By Thomas D’Agostino
Imagine having a splendid picnic on the grass of the town common. Daily life is rolling by and the usual wildlife is busy with their own affairs. Suddenly, a hand juts up from the earth, followed by another. Within moments, rotting corpses are emerging from the ground all around. Sounds like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie but if it were to be, the best candidate for that scene would be the Worcester Common.
The Worcester Common was originally part of a burial ground established in 1730. Between that date and 1795 it was the only burial ground being used by the town.
Town records state, “Ye selectmen do-as soon as may-stake out a burying place and measure ye out the lines thereof…”
The earliest recorded death found in the cemetery was that of Hannah Hubbard, wife of John Hubbard, who died April 18, 1727, at age 27. The total number of burials varies by account, but it reached about 400 before a new burying ground, the Hope Cemetery was established. In 1789, the town council voted that, “Officers of the Artillery have liberty of erecting a gun house where the old stable now stands at the west end of the burying ground leaving 12 feet between the gate leading into said burying ground and said gun house.”
The Hope Cemetery was a garden cemetery, the new rage of the time and the common burial ground became sorely neglected. Burials in the common burying yard ceased around 1824. In 1846, William S. Barton took the painstaking effort to record all the epitaphs on the tombstones in the common. The book was published in limited quantities two years later. It was almost a prophetic gesture, for in 1853 the town council voted to lay the stones over their respected graves and then cover the whole common with several feet of soil. Family members were given the opportunity to remove the stones and even the remains. Some stones were taken by family and friends and later came into the possession of the Worcester Historical Society.
For years the Old Norwich and Worcester Railroad had tracks that ran across the common until the first Union Station opened in 1875. At that point the tracks across the common were no longer in use and were removed.
In 1968 during construction, one hundred eleven remains were removed and reburied in the Hope Cemetery. Of those that were exhumed, only forty-seven were identified and relocated along with their markers. The other sixty-four were buried with a memorial to commemorate the re-interment of their remains.
All traces of the burial ground have long disappeared and as you read this, the remains of about three hundred early residents of the city still lie in repose under the dirt of the common. The small fenced-in lot that marks the site is filled with reproductions of some of the original stones. One telltale sign is that the stones face each section of fence so the viewers may read them from the other side. The original burials would have all faced the same direction as it was custom to bury the deceased facing east so they may rise to greet their lord in his second coming.
Next time you visit the Worcester Common, remember that you are actually in an old burying ground. Even if you do not see the graves, they are still there below, silently resting and waiting for the second coming.