Evergreen Cemetery to unveil National Historic Register Plaque
The Friends of Evergreen and the City of Portland will unveil Evergreen Cemetery’s National Historic Landmark designation plaque on September 23 at 4:30pm. To celebrate this important milestone in the 162-year-old Cemetery’s history, Mayor Michael Brennan and Greater Portland Landmarks Executive Director Hillary Basset will join Friends of Evergreen for the dedication. This marker was sponsored by the Friends of Evergreen and installation provided by City of Portland Department of Public Services through Gnome Landscaping. Evergreen Cemetery was placed on the National Historic Register in 1992.
A special Historic Walking Tour will be offered by Friends of Evergreen History Docent Bob Riley public immediately following the brief ceremony. This event is free and open to the public.
Since its inception in 1991, The Friends of Evergreen have worked tirelessly on behalf of Evergreen Cemetery in an effort to pursue the mission to preserve and protect Evergreen for Portlanders past, present, and future. For more information about this work or to get involved please visit our website: friendsofevergreen.org
For additional information, please contact Jessica Siraco, Executive Director, Friends of Evergreen: 207-619-3072.
On Sunday, December first, rather suddenly I found myself at a candlelit service of remembrance for loved ones lost, held at the Wilde Chapel at Evergreen Cemetery. I learned of the event just a few hours before it began. It was such a busy day! Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend: the aftermath of one holiday segues into the preparations for another, amid plenty of everyday chores. I really didn’t have a chunk of time to carve out for sitting in a chapel. And yet…
The house was a shambles. My mother was coming for dinner. I was helping my daughter with a monumental project. I had piles of work to do, interior and exterior, paid and otherwise, baking and cleaning, bill paying and organizing. Let’s not even mention Christmas. And yet…
Curiously, it’s the holidays that make people take notice of others’ losses, and make space for them. For those of us left here, bereft here, the hole is with us always. Truly. We just gradually learn how to navigate around it. I don’t mean we ignore our pain, or pretend it doesn’t exist, or fill up the empty place with food or drink or work or sex or shopping. It’s just that some days, once we somehow become strong enough, we would prefer to “get on with things.”
“The great writers keep writing about the cold dark place within, the water under a frozen lake or the secluded, camouflaged hole. The light they shine on this hole, this pit, helps us cut away or step around the brush and brambles; then we can dance around the rim of the abyss, holler into it, measure it, throw rocks in it, and still not fall in. It can no longer swallow us up. And we can get on with things.” – Anne Lamott
The service was to be held at the beautiful stone chapel a short distance from home. It was to start at 4 o’clock, just when the sky is closing in at this coldest, darkest time of year. As I soldiered my way there through the gloom, I reflected that if the service had been held in some modern gymnasium of a church I would never have bothered. The heavy stone and elegant, imposing carved wooden arches hold some magic of their own, in a purely aesthetic sense. Beauty of all sorts, from all sources, has sustained me in the hours and days and years since my husband died, in ways I did not notice in my everyday world while he was here. I am grateful for this life bathed in beauty, even if it’s this tragic turn of events that has enabled me to see it.
At the entrance of the church a man in a long dark coat warned each new arrival: the bricks are icy; the stone steps are slippery. They thought of everything! By this one gesture I felt attended to, cared for. Inside, the small chapel glowed with many candles and glass lanterns held aloft on swooping iron stands. A swath of scented evergreens was tied to the end of each heavy wooden pew. Discreetly placed here and there were small packages of Kleenex. They really did think of everything! As a seasoned mourner, I would never deign to enter such a place without something on which to wipe my eyes and nose, but some folks might not think of such. (Amateurs! If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned: always carry tissue, always drink water. Grief is a messy wet business.)
The ancient stained glass windows softly glowed: such intricate beauty that has witnessed weddings and funerals, such joy, such pain. Somewhere there must be a metaphor about light shining through…
I sat alone. I recognized almost no one. A man softly played a guitar. The service was very brief: a silent meditation, a few words, a poem, a reading, and then slowly, attentively were recited the names of those buried in the cemetery this year. I heard no sobs, not even any restless movement. All was silent. Each person was handed a simple white taper with a paper holder to protect the hands. Two women walked from pew to pew, each touching their candle to another, and so the flame was passed throughout the church until all our candles were lit. I held mine in both hands and gazed down at the tiny flame as the names were read. What a lovely meditation! No thoughts. No talk of religion. The minister sang an eerie, beautiful chant: “I will show you hidden things, things you have not known.”
It was all over in less than half an hour. As each person left the church they were given a luscious dark red long stemmed rose. The minister and the Friends of Evergreen Cemetery flanked the wooden doors, shaking hands and greeting each attendant. I thanked them for the service. The minister asked me if someone I love had been buried in the cemetery this year. I replied, “ No, my husband died in – – – – -.”
Spoken out loud, the date seems like such a long time ago. I tell you, it is not.
