Fence repairs are nearing completion at Hilldale Cemetery just in time for Memorial Day.
Appearing on 97.9 WHAV’s Open Mike Show Monday, Thomas Spitalere said more than $3,000 has been raised towards a goal of $4,500 to replace fence posts and related hardware.
“The work for the fence. More than half the fence has been completed from Jeffery Lane to the gate is done. So, we just need from the gate to the city pauper’s cemetery to be finished.”
Spitalere said he had an interest in cemeteries from a young age. He explained, “I’ve always loved graveyards. Graveyards to me are outdoor museums.”
It was this interest that led him to heed a call from Essex National Heritage Area commissioners in 2008 to help catalog old cemeteries. He said he began with a small cemetery on Carleton Street, moved on to the West Parish Burial Ground and finally to the privately owned Hilldale. Eventually, he was informed the previous trustees had all resigned, and he was offered the volunteer post as director.
Asked to provide an overview of the cemetery, Spitalere said there are 400 Civil War veterans buried there. He continued with a count of all the graves.
“There’s around 4,820. That;s what we have in the book, but we have now located names on stones that aren’t in the book. So, once this project is done—the cleaning—we’re going to go stone to stone, row to row and recatalog the cemetery.”
He explained records were well kept from more than a hundred years, but there appears to be gaps in later records from the 1970s and 80s. For the first time in many years, Hilldale will accept new gravesites in the future, but more work is still needed.
“We need money to finish the graves that we’re doing because we need to get grass seed, we need to finish leveling out the big piles of screened loom and getting that place well set up so it looks really nice,” he said.
Sales of new gravesites will help pay for the rejuvenation of the cemetery, he explained.
With a few days left before the holiday, an online fundraising campaign is still short about $1,500. Those who wish to donate may do so at www.gofundme.com/hilldale-cemetery-fence. Haverhill High School history teacher E. Philip Brown, who set up the account, is offering incentives for donations. He will provide a copy of Haverhill 375th Anniversary Book, “Haverhill, Massachusetts: Ships, Shoes, & Mills” for donations of $50; placement of the donor’s name on a brass label on a fence rail for $100; and a copy of Ernie Young’s new book, “Hillies: 125 Years of Haverhill Football,” for donations of $150 or more.
Spitalere said donors may also mail checks to him at 67 Currier St., Methuen.