The Friends of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

By Nathalie McCarthy - Correspondent
All Photos: Jessalyn Frank

Meandering through the windy roads whether by walking or driving, one can see the work of the many people who volunteer their time to “enhance and promote the preservation, beautification and appreciation” of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. 

It may seem like a sleepy place, but it is alive with the “Friends of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery” who have a very collaborative relationship with the town’s Cemetery Committee and the Department of Public Works.  The Friends is a non-profit organization that was established in 2002 and who are enjoying a celebratory 20th anniversary this year.

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Photo: Jessalyn Frank

“One member of the Friends attends and acts like a liaison, and if the Friend’s come up with an enhancement or education project idea, the proposal is presented to the others at their meetings,” says Kevin Plodnik, President of the Friends of Sleepy Hollow Board of Directors.

On this 20th anniversary of the Friends, there have been two special giftings that are enhancements for the cemetery.

“From photos in the archive, the original lettering of “Sleepy Hollow” that was once atop Pritchard Gate at the main cemetery,  a reproduction of the lettering was made and has been put  at the gates to the Knoll to connect the old and new sections,” said Kevin.

“Daniel Chester French’s Melvin Memorial,  which has been recently renovated now has new protective bollards which sets it off the thoroughfare to give it a sense of reverence.” One can read about the history of this beautiful sculpture on the “earlier contribution from the Friends on a framed history” located here.

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Daniel Chester French’s Melvin Memorial – Photo: Jessalyn Frank

Welcome signs and the excellent map (a very useful and informative publication by the Friends) are other projects that help people to know where they are going.  It is a fascinating overview of the history of notable people buried there, the evolution of the cemetery to its present day and characteristically different sections.

“Every man passes his life in the search after friendship.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sitting on one of the granite benches gifted by the Friends, one can sit and contemplate the beautiful hilly setting of the graves.

Perhaps at this point in the walk, one might enjoy reading another of the Friends’ worthwhile publications, “Obituaries of Concord’s Luminaries.”  Kevin is very enthusiastic about this publication, and says that “the obituaries in those days were flowery descriptions, which gave a deeper look at how they were respected in life and honored in their passing.”  From the famous authors on Author’s Ridge to the sculptor Daniel Chester French, Ephraim Wales Bull (the originator of the Concord Grape) and more, reading these obituaries will give more insight into Concord’s local and colorful history and make the walk through time more meaningful.

Kevin relayed the story of Thurston Handley and his wife who volunteered “tirelessly to create and maintain the gardens…that are located near the two flagpoles and in the area now known as the Town Assessor’s Office. One can climb up the hill to see the Handley Commemorative Garden that “the Friends created and dedicated to the continuing relationship with Carolyn Handley and her late husband. H. Thurston Handley, Jr. who died in 2016.

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Photo: Jessalyn Frank

Each year, there is a breakfast event sponsored by the Friends which typically features a historian, author, distinguished resident or other notable guest speaker. For the 20th anniversary, the documentary “Daniel Chester French: An American Sculptor” was shown to the general public with the guest speaker being the film’s producer, Eduardo Montes-Bradley. Another celebratory event this year hosted an interesting speaker, Beth van Duzer, a Concord historian, who spoke on the engaging topic of “Concord’s Cemeteries and the Stories They Tell.”  Kevin said that it was interesting to hear about how “the bigger the stone, the more they tell.”

The financing for the projects of the Friends of Sleepy Hollow are made possible by many generous donors, an annual appeal, and revenue from the publications which are sold in several locations around town.  There is much appreciation to all those who help keep this treasure “where people might go to contemplate life and death in a beautiful natural setting.”

For more information, friendsofsleepyhollow.org has a wealth of information about the Friends and more about this fascinating cemetery. 

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