The North Burial Ground in the 21st century

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Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

by Dr. Frances Leazes and Michelle Valletta 3/19/2016 (reprint)

The Heritage of the Past is the Seed That Brings Forth the Harvest of the Future.” American Abolitionist Wendell Phillips

The historical cemetery is becoming cool. All across the nation, these historic grounds are making a comeback as local policymakers, cemetery organizations, and preservationists re-purpose and rejuvenate historical cemetery sites as places to enjoy leisure activities and cultural events that meet 21st century lifestyles, and can serve as anchors for tourist related economic development activities.

This is not entirely a new trend.  In the early nineteenth century as a result of the rural cemetery movement, traditional burial grounds were envisioned as public parks and garden landscapes. The rural cemetery movement helped transform society’s views of burial sites from dreary reminders of mortality,(See the North Burial Ground interned Revolutionary War veteran Caesar Wheaton’s epitaph (1780) “Look on my grave as you pass by and learn of me that you must die,”) to locations where the living honored the deceased, appreciated nature, and found sanctuary from industrialization and in later times the anxieties of the Civil War.

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Green-Wood Cemetery, NY

Today in a similar vein, people recognize the need to preserve local history and culture.  They are employing groundbreaking ideas geared to re-purpose historical cemeteries as sites for relaxation, leisure, and exercise activities such as walking, biking, and yoga classes. Others tap into the numerous economic development opportunities that draw out- of-state tourists and reengage the local community.  Some of the most innovative and successful programs at the sites include walking tours, preservation workshops, art shows, film screening, and concerts.

Further, historical cemeteries are valuable, accessible and low cost educational sites.  Local schoolteachers use cemeteries to teach students about history, architecture, the environment, and community service.  Higher education incorporates cemetery examination into Preservation, History, Geography, Anthropology, Psychology, and Environmental Studies courses.

The historic North Burial Ground and the adjacent Randall Park present an ideal setting for these types of activities and more. The urban transportation infrastructure is already in place with the RIPTA rapid bus route on North Main Street and easy access to I-95.  The North Burial Ground borders vibrant neighborhoods and local businesses.  Reestablishing community connections to historical cemeteries is a win-win for the residents of Providence and activists concerned with the future of the North Burial Ground. Forward-looking initiatives can inspire a broad array of opportunities that benefit the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. Envisioning the North Burial Ground as a multipurpose site would allow Providence to join the national trend to make historic cemeteries worthy of public and private investment.   Let’s unearth its potential.

Charles Dowler: a forgotten artist in Rhode Island

Charles Parker Dowler (January, 1841-January 24, 1931) By: Michelle Valletta, MA,  Public Historian, Rhode Island College and Roger Williams University

At a glance, Charles Dowler’s life story portrays the rise of a British born working class immigrant in Rhode Island during the nineteenth century. Coming from a modest English background, Dowler  traveled to America to begin a new life.  Originally trained in the gunsmith trade, Dowler embraced the American dream and reinvented himself as a talented designer, sculptor, and modeler. Yet, his story reveals so much more. On one hand, his career depicts an artisan with abundant talent and an industrious mindset determined to build prosperous business. Despite his achievements, he struggled to obtain acceptance in the high culture community. On the other hand, his personal life demonstrates a commitment to civic engagement, strong traditional beliefs, and a deep pride for his English heritage that he never abandoned.

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Sidney Rider: Rhode Island’s 19th Century Pundit

Sidney Rider (1833-January 31, 1917) By: Michelle Valletta, May 31, 2015

 Legislature has produced more misery, both in England and the United States, than all the other causes of misery combined. Sidney Rider

Sidney Rider lived a full public life as an engaged citizen, merchant, critic, historian, writer, collector, reformer, and publisher. While his writings often centered on controversy and scuttlebutt, many of his contemporaries admired his erudite knowledge of Rhode Island History. Today, scholars and researchers are indebted to Rider for his meticulous collection of Rhode Island literary artifacts now housed at the John Hay Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

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Natalie Curtis Burlin – Amateur Ethnomusicologist, Anthropologist, and Folklorist

Natalie Curtis Burlin By: Michelle Valletta, May 31, 2015
Born: April 26, 1876, New York City, NY – Death: Oct. 23, 1921, Paris, France – Interned: North Burial Ground, Providence, RI.

In the early twentieth century, Natalie Curtis embarked on a pioneering quest to reveal the roots of ‘true’ American identity (which she believed originated) in Native American life. Alone the way, Curtis not only became an advocate and chronicler of Native American and African American music and culture, but also discovered her own individuality. She hoped to protect these traditional cultures from an increasingly modern society and to present their value to broader audiences. However, in spite of her efforts, Curtis remained a product of her time; struggling to negotiate between traditional gender and racial beliefs and avant-gardism.

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Mary Tyler Peabody Mann: a tribute to a teacher

Mary Tyler Peabody Mann (November. 16, 1806- February 11, 1887) By: Michelle Valletta, May 31, 2015

Many people reMary Mann 1member Horace Mann, father of public education in the US, but fewer recall his second wife Mary Tyler Peabody Mann; teacher, published author, reformer, and co-founder of the first kindergarten in America. Many nineteenth century parents expected their sons achieve great success. However, the Peabody trio of sisters (Mary, Elizabeth, and Sophia) became the trailblazers of the family. This commentary focuses on Mary.  While she never lived in Rhode Island, she is interned in the North Burial Ground, Providence, RI.

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Earl’s Court Narragansett

Does anyone remember this place in Narragansett?

Earlescourt Water Tower 1886-1887, Earles Court Road.

The tower as originally built,with its water tank surrounded by a balcony decorated with a sculpture of a griffin. Water stored here supplied the nearby Earlescourt

Walking Tours Perspective

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Cloud 1 walking tour square


What works in Savannah may work in Providence

An Analysis of Savannah Walking Tours

Walking tours can be a hard sell in our fast-paced automated society.  Some believe that walking tours seem antiquated, low tech, and dull.  At the same time, some people discount the economic benefits of walking tours. Despite these views, well planned and properly run walking tours can be cutting edge, educational, entertaining, and generate revenue. Today, tour operators are bringing ambulatory sightseeing into the twenty-first century by incorporating state-of-the-art technology, employing passionate and knowledgeable staff, and rekindling the pleasure of this traditional mode of sightseeing.

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I wish I knew _________ about Rhode Island history.

I wish I knew _______about Rhode Island history.

Go ahead, fill in the blank.  Is there something you want to know about Rhode Island’s history?  Post your inquiry in the leave a comment link (top right).

The Great Pandemic of 1918

Did your mother ever tell you not to drink from drinking fountains? If so, there is a good chance that her advice stemmed from fear of influenza.

RI Hospital waiting room 1918

In 1918, influenza, also know as the Spanish flu in the United States, spread quickly and killed an estimated 50 million to 100 million people around the world. In Rhode Island, thousands of people contracted the virus.  Stricken residents died at a rate of more than fifty a day. Government officials called a state of emergency, medical personal struggled to find a way to contain the virus and treat the sick, and many Rhode Islanders succumbed to panic. Do you know local stories about the Great Pandemic of 1918? Share your stories and photos in the comment box (upper right).

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