So you’re in the market for a house and you find the perfect place. But there’s a catch – there’s an abandoned cemetery in the back yard! Would you still buy? This couple did:
STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — When the real estate agent showed Dick and Sandy Birdsell the little blue house on Cedar Circle, she shrugged off their questions about the headstone on an adjacent lot steps from the driveway.
The Birdsells let the issue go. So they bought the house and in time started clearing the quarter acre, where the headstone serves as a buffer between their home and the street.
“It wasn’t until I started cleaning it up that I realized it was a piece of history,” Dick Birdsell said.
When the Birdsells bought the home to relax in their retirement 16 years ago, they became caretakers of a historic cemetery where members of two of Stamford’s founding families were laid to rest as far back as the 1700s.
“When we got here this piece of land was a dump,” Birdsell said. “All the people on the street, the contractors who were building here, any time they wanted to get rid of anything they tossed it in here.”
It took a long time for Birdsell, 77, to remove piles of brush and leaves, and then scraps of metal and wood. But it was worth the effort. Beneath the junk he discovered gravestone after gravestone. Most featured the names Lockwood and Scofield, while others were etched with names such as Knapp, Buxton and Finch.
Through the Stamford Historical Society the Birdsells found that in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration had indexed the stones in the city’s more than 40 old cemeteries. They compiled a list of 35 people in “Lockwood Cemetery (hash)5,” which is how they labeled the Birdsell’s.
Though the Birdsells have not found all 35, they have devised a trick for reading the stones. Sweeping dirt over the inscriptions and then dusting off the excess, they are able to bring the text to life without damaging the fragile stones. This allows them to speculate about the various figures resting in front of their home. Maybe the smaller stones indicate infants, or perhaps they are foot stones marking the length of the graves.
The big mystery is Phebe Pender .
According to the WPA, she was born in 1820 and died in 1883. Most of the families in the cemetery are represented by multiple members, but Phebe is the only Pender.
“Nobody seems to know why Phebe ended up with all the Scofields and the Lockwoods,” Sandy Birdsell said with a raised eyebrow.
“Somebody must have had a girlfriend,” Dick Birdsell added wryly. “We got the best neighbors in the world here. I invite them for coffee and bacon and eggs all the time and they never show up.”
Though they did not know what they were getting when they bought their house, the Birdsells are happy with their slice of Stamford history.
“I don’t have a problem with it being here,” Sandy said. “I know some people are hesitant about buying property next to a cemetery but that didn’t bother us when we discovered it. But I could not understand how it was let go, how could people let it get like that?”
The Birdsells are committed to caring for the lot. “It is a family cemetery and we want to treat it with respect,” Sandy said. “I don’t care how old the cemetery is, it is sacred.”
I think it’s great they discovered this piece of history and that they are respectful of it. Someone else could have bought the property and just as easily razed it. It’s so important to take care of old graveyards. I wish more people would do the same.