While in Cape Cod, I’ve explored a bunch of ancient graveyards, and am always intrigued by their distinctly Cape-ish history: sea captains, lost-at-sea deaths, the high birth mortality rate (you often find infant graves beside a mother’s, both having died on the same date), etc. In trying to find some info on them, I came across a great website called Cape Cod Gravestones, an extensive collection of interesting and historical graves in the Cape maintained by an Eastham local.
Something in particular really interested me on the site, though – a section devoted to “Isolated Burials.” These are the kind of graves you find in the most unlikely of places in New England: a backyard, at the end of a public road, in a local park, etc.
A listing that stood out was the grave of Thomas Ridley, a Truro native who died of small pox in 1776. Over fears of his then badly understood illness, he was buried far from civilization, deep in the woods on the northern side of Truro. His is the only grave for any distance around. If you were hiking, you might literally trip over his tombstone. There is no path to it, no directional arrows or helpful tourist signs. It’s a rock hidden amongst the trees. It was meant to be lost.
These are the last known pictures of his gravestone, from a visit in 1993:
Today, I decided to try to find his grave.
Directions from the photographer, a Truro native, are given as follows:
From Montano’s Restaurant..park at back right of parking lot: old road goes off to left; at fork go left…follow trail to where piles of brush are…just before old sand pit take trail to the left up a hill. At the top of the hill the trail splits… goes thru the woods east (right). Follow the trail a little over 1/4 mile in and go left off trail into woods where yellow tape is on both sides. The gravestone is on a lower ridge to the left between two small fairly deep valleys. Good luck!
Hmmm…Written in 1993, how likely is it that any of these are still accurate? While the trails might still exist, I seriously doubted we’d locate a pile of brush, or find yellow tape marking the area. Nevertheless, the description reads almost like the muddled directions on an old treasure map, and I convinced my friends to help me search.
We parked in the back of the above-mentioned Montano’s Restaurant and traipsed through the woods looking for the “old road” and our starting position. It took a while – I think the section of the old road that abutted the restaurant has disappeared from neglect, but we were able to use Google Maps satellite view to locate it deeper on. We started hiking down it:
We kept going for quite a while, but started to have doubts that we were even on the right road…
Then, lo-and-behold, we came to a HUGE pile of brush, as mentioned in the directions. We weren’t 100% sure this was the same pile of brush from 1993…
…but we continued on and soon hit the old sand pit!
Awesome! Just like the Goonies! (sort of!). With renewed excitement, we took a left up the hill and continued on, hoping to find the fork at the top of the hill.
Unfortunately, we hit the top of the hill, only to have the path end about a quarter-mile on. We tried a few possible trails that were probably just random stretches of defoliation, but found nothing. I estimate this to be the path we took:
It was drizzling and muddy, so we gave up for the day, but it’s really been annoying me. Somewhere in this expanse of woods is a single, completely forgotten grave. Even Ridley’s wife was buried far away in a populated Provincetown burial ground.
I e-mailed the owner of the Cape Cod Graveyard site, but he told me that he has never seen it in person, and that the directions/pictures were sent to him by a Truro native who has since passed away. So as it stands, no one knows where it is. It might not even exist anymore.
But “might” doesn’t mean it’s not worth a second look…
From a genealogy book: “About midway of East Harbord, near a dismal swamp, with not a habitation in sight or sound, with not a tree, or rock, or post, or sign of life, where the hills rest tier on tier, alps piled on alps, and the valleys circle deeper and deeper is the solitary grave of Thomas Ridley, who died of small-pox, 1776.”
The book relates that the grave was in pretty bad shape at the time of its discovery, but the 1993 pics suggest something is still out there.
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