Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pettengill's Epitaph

On a recent visit to Fairview Cemetery we tried to decipher the epitaph on the headstone of Anna Pettengill, her son James, and his wife Gertrude.  All that was visible was "Our Hero". 

A rubbing of the poem, made with plain typing paper and a graphite crayon, produced marginal results.  Much of the rubbing seen here has been enhanced with photoshop.

Once a few strings of words were deciphered, we would have been able to trace this poem to its origin, using the internet.  This is what I found.

The poem appeared in Rhymes of the Rail, written by Cy Warman and published in about 1895.  It became a favorite, and was republished in the Locomotive Engineers Journal many times.

As the sun was setting, turning a fiery red due to the smoke-filled skies, we tried one last trick.  I pour a thin coat of water across the poem and looked at it from an angle, trying to use the remaining light to pick out the words.  But the weathered gray granite didn't offer much contrast.  I knelt down at the base of the stone, and looked up, and there it was, clear as day.  The entire poem was clear.

To read more about the Pettengill memorial see The Cause of All Her Troubles, the May 17th article below.
The epitaph on James' side of the monument reads:
In this rifted rock I am resting
Safely sheltered I abide
There are no stones to molest me
While in the cleft I hide

It is a portion of Sweetly Resting, written by Mary D. James in 1875.  The music for this hymn appears online at  http://www.cyberhymnal.org/mid/s/w/e/sweetlyresting.mid
As with any link, you may wish to open another web window and paste this into the address bar so that your antivirus program can check it before it opens.

Two thoughts for your own research: Do no harm and use the internet to learn about poetry and symbols that appear on headstones.  Yes, rubbings are helpful to record inscriptions, but should not be done on delicate sandstone or slate.  Never rub a stone with chalk or other material to make the markings more visible.  The acids can damage the carving and cause it to deteriorate more rapidly.  Plain water and light are the safest means, and they really do work!

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