Around this time last year I joined the board of the East Boston Museum and Historical Society. Last weekend the group put on a ‘tombstone tour’ of the Bennington Street Cemetery– a neighborhood asset that I’ve passed thousands of times but have never visited because it’s always locked. Tour guide Steven Gingras and lead researcher Jeanne Belmonte (both EBMHS board members) wowed the crowd with their interesting, entertaining, and informative tour, and the weather cooperated nicely. An article from the East Boston Times with a great description of the event follows.
Although I understand that locking this cemetery is the safest option for the preservation of the stones and grounds, events like this always remind me of all of the various neighborhood histories and assets that are hidden or inaccessible. I have lived in East Boston since 2005, am fascinated by history, and this was the first time I’ve ever been invited inside. Although not as spectacular as Mount Auburn, Steven and Jeanne’s research showed that Bennington Street Cemetery once functioned as a garden cemetery and hosted picnics and hundreds of visitors. Is there a middle ground we could consider for access that exists between ‘locked forever’ and ‘so open that a band of thieves could have their secret hideout there.’ (This was one of the anecdotes from the tour– how cool is that!) Thank you for granting us access to this slice of Eastie history, EBMHS!
East Boston Museum Hosts ‘Tombstone Tour’ of Bennington Street Cemetery
by East Boston Times Staff • November 2, 2022 •
The East Boston Museum and Historical Society hosted a walking tour of the historic Bennington Street Cemetery on Saturday, Oct. 29. Timed to coincide with neighborhood celebrations of Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, the tour was envisioned as a way to teach attendees about the history of the cemetery and the legacy of East Boston’s early immigrants and industry as told through the stories of those buried within.
Saturday’s tour attracted approx. 150 participants, mainly residents of East Boston. While some residents have had the opportunity to visit Bennington Street Cemetery in previous years, the majority were getting to visit the space for the first time, with the cemetery gates usually locked year-round, except on request. Visitors ranged from longtime residents to new arrivals, as well as several kids, many in costume. The tour was arranged and presented by Steven Gingras of the East Boston Museum, with board member Jeanne Belmonte contributing research on burials and their backgrounds.
Founded in 1838, Bennington Street Cemetery was the first cemetery created for the newly established neighborhood of East Boston, as well as the second-most modern cemetery in the city’s Historic Burying Grounds Initiative. Active from 1838 through the late 1940s, the cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of Bostonians, and residents of the East Boston community particularly. Notably buried in the cemetery are many of the early immigrants who arrived in East Boston in the mid- to late-19th century, hailing from places such as Ireland, Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, and Maritime Canada, and working as laborers in the neighborhood’s burgeoning manufacturing and maritime industries. The cemetery and the headstones within record these origins, for instance with 11 of the currently legible headstones being written in German.
The tour also touched upon several notable events at the cemetery itself, such as its use as a park, ghostly sightings, and its use as a criminal hideout during the Great Depression.
The East Boston Museum and Historical Society seeks to honor and preserve the rich and diverse history of East Boston for current and future generations. A volunteer-run initiative, the Museum holds regular events educating members of the public on East Boston history. The Museum is also in the process of updating its virtual presence, and organizing physical exhibitions for the public to visit.
Online, the tour has attracted significant attention from residents, including from those who weren’t able to attend. The East Boston Museum is thrilled at the huge turnout, and high levels of interest from the public in the cemetery’s history. While no firm plans have been decided, residents can be assured that the East Boston Museum is looking into organizing more events and resources connecting residents with Bennington Street Cemetery in the near future.