Deciding where to live has always come down to location, location, location.
The same is true when deciding where to be dead.
Some choose a small patch of field in a corner of the family property. Others seek out a hillside skewered by towering trees. Still others prefer to perch where the land greets the ocean, perhaps to keep watch over incoming ships or troublesome seabirds.
But regardless of the care a person puts into choosing the most pristine of eternal resting places, time has a way of changing the landscape — often by way of three-lane turnpikes, single-family homes and shopping plazas. What was a woodsy bed of respite in 1810 might be front-row center to an ongoing theatrical performance of “Turnpike Traffic” in 2011.
You many have already noticed, there are cemeteries in some seemingly strange places in Maine. And when one is spotted — next to a gas station or in the median of a busy street — our first reaction is usually something like, “Who would put a cemetery there?”
The answer: No one. In Maine, that burial ground probably predates the Cumberland Farms by a couple hundred years. Still, we can’t help but be perplexed by the juxtaposition of a cemetery against suburban sprawl.
Hatch-Mitchell Cemetery, I-95 North, mile marker 23, Kennebunk: This small family cemetery, which was used by the Hatch and Mitchell families from the late 1700s to the late 1800s, was once tucked into the woods of Kennebunk. It became road-front property after the Maine Turnpike was laid down next to it. After the widening project in the 1990s, the cemetery found itself within a few feet of I-95′s shoulder.
Family patriarch Obediah Hatch, who died about 200 years ago, might’ve been frustrated by the encroaching traffic. The families may have spent the first few weeks struggling to get back to sleep after all that construction racket. They may have shouted at passing semi-trucks to “pipe down!” or “keep quiet!” and written letters of complaint to town officials.
On the upside, commuting north to Portland is handier than it used to be. And the families have moved from near-obscurity to traveler’s landmark.
PAPER, PLASTIC OR PLOT?
Randall Family Cemetery, Shaw’s Supermarket, Lower Main Street, Freeport: Being in close proximity to a grocery store is usually considered a convenience — except when your current condition means eating is no longer part of your daily routine. Then the passing carts full of bread loaves and coffee cake seem like just a tease.
For shoppers at the Shaw’s Supermarket in Freeport, the family cemetery adjacent to the grocer probably seems out of place. But the 18 or so people buried there weren’t planning to spend eternity next to the deli counter. That private cemetery was once part of a large farm.
Even more confusing to the people buried there: What in Jebediah’s name is a Hot Pocket?
TALK ABOUT PAMPERED PETS
Percival Baxter’s Pet Cemetery, Mackworth Island, Falmouth: It’s not just humans who find themselves tucked into the earth for their eternal slumber — some pets are treated just as honorably. And while many a backyard has a beloved family cat or dog buried under the grass, not many animal resting places can rival that of former Gov. Percival Baxter’s pet cemetery.
Fourteen Irish setters and a horse named Jerry Roan are buried on Mackworth Island, tucked in the woods behind walking trails and near a school for the deaf. The cemetery is open to the public from dawn to dusk.
The burial ground seems as serene as it likely was in 1901, when Skip the Irish setter was placed in a hole and buried there, and is a testament to the very human need to remember the people loved — even if those people were pets and even if we sometimes reused our dog’s names, as Baxter tended to do.
GET OFF MY LAWN!
Smith Street Cemetery, Smith Street, South Portland: If your solitude is traded over time for something more crowded, you could do worse than to end up tucked between single-family homes on a residential street only a few blocks from the beach.
Sure, there are the neighborhood disputes to contend with (How long should holiday decorations remain up on the house across the street before you lodge a complaint?), but after you’ve spent decades in close quarters with your fellow deceased, you probably have neighborliness down to a science.
While the spirits of our state’s past are a popular topic of conversation around Halloween, the cemeteries near the roadside, next to the supermarket or down the street are a reminder that the dead are always with us (while we commute, while we shop, while we walk the dog).
They’re also a reminder that we, too, will one day join the dead, and that the place where we end up might end up being someplace else.
Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at: