It might say a lot about me that on a hot Monday morning on Cape Cod when I found myself with time alone I didn’t opt for the beaches, but instead made a pilgrimage to an old graveyard in the woods of Forestdale. This was a trip back for me, for I would walk in this graveyard as a kid reading the names and the stories behind the people who once lived and died in this place. The graveyard was a short walk from the shores of Peters Pond, a place that I’d spend many summers in my formative years. For I was a sand and scrub pine kid.
30 years ago you could read the names clearly on most of the gravestones, and the cemetery was well-maintained by the caretaker for the Hewlett Packard Sandwich Resort (back when HP was a different kind of place). That place on Peters Pond was a great perk for employees – a place to bring your kids for a week or two every summer at no charge. When you went on the same week every year, you’d build friendships with other HP families, and that would build momentum year-after-year until it became a defining part of growing up for many of us. The summer would end and they would have one last company party with employees grilling steaks and burgers and having games with prizes on a large field up the hill from the grounds of the resort. That field is now home to The Sandwich Bazaar Flea Market, which effectively preserved the field in just as it was three decades ago. I was grateful it hadn’t become a landing spot for condos.
The entrance to the field is chained off to prohibit cars, but I parked across the street and walked over. Warning signs about deer ticks and Lyme Disease greeted me. We didn’t think about such things when I was a kid, we’d just pull ticks off of our skin before they became engorged. Now I guess you need to remind people. And so I walked down to where I remembered the small graveyard being, walking in a time warp back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when this was my escape and the rest of the family didn’t think anything of you disappearing for the entire day as long as you showed up for dinner (I never missed dinner). I saw the fence for the graveyard well past where the tire tracks for the flea market stopped. Just where I remembered it being. But sadly the old graveyard isn’t maintained anymore. Where once the grass was neatly mowed, now it was as tall as the gravestones. More troubling was the poison ivy that spread all over the grounds. Apparently the Town of Sandwich has decided to let this cemetery return to nature. At least the gravestones that were still standing. Many were crumbled piles of broken stone. Perhaps vandalized? But even the gravestones still standing showed they haven’t aged well. Most were illegible as the sandstone faces curled and peeled downward. The last three decades haven’t treated the old graveyard well.
The Sandwich Historical Commission does a great job of posting old maps of the area. I compared two maps from around the time that the people taking up permanent residence here would have been alive. The first was a map from 1794 that offers a larger view of Sandwich, with delightful details on the map. Peters Pond is clearly named, making it an easy point of reference. The land is marked as “wast land” on one side of the pond and “good land” on the other. But the graveyard isn’t noted. It does show up on a map from 1857, which also notes family names on houses in the community. Interestingly, none of the names correspond with the people who are buried in the graveyard. Its as if all references to them disappeared. And so now is the graveyard, quietly being swallowed up by forest and poison ivy. I thought of that 1794 map, describing this land as “wast land”. Its impossibly hard to make a living farming on sand, but the land isn’t a waste. It raised countless generations. And for a dozen or so summers, it raised me.
I walked the serpentine path through the graveyard where the tall grass had been trampled down. The path followed a route to the gravestones that were still intact. I’m not the only one to visit Tobey Cemetery this year. Which made me wonder, was it other sand and scrub pine kids returning to their childhoods as I was? Or curious flea market people wondering what this remote graveyard was all about? I’d like to think the former. There were so many of us once.