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Third-graders explore Westborough history

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Westborough – One way to learn about history is from a book, but recently, thirdgraders in Westborough's three elementary schools used engravings on cemetery stones as their text at Memorial Cemetery in the middle of town.

"This is my favorite place," Leslie Leslie of the Westborough Historical Society told third-graders from Hastings Elementary School May 6. "This is our open-air museum."

Before she sent them around to examine the stones, Leslie explained the history of the cemetery, once called the "Grave Plain," because it was here in the early 18th-century that the body of a boy named Nahor Rice was found after he and five of his brothers and cousins had been kidnapped by Native Americans. The Rice boys who lived were to take the place of the many native children who died as a result of diseases brought by the settlers, she explained. Nahor, the youngest, was the first buried at the cemetery.

While Nahor's gravesite is not known, Leslie said, later burials were marked with stones and the settlers decorated them with Puritan symbols.

"They used some of the space [on the stone] to tell people about survivors, about life and death, about the inevitability of death," she said, noting the popularity of skulls, or death's heads, on stones symbolizing the inevitability of death. Some have wings on them. "It was a way to give them hope."

As time passed, life was easier for the early settlers of Westborough, and the gravestones changed, she said.

"The times got easier, the skull softens and rounds into a cherub," she explained. "As styles and fashions changed, the pictures changed."

Then she set the children loose to look for particular symbols and types of stones.

Leslie and the two teachers, Kristen Robertson and Tom Salvemini, with the help of some students, dampened the stones with water to help the carvings stand out more clearly.

The local history program has been in existence for decades, and coincides with the third-grade curriculum. Besides the cemetery visit, the students are treated to a presentation in which Leslie dons Puritan garb and talks about the early days of Westborough. They also tour the Historical Society museum and get a brief walking tour of historical buildings near the town center.

"This is a wonderful program," Robertson said.

Salvemini agreed.

"I think hands-on [learning] is wonderful," he said. "Even for the adults, it's very surprising how much history there is in a town like Westborough and how much influence it had on the world."

The students, respectfully moving from grave to grave, looked for poems, the graves of children and veterans, and different types of symbols on the stones as part of the lesson.

Grace Sung stood in front of one stone, studying it carefully.

"I'm wondering why the husband isn't here and why is her daughter here and not her husband," she said.

Later, with Leslie's help, the children learned to read the stone. They indicated that the woman Grace wondered about likely died in childbirth, and her husband was buried nearby, with his second wife.

Julia Doretti thought the drawings were a little offputting.

"I think it's cool, but I really don't want to draw a skull and crossbones," she said.

"Cool" was the common description the children used as they walked through the cemetery studying the gravestones, the most recent students of history in this decades-old program.

"We don't have vandalism problems in Westborough cemeteries," Leslie said, "and I think it's because [the young people] appreciate the art."

Short URL: http://www.communityadvocate.com/?p=2784

Posted by on Jun 27 2008. Filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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