By Thomas D’Agostino www.tomdagostino.com
This story is as it appears in our upcoming book on New England folk.
On December 5, 1895, seventy-two-year old Lucas Douglass was found dead in a snow-laden street in Ashford, Connecticut. He apparently died alone, cold and penniless, having never married and few relatives to share time with. He is buried in the Westford Hill Cemetery, a small burial ground in the hamlet of Ashford. His burial plot is easy to find, as it is the largest in the small graveyard. Yes, a “pauper’s” grave is adorned with a thirty-four-foot white Italian marble monument, complete with separate headstone and surrounded by a one hundred forty-foot stone wall with large urns on each corner and entrance. There is also a large walkway leading to the grave, flanked by two bushes.
“How can this be?” is the first thought that comes to mind. A man who died on the streets penniless is buried under such a magnificent monument worthy of any royalty. It seems that Mr. Douglass was thinking in the long term during his life, for shortly after his death it was discovered that he had left a will with specific instructions to erect a glorious monument, costing many thousands of dollars, over his grave. The monument is meticulously carved with columns and dentil work, topped by a great urn. One side of the monument reads, “Be Thou Faithful Unto Death.”
Underneath is written, “Lucas Douglass, Born Oct 28, 1823 Died Dec 5, 1895, Aged 72 Years. Above the inscriptions is a portrait of Douglass. Another side has the letters HIS with the sentence below, “This World Is Not My Home.”
A lower section reads as such,
"Found Dead-Dead And Alone On A Pillow Of Snow In A Roofless Street. Nobody Heard His Last Faint Moan Or Knew When His Sad Heart Ceased To Beat.”
Above the numbers 1896 are intertwined with each other. Another side has the epitaph,
“Tho In Paths Of Death I Tread, With Gloomy Horrors Overspread, My Steadfast Heart Shall Fear No Ill, For Thou O Lord Art With Me Still. Thy Friendly Crook Shall Give Me Aid, And Guide Me Through The Dreadful Shade.”
The upper section is adorned with the alpha-omega sign, which is Greek for the beginning and end. Other such inscriptions as “I Have Heard Thy Call” and “Death Is But A Gentle Slumber” adorn the monument.
It is apparent that Douglass selected the design, inscriptions and symbols long before he breathed his last breath. All but perhaps the inscription of how he met his maker. This may have been an unfinished script waiting for the final moment of his life. Either way, Lucas Douglass. who passed through and from life mostly unnoticed, knew that the last vestige of eternity would lie in the grave marker he would be buried under and made sure no one would ever forget him in that way. Each year hundreds of tourists travel the small country roads of Ashford to get a glimpse of the man who “died penniless” but was buried in a plot fit for a king.