The Old Stones of New Salem

The Old Stones of New Salem

While others might go in search of ghosts during the month of October, we usually can be found in other places…though no less spooky: historic burial grounds and cemeteries.

Death's Head Gravestone
Death’s Head Gravestone

Luckily, New England is chock full of old stones!  

Willow tree and flowers
Willow tree and flowers

There are 3 general designs being used during this time period:

  1. The winged death’s-head which began as very ornate and then became less elaborate.
  2. The winged cherub, which looks like a much more pleasant version of the death’s-head.
  3. Finally, somewhere near the turn of the 1800s comes the willow tree and urn and the depersonalization of death or religion.
A Medusa Death's Head. This motif was repeated in many other stones in this cemetery.
A Medusa Death’s Head. This motif was repeated in many other stones in this cemetery.

We found these awesome stones in a small village called New Salem, MA.  It probably is no surprise looking at the town’s name to learn that the original settlers came from Salem, MA. In fact, New Salem was governed by “old” Salem until 1753! Farming was the main source of income, but there were also saw and gristmills in the town. While at its height, New Salem had  2,146 people living there in 1820, today there are fewer than 1,000 people living there.

Two Old New England Gravestones


Remember when you are tromping through these stones that even though they have survived for a very long time, many are incredibly fragile. Gravestone rubbings are illegal in many towns and cities (including Boston) and can damage the stones. Putting things like chalk or shaving cream on stones is also illegal and can do great damage as well. If you need to figure out what a stone says, use a mirror to reflect the light or manipulate the image later in photoshop to make it easier!



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21 thoughts on “The Old Stones of New Salem

  1. How cool! I would be interesting in visiting this grave site… I find this type of history to be fascinating. I would hope people would respect these places but of course, especially around Halloween, people like to cause ruckus.

    1. I have had to yell at people leaning on stones before. They can be very fragile. Luckily, most people are in love with them like me 🙂

    1. I’ve seen some from the late 1600s, but they are hard to read. The weather is not conducive to long lasting letters.

  2. My husband and I love exploring cemeteries. Sounds strange, I know. Our favorite was the one in Boston where the victims of the Boston Massacre were buried. Such incredible history! But then, I guess you are also a cemetery fan…

    1. I am! And ironically, the Granary Burial Ground is one of my favorite places too. Where else can you see Paul Revere’s grave AND one with an image of death trying to snuff out someone’s life? 😉

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