The shameful state of the Old South Burial Ground

See below for a slideshow of more photos.

This Veterans Day, I’d like to draw attention to the Revolutionary War veterans buried in the Old South Burial Ground off Maple Avenue, next to the Fox Elementary School. They include Thomas Y. Seymour, who helped the Americans win two game-changing battles near Saratoga, N.Y., in 1777. Seymour, then a lieutenant, led a regiment that included some of the only American cavalry of the war. Afterward, he was given the sensitive task of escorting to Boston the captured leader of the British troops, Gen. John Burgoyne.

Today, you’d never guess that men and women like Seymour are buried in Old South. The place is a shambles–just as it was when I wrote about it for the New York Times in 2000 and when the Hartford Courant followed in 2012. Some very dedicated volunteers have tried repeatedly over the years to get the cemetery’s owner–the City of Hartford–to take better care of it. But you can see which way things have gone in these photos, taken in early September. Even the chain-link fence the city erected as a half-measure to protect the tombstones has been knocked down.

Click on the side arrows to advance or reverse the slides.

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Remembering Hartford in World War I

If all the national coverage of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I has you wondering how the Hartford region got through the war, check out David Drury’s fine 2015 book, “Hartford in World War I.” At 141 pages, it’s a quick read yet packed with  information and photographs. (I was especially struck by a photo of the Army demonstrating one of its early tanks — in Pope Park.)

News of the Armistice signing reached the east coast of the U.S. around 3 a.m. on November 11, 1918, and Drury describes the jubilation that broke out despite the hour in Hartford and surrounding towns:

In the Connecticut capital, a crowd of onlookers began forming outside the {Hartford] Courant’s State Street office at 3 a.m. to catch the latest bulletins, their voices soon hoarse from cheering and singing patriotic anthems. Within an hour, downtown streets were filling up … Over the din of parades and marching, the ringing of trolleys, the tooting of auto horns and the spectacle of hanging the Kaiser in effigy, newsboys scrambled to hawk special editions. Factories and schools closed for the day, as did the saloons, and city officials made preparations for an evening Peace Parade, with the route ending in Bushnell Park beneath the Capitol.

He goes on to quote Mayor Richard J. Kinsella’s proclamation, which seems to capture the relief so many must have felt at the war’s end. Perhaps it was that relief which led him to predict such a war couldn’t happen again.

God is in the heavens and all is right with the world! Autocracy has been crushed and Democracy has been exalted. Never again will a deluded human being, intoxicated by the belief that he is a superman, from the vantage ground of a throne, crush the heads of his people in mad pursuit of abnormal ambition. The Kaiser in ignoble flight to save his own head is a picture that warms the hearts of the American people today.

Hartford honored its World War 1 dead by planting a Trees of Honor Memorial in Colt Park, featuring 186 American elm trees–the known number of dead at the time. To go with the trees, plaques were created for each of the deceased. They eventually numbered 209, to reflect the updated casualty list. But by the late 1960s, the trees and plaques were all gone. More on that later.

100 years after heading ‘Over There’*

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War 1, and the history magazine Connecticut Explored marks it with a Spring 2017 issue full of articles on Connecticut’s role in the war effort. One of them, written by former Hartford Courant editor David Drury, tells the story of Ruth Hovey, a Hartford nurse who was honored by the French government for her service under fire on the Western Front.

For even more on Connecticut’s involvement in the Great War, check out the Connecticut State Library’s repository of online material, “Connecticut in World War 1.” There’s also Mr. Drury’s excellent book, “Hartford in World War I.”

*”Over There” was a patriotic song that encouraged young men to join the military and fight in Europe. Listen to it here.