TEWKSBURY — November marks the annual clean up of The Pines Cemetery, one of three in Tewksbury that are part of the Tewksbury State Hospital legacy, a former almshouse, tuberculosis and polio infirmary, and pauper care facility opened in 1854.
Volunteers have been working tirelessly to revitalize the cemetery and preserve the legacy of those who rest here. Open Space efforts with the Town of Tewksbury have yielded marked trails, defined parking, and informational kiosks at two entrances to the cemetery, improving the quality of the experience and drawing people in to the natural beauty of the land which lies between East and Livingston Streets, and includes Strongwater Brook.
The property is part of Tewksbury’s open space and has walking trails. Tewksbury’s annual Town Meeting approved CPA funds in May 2019 to manage poison ivy in the historic cemetery which furthers the preservation efforts.
Recently, a family placed a granite marker for a relative who died at the hospital in 1907. The iron grave marker was located and excavated, and then the family of Ellen O’Brien Noonan was able to recognize her passing. The marker states “Native of Ballina Tipperary Ireland,” and event that makes organizers quite proud.
There are an estimated 10,000 bodies buried in the Pines and possibly up to 30,000 by some estimates, on a nearly three and a half acre site, with silver markers lined in rows that are numbered and lettered, row after row as far as the eye can see. It is a staggering sight.
The cemetery operated from 1854-1930, though records for the first 30 years have yet to be located. Not all of the care at the facility was benevolent, however, and accounts from the late 1800s of mistreatment and starvation of adults and children, the illegitimate and the insane, are haunting. Many Irish paupers are in the cemetery, as are infants and those struck with contagious diseases.
The volunteer group is holding a clean up on Saturday, Nov. 2 from 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. There is also a rain date of Nov. 9. The group maintains a Facebook page called Save the Tewksbury Hospital Pines Cemetery and welcomes residents to come down, even for an hour.
The work is basic raking, clearing brush and removing any debris. Tools will be provided but participants can bring gloves or loppers or rakes if they have them. Organizers say muscle would also be welcomed to help haul some larger tree debris out.
A Go Fund Me page is set up at https://www.gofundme.com/f/tewksbury-pines-cemetery-cleanup-19 to raise money for supplies to support the volunteers.
If you’d like to help, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. As website of cemetery and records information is at http://www.tewksburyhospitalcemetery.ma-vitalrecords.org.