As Prudence Wright leads visitors among the four quadrants of Groton’s Old Burying Ground, the wind, or something like it, sighs through brown oak leaves and empty branches above hundreds of weathering gravestones above the people who made Groton’s long history.
Wright was a Revolutionary War heroine whose remains lie in the three acre Old Burying Ground off Hollis Street. Her spirit is alive in a character historian Eleanor Gavazzi uses in this century, to bring history alive for Groton school children. Gavazzi has been using Wright as a character for 16 years. For the last six, she has presented walking tours of the Old Burying Ground to fifth graders and other classes and groups. Last year, her tour was featured as an adult education class by Nashoba Technical High School; this year, Gavazzi is presenting an open-to-the-public tour Sunday, October 28.
“Right now, I’m working with fifth and tenth graders, actively with the tenth graders who are using the book and tour as part of the curriculum. Last year, each of the 50 students was assigned a different person (buried in the Old Burying Ground), with names pulled out of a hat, to research using resources here in town. What they couldn’t access through the records, they could email me, and I’d give them sources where they could go online to do research themselves. This year, they’re working on 8-10 individuals in groups, and develop their persona — what they ate, how they died, their individual situations during their lives,” she said.
Sharing the history is a great joy, she said. “Being given the ability to influence a young person is the greatest compliment you can ever be given,” she said.
Gavazzi’s tour runs on Sunday from 1:00-2:30 p.m. and attendance is limited to 30 or 40 people. Contact her at [email protected] to make a reservation or to enquire about other tours. The charge for the tour is $5 per person; children are free. Gavazzi’s web site is http://www.eleanorgavazzi.com .or
Although her public tours are conducted year ’round, the Halloween tours are always popular, she says, given our culture’s fascination with the holiday and its trappings. But what better place for atmosphere than a burying ground in use since 1680 or so?
Gavazzi uses the changing styles of 300 years of gravestone carvings to illustrate how our culture has changed since colonial times, and how resident’s attitude to death and religion has changed. She sometimes reads passages from her self-published book, We Were Alive in 1775, a slim volume full of Groton history and family names known to many residents: Blood, Lawrence, Longley… and Wright. Groton’s Old Burying Ground had been in use for most of a century when Wright led a group of colonial women dressed as men to guard bridges over the Nashua River in 1775, as a colonial dispute mushroomed into a revolution. Wright’s squadron captured a loyalist messenger carrying military dispatches to Boston, earning the women a lasting place in American — and Groton — history.
A past town commissioner on the Old Burying Ground Commission, her daughter has now taken that official role, but part of her heart is part of the old cemetery. “I feel like these people in here are my friends. They know me by now,” she said with a smile.