April 08, 2020

Tombstone with history found again

BELFAST – A missing antique tombstone was recovered from a local churchyard and police are now focusing on locating its original home.

The hand-carved slate tombstone was one of two dating to the late 1700s that showed up at the city’s transfer station last month. They are thought to have been taken from a graveyard somewhere in Vermont 35 years ago.

The stone was stolen from Grove Cemetery where it had been transported to be repaired last month. It disappeared after it was cemented together and placed outdoors to allow the patch to cure. It showed up at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday night.

“[The priest] found it outside the church,” Detective Michael McFadden said Thursday. “Whoever brought it there either had a guilty conscience or they were scared of getting caught. One or the other.”

The twin-arched stone lists the death of two young sons of Samuel and Sarah Waterman. Isaac Waterman died at the age of six months on Sept. 7, 1775, and Deliverance Waterman died at age of seven on Sept. 10, 1775.

The stone is believed to have been carved by Gershom Bartlet, a noted carver of that period whose work is found throughout the Connecticut River Valley, McFadden said. He was born in Bolton, Conn., in 1723 and died in Pompanoosuc, Vt., in 1798.

“We’re not quite sure where it belongs, but we believe it may belong to a cemetery in Vermont,” McFadden said. “I haven’t found anything where this particular engraver has done work in Maine. He was well-known along the Connecticut River Basin and his slate has stood the test of time.”

McFadden said engraved headstones were “rare” during the early days of the country because many people could not afford them. The other tombstone does not list the date of death of Mary Wright because the lower half is missing.

The two stones were brought to Belfast around 35 years ago. McFadden said a local man who worked as a photojournalist acquired them while working on a piece about Bartlet and examples of his work.

He apparently took the stones because he was concerned that they would deteriorate if left unattended. The man is now in a nursing home, suffering from memory loss.

The stones were discovered when the man’s wife cleaned out her basement in September. The stones were first taken to the city transfer station and then turned over to Belfast Cemetery Supervisor Steve Boguen.

The Waterman brothers’ stone was in two pieces and Boguen left it outside to cure after patching it back together. When he came to work the next day, the stone was gone.

“We’re glad it’s back,” McFadden said. “Now we have to find where it belongs.”

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