Arrowhead After Dark will mark women's place in cemetery history

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PITTSFIELD — When the famous Pittsfield Elm was scheduled to meet its demise to make way for a new meeting house in the 1790s, Madam Lucretia Williams stepped in to save it. As the story goes, when her vocal demands didn't stop the man wielding the ax, Williams, threw herself on the tree to save it. Her husband, John Chandler Williams, a prominent lawyer, donated land for the new meeting house.

Lucretia, who went on to be known as the "Preserver of the Elm" was known for being, according to reports, "a woman of uncommon spirit and most uncommon brilliancy of wit and intellect; always the center of the circle in which she moved."

And yet, it is only her husband, John Chandler Williams, who is listed on the Pittsfield Cemetery's self-guided tour map (written for the city's U.S. Bicentennial Commission in 1976.)

Lesley Herzberg, executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society at Herman Melville's Arrowhead, is rectifying that issue by shining light on Lucretia and other prominent Pittsfield women, during Arrowhead After Dark, a historical walking tour of the city's cemetery on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 5 p.m.

"One of the things I was finding really interesting here, when you go on the [cemetery's] website, the only notable people [buried in the cemetery] listed are men. On the map that you get when you come to the cemetery, it's all men and one woman, Sarah Root, and she actually has the oldest stone in the cemetery," she said during a recent interview. "So, I wanted to change that and bring some Pittsfield women's history into this tour. These women weren't just the wives of these notable men, they were notable people themselves."

The tour won't ignore notable men, such as John Chandler Williams, who, before he set out his shingle in Pittsfield, was one of several Harvard students to fight at the Battle of Lexington in 1775. The tour will just make sure those men share the spotlight with their female counterparts.

The cemetery tour is one way Arrowhead and the Berkshire Historical Society are extending their programming into the fall season.

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"This has been a seriously Melville-heavy year [because of the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville's birthday] and we wanted to engage with our local community and serve the historical society part of our mission," Herzberg said.

Those who attend can expect to hear about the cemetery's history and then tour a section of the graveyard during the hour-long walk.

"This is the third cemetery established by the city of Pittsfield," she said.

The first cemetery, located between North, School and Allen streets, was incorporated in 1764 and remained in use until 1840, when the town father's voted to move the bodies to a new burial ground that had opened a decade earlier. Bodies were removed until 1849, when a doctor refused to move his family's remains to the new cemetery, which was filling quite fast and would soon need to be replaced. The current Pittsfield Cemetery was dedicated on Sept. 9, 1850. It would later see the bodies from the new cemetery, located at what is now known as the First Street Common, re-interred in its northern end in a section named Pilgrim's Rest.

"I'll be talking about the grave of the Widow Lucy Newell, who died in 1816, and most likely, was buried at the first cemetery and then at the new cemetery, before being moved here," Herzberg said.

The tour will include the graves of Col. William Williams, one of the earliest settlers of Pontoosuc Plantation, whose grave was restored in 1976 and sits beside a time capsule scheduled for opening in 2076; Sarah Morewood, whose poem was performed at the cemetery's dedication, Maj. Butler Goodrich, the first person interred in the cemetery; Phinehas Allen, founder and publisher of the Pittsfield Sun; the Rev. Thomas Allen, known as the "fighting parson" and his son, Thomas Allen, whose grave is marked with a red marble obelisk, which stands 42-feet-high and is reportedly the largest piece of polished red granite in the world. Also on the list are Lemuel Pomeroy and Henry Laurens Dawes, a U.S. Senator known for founding Yellowstone National Park and for the controversial Dawes Act, and his daughter, Anna Laurens Dawes, a prominent Pittsfield resident, journalist and author, who founded the city's Wednesday Morning Club and served as a trustee of Smith College.

"If you just walk around the cemetery and start to think about all the names you see, you're going to find a lot of the names — Williams, Moorewood, Pomeroy, Allen, Dawes — are the names of locations and streets in Pittsfield," Herzberg said.

Reservations are required for the tour and can be made by calling 413-442-1793.


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