As a freshman, I often visited the cemetery. From Silliman College, it is just a half-block walk to a certain neo-Egyptian gate on Grove. At first, I thought my enthusiasm was abnormal. But the FAQ page of the cemetery’s website assured me both that graveyards were spots for “personal contemplation and reflection,” and that plots were still available.
From the main drag, Myrtle Path, I could imagine I was in any number of burial grounds. I’d traveled for a year before coming to Yale, visiting a Jewish cemetery in Fez, an ivy-covered graveyard outside Zagreb. On vacations, my mother was always cancelling our museum plans so we could rest on some memorial bench in the sunlight. Back home, I’d learned to drive in a cemetery, the same place where my grandpa taught my mom to brake and signal and later was interred.
For a while, I’ve been wandering through Grove Street without knowing anything about it. And so for this week’s Bucket List, I decided to study up so I could locate a few of its most famous graves.
Not for the first time, I started my tourism by reading a niche newsletter. A back issue of the Grove Street Bulletin advertised a “Program in April to Address Humorous Side of Death.” I noted the witting or unwitting question, “Do you have a friend who might like to join us in this undertaking?” But I was looking for much older information.
Next, I checked out a book published for the cemetery’s centenary which claimed that Grove Street was “the resting-place of more persons of varied eminence than any other cemetery on this continent.” My research helped me place the gate in the context of the Napoleonic campaign of 1798 and the rediscovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 that set off an era of Egyptomania — fun! Mostly, I made a list of famous people buried there: 14 Yale presidents; Charles Goodyear, who invented vulcanized rubber; Leverett Candee, who invented the first practical use of vulcanized rubber. Soon, I had enough knowledge to pay my respects.
When I did visit, it was spring. Every forsythia bush was blossoming and I read the small signs labeling the trees — Norway maple, horse chestnut, pin oak and magnolia. I noticed the orange cones placed on the woodchip roads showing that not even maintenance trucks could drive there.
I had drawn a map of graves I planned to see. I found the tombstone of fossil hunter Othniel Charles Marsh and the monument to Eli Whitney. On the way to Benjamin Silliman’s grave, I came across the plot of Delia Bacon, made famous by her suggestion that Shakespeare’s plays were in fact written by Francis Bacon (no relation). Even so, I wondered if the works of Milton could be attributed to any ancient Lunds.
Before long, other stones disrupted my itinerary. I made a list of the strangest names — Jarvis P. Bunche, Judah Frisbie, “Bertinette, beloved wife of F.E. Cleff,” an epigraph obviously meant to be an exercise in enunciation. I began to list the stones on which one spouse had a boring name and the other had a crazy name, but only found one couple, Thaddeus and Nancy.
I never found Charles Goodyear’s grave, or Leverett Candee’s, though I did lose a hair band made of vulcanized rubber and I did see a stone marked “Henry Goodyear,” which made me look again because it was so awfully close. I put the map in my pocket. Soon, I was wandering the way I often did, looking for nothing in particular in the graves.
In these last few weeks of college, I’ve devised ambitious plans aimed at undermining four year’s worth of habits. Usually, I ditch them. But when I return to familiar patterns, it’s with unfamiliar energy. The time is now!
On my way out, I stopped briefly at a tombstone chiseled for a man unknown, cut down “in the midft of hif ufefullneff.”
Kate Lund is a senior in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .