Sea Captains’ Burial Ground

June 18, 2012 — I dig visiting graveyards, but the older I get, the closer the experience gets to shopping instead of leisure. They cause me to think a little too much about the place where my own molecules will say their final awkward goodbyes before going their separate ways. A couple of weeks ago, I might’ve inadvertently found the perfect little place to molder. Except that I can’t be buried there. Because I’m not a sea captain. Or Canadian.

The Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick is an amazing place. World-record tides of 50 feet and higher, flowerpot rock formations, sea caves, fossil cliffs. And a nice place to see some of those sites is the Fundy Trail Parkway, a 10-mile stretch of scenic drive on the western coast of the bay.

You pay a fee to enter, and then you can hike, bike, or slow-drive it, stopping at all the overlooks, rocky beaches, walking paths, rivers, waterfalls, and woodlands along the route. Also, the private burial grounds of an indeterminate number of sea captains.

We didn’t know anything about this little oddity going into the parkway. In fact, we were just planning to enjoy a laid-back morning cruising the scenery and not worrying about having to enter OTIS mode (which I was saving later for Hopewell Rocks). Things get frantic in OTIS mode. Sometimes ugly.

However, we’d only gotten as far as the second stop on the parkway when I saw the sign: Sea Captains’ Burial Ground. Suddenly it was business. Actually, I don’t get paid for this, so…Suddenly it was hobby.

The signs pointed us to the back of the parking lot, which bordered the forest. From there, we walked over a short wooden bridge to a grassy path that paralleled the forest edge as it gently rose into the woods. After traversing the equivalent of a pleasant stroll, the woods opened onto a beautiful, secluded, sun-dappled glade. With its own pair of graveyards.

The graveyards were similar, each about the size of a suburban front yard and delineated by nicely kept white picket fences. The entryway arch of one had the surname “Melvin” on it. The second cemetery, a bit deeper into the forest, bore “Fownes” over its entrance.

I feel like somebody could make up a lot of great stories about two identical graveyards in the middle of a forest.

Most of the tombstones were gone from both cemeteries, and the few that remained were mostly in the Fownes graveyard. However, a few dozen plain, white wooden crosses proliferated in the long graveyard grass.

It was a beautiful, peaceful spot, almost faerie. In the past, it might have been a different kind of beautiful since without the thin strip of trees and parkway currently between it and the cliffs of the bay, it probably commanded a millionaire’s view of Fundy.

As to the history of this burial land, there wasn’t anything posted at the site, nor is there a whole lot out in the ether. I had to contact parkway staff in order to finish this post. According to the email I received in response (thanks, Rachel), the cemetery was discovered during the creation of the Fundy Trail Parkway back in the late 1990s. They researched it, restored it, marked the graves of those bodies who’d lost their heads…tones with the aforementioned white crosses, and they now maintain it as part of the Parkway.

The Fownes and Melvins were apparently early settlers in the area, claiming their piece of Canada sometime in the 1700s. Both families became shipbuilders and world-traveling seamen in the mid-1800s, as well as owning farmland.

As to the name chosen for the graveyards, none of the gravestones that survive with their epitaph intact bear the title “Captain” on them. I wasn’t told how many actual sea captains are buried there, just that there are more than 45 interments and that many of the men in those families died at sea, so the name might be spin. But it’s good spin. I doubt “ship builders’ burial ground” or “farmers’ burial ground” could’ve pulled me away from the wonders of creation on the far side of the road to see this wonder of degeneration. Eh, who am I kidding. Graveyards are like the pocket watches of hypnotists to me.

I do know that whatever the occupation of those below that forest floor, salt-bearded sea captain, calloused-handed carpenter, or dirt-footed farmer, they’re kind of living my dream. Corpse as a tourist spot. Also my nightmare. Swings with my moods.