranberry Isles,” according to the Maine Memory Network. “And two years after that the island’s first road stretched from Somesville to Southwest Harbor, by way of Beech Hill.

“Everyone cleared land and planted fruit trees and grew vegetables. They hunted. They made their clothing at home, beginning with raising the sheep and then weaving the wool. They caught cod from small boats and salted it. When they caught more than they could eat, they traded it for flour, sugar, soap, molasses, and oil. They eventually shipped fish to markets in Boston and New York and to Europe. So they built their own ships. There was plenty of timber on the island — enough, in fact, for them to ship that, too.”

I am taking notes, properly masked and socially distanced as Charlie Richardson leads me down a freshly mowed path to the Richardson Family burial site. Charlie is a hearty storyteller and a truthful one. He shared the view that the extended family occasionally got too familiar – cousins marrying cousins. Or that the fecundity of the two original families were colossal. Abe Somes had two wives and 14 children, and James Richardson and Rachel Gott had 13.

Charlie showed me the oldest grave belonging to John G. Richardson who died in 1828 at age 67. He was the son of James’s brother Stephen. A flag planted by a veterans group stood guard to acknowledge that he fought in the Revolutionary War.

“He would have been 16 or 17,” Charlie said of John G. “It’s unclear whether he actually fired a shot.”

SWH’s Union Cemetery: ‘I have yet begun to fight’ – third in a series …

MANSET, June 19, 2020 – The sight of a Revolutionary War soldier’s grave here took me back to 1959 when I saw the movie, “John Paul Jones,” starring Robert Stack as the war’s most celebrated naval officer. It was one of the first American movies I saw. The grave of Jonathan Brown, said to have been a sailor who served under John Paul Jones, was officially marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution as that of a veteran of the war.

Beyond that I could not find out more about the sailor. Specifically I was interested in learning whether Brown served on the Bonhomme Richard in Jones’s most famous battle in which he uttered – apocryphally – the famous words, “I have yet begun to fight” when asked to surrender by the opposing British ship. While the movie concentrated mostly on this battle, Jones was a well traveled naval commander. I longed to know if Jon Brown sailed with him on many of his other ships.

Five other Browns are buried here in Union Cemetery – all children of Capt. William N. and Joan Brown whose stones are not apparent, according to Thomas F. Vining’s book on cemeteries of Mount Desert and Cranberry Isles.

Jon Brown’s gravestone is in remarkably good condition compared to many of the other stones. “Stones in this cemetery are generally in poorer condition – both in readability and in position – than stones in most other cemeteries in the area,” Vining wrote.

There are 11 such burial grounds throughout Southwest Harbor, said Aimee Williams, president of the local historic society. She is also member of a cemetery committee charged by the selectmen to oversee improvements and maintenance of the plots.

Williams was born on the island and now feels the burden of maintaining its history and legacy. She was the force behind the acquisition of the Manset church two years ago which sits in front of the cemetery. The United Church of Christ Congregational was at one time the oldest continuous church on MDI. Williams grew up a mile up Seawall Road. Her grandmother was a devotee of the church and spearheaded many of the programs there.

Aimee Williams did not want to see the building turned into a B&B or the like so she organized a campaign to acquire the building. She worked the phones and landed one significant $75,000 gift which enabled the acquisition for slightly more than $100,000.

The building is now the Southwest Harbor Historic Society meeting house. Under the rubric “no good deed goes unpunished,” Aimee Williams was made president of the Southwest Harbor Historical Society.

Town Hill cemeteries – fourth of series …

TOWN HILL – It’s not difficult to call out the two graves of dead Civil War soldiers at the Oak Hill Road Cemetery here. The flags from veterans groups are ample indicators. The dates and places of death are adequate confirmation. George F. Heath was the first to die, on Oct. 10, 1862 in Beaufort, South Carolina. Thomas Vining’s book on MDI cemeteries lists him as a member of the 8th Maine Regiment which was formed in Augusta in 1861, with 770 Maine volunteers shipped to South Carolina to fortify Union operations.

It’s not clear how he died, as there was rampant disease at the time. Lewis F. Heath – either a cousin or brother – died in June 10, 1864 in Cole Harbor, Virginia during the campaign there. He was a member of the 8th.

Oak Hill is one of three cemeteries within a half mile on Town Hill. A Jesse Higgins is buried at the family plot at the corner of Indian Point Road and Oak Hill Road. It’s not clear to me whether he was the Jesse Higgins said to have settled on Mount Desert from Cape Cod along with Joseph Mayo and David Higgins. The Bangor Historical Magazine in 1890 reported the three moved during the Revolutionary war. But the grave on Town Hill has the Jesse Higgins as 89 when he died in 1868. That would have made his birth year at 1779 during the middle of the war. Both his and his wife’s graves are marked by stones which are still in excellent shape.

The tallest structure is a metal family monument with a hole “presumably a bullet hole,” according to Thomas Vining. Someone had it in for one of the Higginses.

Not far east of the Higgins Cemtery is a small burial plot called Higgins-Marcyes Burial Ground down a private road. The most notable stone here is that of Royal Higgins who died in 1878. His wife Sarah died two years later.

Islesford’s history unfolds in its buried past – Part 5 of cemetery series


ISLESFORD, Maine – After a late lunch at the Islesford Dock restaurant where they have done a superb job of covid-proofing, with alfresco dining on the pier, I started my journey.

