Thursday, November 1, 2012

Scene on the Green 11.01.12

The Upper Green is demarcated with crime scene tape. A small tent has been set up yards away from where Occupy set their tents up last year. Where a pair of investigators began their work yesterday, a crew toils now. They are all carefully working to unravel the mystery. Whose bones were revealed when New Haven’s Lincoln Oak was uprooted by Sandy early Monday evening?

The current scene on the Green.

No one noticed the skeletal remains until Tuesday afternoon. People had gathered to marvel at the great tree which had fallen. An inquisitive woman thought she saw something unusual amongst the roots, and after poking around with a stick revealed what looked to be a human skull. She called the police. The New Haven Independent was the first to break the story. 

The proper authorities were contacted. The state Death Investigator arrived, and the investigation began.

Now, for a history break: This part of the Green was once New Haven’s burying ground. After thousands were buried during yellow fever epidemics in 1794 and 1795, the Green became too crowded to continue as the main cemetery. In 1796, a prominent group of citizens led by U.S. Senator James Hillhouse began to craft plans for a new cemetery away from the town center. The State of Connecticut incorporated the cemetery as The New Burying Ground in New Haven in October, 1797, and the first burial there took place the next month. The last burial on the New Haven Green took place in 1812. While the bodies were not exhumed from the Green, the stone grave markers were moved to Grove Street where many line the rear walls in alphabetical order. This brief history is summarized from information on the website of the burying ground, known today as the Grove Street Cemetery. By setting up an account, the curious can even peruse the burial registry.

Now, back to today's news: Latest reports from the Independent speak of the discoveries of bones belonging to two persons, and a hand-wrought coffin nail.

The team has grown to include a variety of experts from Yale, UConn and the various State offices. I stopped by this afternoon and watched the crew gently brushing dirt from the tree roots into a bucket, which was then carried to a table where it was sifted. Every once in a while I could hear excited murmurs about a new find.

The crew at work.

According to the Independent, the work will continue for at least a week and the bones will be analyzed to determine the sex and age of the people, as well as the cause of death.

Keep in mind that when the Lincoln Oak was planted, it was a much smaller tree, requiring a not very deep hole for its root ball. It was only as it grew that its roots would have gone deep enough into the ground to intertwine with the bones which lay beneath. In 1909, the tree’s planters were most likely not aware of what was under their feet as they traversed the Green, just like most of us today until the Lincoln Oak fell.

What next? Come back soon for the next installment. And for some background on the Lincoln centennial...

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