In the 1800s, straw was often strewn onto the lid of a freshly lowered coffin before the task of shoveling began because, as Nathaniel Hawthorne noted so succinctly, “the clods on the coffin lid have an ugly sound.” This and many other historical details from the 19th century will be examined as the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum, in Wethersfield, Connecticut, offers an up-close and creepy examination of all things funereal during its annual Witches and Tombstones Tours.
Due to popular demand, the dates of the tours have been expanded to include two weekends, October 20 and 21 and October 27 and 28, 2012. Saturday tours leave from the Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and at 1 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday tours leave the Museum at 1 and 2:30 p.m. Cost is $10 per person. Tour space is limited and reservations are strongly recommended.
The 90-minute tours begin with tales from the notorious Wethersfield Witch Trials – which preceded the Salem Witch Trials by 30 years – in the Buttolph-Williams House, home to the characters portrayed in the Newbery Award-winning book, “The Witch of Blackbird Pond,” by Elizabeth George Speare. In the 1660s a number of Wethersfield women, and at least one man, were accused of witchcraft during a four-year inquisition that included several executions.
The second stop on the tour is the Wethersfield Ancient Burying Ground, where, among other grim details, visitors will hear of Connecticut’s first mass murder and learn how gravestones warned the living of their own impending peril.
Back at the Isaac Stevens House,visitors willstep back in time and view a room somberly prepared for a wake, including a prepared coffin, shrouded windows and mirrors, and tansy and rosemary to mask any odors. Guides will explain 19th-century mourning practices, how illnesses were treated in the Isaac Stevens House, and discuss how the living dealt with fears of being buried alive.