But not before I popped into Marian Baker’s studio where’s she’s been making pottery for 31 years, splitting her time between summer here and Yarmouth, Maine. during the winter. I spotted two beautiful bowls, and asked Marian to have them wrapped by the time I came back from my trek.

I walked up the main road (which is called Main Road).

I asked the kid on the jungle gym at the side of the road whether I was on the right path to the cemetery.

“Yes,” the kid said, with a touch of ennui. Years from now he will he remember this as being the best summer of his life, I told myself.

“It’s right down there,” he pointed.

“Right side or left?”

“It’s on the right,” kid said.

I walked another quarter mile and came upon the cemetery – on the left.

The kid was facing me, so it was to his right.

It was like a skit out of “Bert and I.”

The Stanley-Gilley Cemetery was well tended, and groomed for the most part. I searched for the older graves and could find only a handful dating back to the 18th Century. The one that caught my attention was that of Richard A. Stanley, a Vietnam vet who was born the same year as I was.

Richard A.  Stanley

  He was born in Boston, son of Francis A. Stanley Sr. and Margaret F. (Souther) Stanley of Islesford. He served in Vietnam as a Diesel Mechanic in the 33rd Engineering Battalion. After returning home he moved back to Islesford, where he became a lobster fisherman naming his boat the Dawn Marie after one of his godchildren. I was in college when he was in Vietnam. I drew a high number, 238, in the draft lottery and did not serve, becoming a newspaperman. The obit said he died unexpectedly. I wondered about what the cause of death might have been.

The surprise bonus of my journey was in the discovery of a small Catholic chapel next to the cemetery. 

Our Lady Star of the Sea
Little Cranberry Catholic Church Interior

The Chapel of Our Lady Star of the Sea was built in 1942. Ben Heimsath, an Austin-based architect who summers on Islesford, wrote, “It has unfinished interior walls.  The wood, however, is painted a monotone grey.  Pronounced down-lighting focuses attention on the modern altar.  The basics here also include a tabernacle in one corner behind the altar, and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the other.  Darkly-tinted stained glass windows make the small interior feel even more close and intimate.”

Regular mass is held only in July and August. 

Fred Morse was said to be the first Catholic to come to Islesford. He married Irish maid Mary Smyth in 1907. In 1909 Fred and Mary took over a store (previously owned by the Stanleys) and began raising a family.  More Catholics came and joined in both the winter and summer populations. 

A small cemetery was located at the end of what was known as Morse’s Field and would be known as the Catholic Cemetery. The first burial there was of Fred Morse in 1929.  Most recently, Irene (Morse) Bartlett was buried there beside her husband Frank in 1998, according to local historian Hugh L. Dwelley.

I can only imagine how the rest of the island treated the Catholics during that time. Somesville author Judith S. Goldstein, in her excellent book, “Crossing Lines,” chronicled the vice grip – socially and economically – held by Protestants across three communities, Bangor, Mount Desert, Calais. Although the book is mostly about Jewish history in these towns, Goldstein’s book was an exhaustive account of the rich and famous who came to Maine over a 100-year period. I bought a used copy on Amazon.

On my way back to the dock, I toyed with the idea of walking to the southern tip, Maypole Point, to visit the single grave of the Stanley family patriarch. The name Stanley is ubiquitous on Islesford, as it is common for Maine Islands to be dominated by one family legacy. Half of the graves in Frenchboro are those of the Lunts, for instance.

In 1999, Dwelley wrote that John Standley (11/19/1735 – 5/7/1793) was buried near where he is thought to have lived on Maypole. “His wife, Marguerite (LaCraw) [aka LaCroix – BK] Standley, may or may not be buried with him. Marguerite lived her last years with daughter Margaret Dolliver in Southwest Harbor. The stone on John Standley’s grave was placed there by a descendant, Belver Williston in 1919. The following words were etched:

To the Memory of
John Standley
who died
aged 47 years
“May Guardian Angels
watch over the Sleeper”

(Standley’s descendants dropped the “d” from their name.)

Kelley Cemetery in Seal Cove: Sixth in a series ..

SEAL COVE, Sept. 22, 2020 – It’s not one of the venerated cemeteries on MDI but the picket fence catches your eye as you drive by. The cross road from Seal Cove to Southwest Harbor is open only when Acadia National Park is open because the cemetery is technically on federal land.

In 2010, the town of Tremont took ownership of the cemetery, a lonely tract with little obvious patronage. Maine state law states that the local municipality must assume responsibility for maintenance when “an ancient burying ground” lies fallow.

Tremont is unusual on MDI in that it cares for cemeteries as a public responsibility. Bar Harbor, for instance, has no such attachment. All its cemeteries are private. Tremont has 22 cemeteries and the town maintains half of them.

But ownership does not mean unrestrained commitment. Kelley Cemetery has never been surveyed by the town. And there is no plan to expend money to do that, until there is demand.

I called the town manager to inquire as to the cost of a plot and he told me that in three years I was the first person to inquire.

The 10,000 square-foot lot has only 19 graves, so most of the land will be dormant for a long time.

I was taken by the graveyard, in particular a grave with a wooden marker, that of G. Kelley, born in 1881 and died in 1963. What a span of time, to go from a post Civil War era to traveling on jet airlines? It wasn’t clear to me whether the person was male or female.


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