Monday July 9, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE -- Touring a cemetery might not sound terribly sexy. But if it's the Stockbridge Cemetery, well, according to Karen Marshall, it's quite a tour.

"It's amazing who is buried here," she said recently. "People talk about this town being Rockwellian, and it is. But long before Norman Rockwell came here, Stockbridge was filled with these, rich, active, artistic, amazing people."

And, as Marshall is quick to note, many of them, including Norman Rockwell, are buried in the Stockbridge Cemetery.

Marshall is a volunteer with the Stockbridge Library. The library is sponsoring monthly tours of the cemetery through the summer. On Saturday, Marshall led a group of about two dozen people through the gravestones.

The Stockbridge cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States. It was created in 1750, about a decade after the incorporation of the Town of Stockbridge.

In addition to people like Rockwell, a host of historical figures, including Mum Bett, the first slave to win her freedom in Massachusetts; Joseph Franz, the engineer who built The Shed at Tanglewood and author Katherine Sedgwick, are interred there.

Over the winter, several people approached the library to suggest the tours, according to Barbara Allen, the curator of the Stockbridge Historical Room.

"We eventually decided to have a tour once a month, and take a thematic approach to it," said Allen. "We're telling the story of the town through the lives of the people who lived and died here."

This month's theme, for example, is arts and culture, said Marshall.

Thus, Saturday's tour focused on the final resting places of Franz, Rockwell and Sedgwick, a well as Tanglewood founder Gertrude Robinson-Smith; Berkshire Theatre Festival founder Walter Clark; sculptor Augustus Lukeman; and children's author Rachel Field Pederson.

In addition to Marshall's talk, a pair of actors dressed, respectively, as Pederson and Lukeman, also came forward. Standing at their respective gravesites, the two actors, Gary Allen and Stockbridge Selectwoman Deborah McMenamy, gave brief biographies of their characters.

"We call them ‘shades' " said Allen of the actors. "They just help illustrate the town's history."


If you go ...

What: Tours of the Stockbridge Cemetery

When: 4 p.m. Aug. 4

Cost: Donation of $5 is requested

Where: Visitors meet at the cemetery entrance across the street from the former Town Hall. Park in the lot adjacent to the building.