I did not mention that he is not buried anywhere. I did not tell them where his ashes still reside. I’ve often pondered the idea of having one specific place and time to think about him, as people do at a cemetery. I don’t have that. I think about him everywhere and always. Is that better or worse? I don’t know. And yet…
The service was lovely: so exquisite, so unassuming, so blessedly brief. I almost didn’t go because of my busy, busy day. I felt some relief when I found it would be over far sooner than I had imagined. But I think I’ll remember this day for a long time. What a straightforward, delightful gift: to create a moment to sit, surrounded by stone and beauty and light, among other people who also miss someone, to take a moment to reflect on the empty place in our lives. And yet…
I took my candle home and with it lit the candles on our dinner table. I cut the stem off the rose and put it into the arrangement left from our holiday dinner. My mother, my daughter, and I sat down to our rich supper of Thanksgiving leftovers. We talked, we laughed, we ate. Life goes on. I am getting on with things. And yet…
Carolyn Stephens 12/2013
Photo Credit: Carolyn Stephens
Carolyn maintains a blog where she shares her thoughts about her “New Normal”. Please take a moment to read her beautifully expressive reflections and recollections here: Through a Widow’s Eyes
December email newsletter
Read the latest issue of our email newsletter: Happy Holidays from Friends of Evergreen!
December 2nd, 2012, First Remembrance Day Ceremony at Wilde Chapel
Friends of Evergreen held a ceremony at the Wilde Memorial Chapel for people to remember their loved ones who have passed. Guitarist John Dana played soothing melodies while Rev. Megan Yates led the ceremony and sang a haunting Taize chant. Friends of Evergreen docents Bob Riley, Carol Jenkins and Sue Devine read the names of those who have been laid to rest in Evergreen this past year, and others spoke out the names of their loved ones.
This was a moving event, and we look forward to hosting this again next year.
Radio program on Maine’s old cemeteries
MPBN’s radio program “Maine Calling” featured Maine’s old cemeteries on October 31st. Listen for our own docent Steve “Zippy” Sesto call in to talk about Evergreen Cemetery! Click the link below to go to MPBN’s website:
Monday May 28th, Memorial Day Annual Walking Tour
The 2012 Historic Walking Tour season opened with Janet Morelli and Mary Anne Wallace leading 24 people on a special Memorial Day Walking tour of Evergreen. They covered the ‘Wilde/Baxter Tour’ which covered many of the prominent figures in Portland and Maine history.
Tuesday May 15th, Arbor Day Celebration & Ceremonial Tree Planting
The Friends were joined by many members of the Bennett Family to celebrate the Portland Tree Trust and announce the addition of EverGreen, tree donation program specifically for Evergreen Cemetery. The program began in Wilde Chapel with slides and guest speakers talking about the pressing need for tree maintenance and replanting in the cemetery. This was followed by a ceremonial planting of a Copper Beech tree in the newer ‘Phase 1’ area of the cemetery.
Evergreen featured in Downeast Magazine
The May 2012 issue of Downeast gave some great exposure for Evergreen Cemetery! A brief article by Monica Wood accompanied several beautiful full-page photos. You can read the text of the article on the Downeast website: The Evergreen Cemetery, a historic Portland landmark, bridges the poignant gulf between life and death
Friday, July 15th, “Past and Future in the Evergreen Cemetery”
Guided Walking Tour with Portland Trails and Janet Morelli of Friends of Evergreen.
Portland Trails and the Friends of the Evergreen Cemetery led a guided walk exploring the old and new aspects of the cemetery. Janet Morelli talked about the Victorian Cemetery and social customs around death. Portland Trails’ staff will finished up the tour by explaining the new trail networks created at the rear of the cemetery by Portland Trails this year.
June 22nd, Friends of Evergreen Annual Meeting
On Wednesday June 22nd, The Friends of Evergreen held their Annual Meeting at Wilde Memorial Chapel. Joining us was guest speaker Tom Desjardins, Chief Historian for Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands who presented his talk, “Civil War Heros and Heroines Buried in Evergreen Cemetery.” It was a lovely evening during which Anne Haskell, State Representative, presented The Friends of Evergreen with a special recognition form the Maine State Legislature.
Friends of Evergreen recognized by the Maine State Legislature
On June 14th, 2011 the Maine Legislature issued a proclamation recognizing the work of Friends of Evergreen and congratulating us for reaching our twentieth anniversary!
On May 28th, the Friends celebrated their 20th Birthday!
An all day event was held with a ribbon cutting to unveil the new Visitor’s Sign! Special guided tours, cake, and live music will fill this special day at Evergreen.
The day included an Herb Walk with Corinne Martin that explored the cemetery for the hidden garden of herbs . Mayor Nick Mavodones, Jr. led the ribbon cutting along with Mike Bobinsky of the Portland City Planning Dept, and Anne Haskell, State Representative. Janet Morelli kicked off the season of walking tours with a special Civil War tour commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the great war between the states.
All of this was followed by cake at Wilde Memorial Chapel with live music by John Dana, acoustic guitarist.
May 8th, 2011 The James Phinney Baxter Memorial Eulogy Reading by Herb Adams
It was a beautiful spring morning when neighbors gathered to honor the 90th anniversary of his death and listen to the many accomplishments of this amazing statesman.