The Sedgwick Pie

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The Sedgwick Pie in Strockbridge Massachusetts. Image via Wikipedia

The preservation of cemeteries/monuments is not something I know very much about, but there is an entire cadre of preservationists out there who are dedicated and incredibly enthusiastic about this subject.  Thanks to them, I’m slowly learning more and more about the topic and find my own enthusiasm growing.  Because, as Sunny Townes Stewart recently wrote regarding her latest experience with this type of work,

Being in an old building is in many ways a spiritual experience for me, but I think graveyard work is perhaps even more meaningful. Historic graveyards, in particular, are powerful places, and they are poignant reminders of the fragility of life. Feeling the love of the dead’s survivors, literally etched into the stone, and doing this kind of work preserves what might be the only lasting legacy of a person’s life is a rewarding task, indeed.

I think it is the idea that in preserving a grave monument you might be preserving “the only lasting legacy of a person’s life,” that really resounds with me.  Let’s face it, we won’t all go down in history.  After all the people who love us and do remember us  also die, all that will be left is a stone with our name and dates on it (and of course all of the internet and phone records the US government is collecting and storing ha!). But really, for those who aren’t famous, not much is left of our story. Not to be maudlin or anything!

Moving on!  In light of this burgeoning (if not a little lachrymose) interest, I wanted to share with you an incredibly unique burial plot I recently learned about – The Sedgwick Pie.  (I would like to tell you I discovered the Sedgwick Pie while pursuing something high-minded, but really I clicked on a random link having to do with Hollywood stars with roots in  Colonial America or something equally ridiculous!*)

The Sedgwick Pie, which takes its name from its unusual shape, developed in the early 19th century in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  Located at the back of Stockbridge Cemetery, it is a series of concentric circles, all ringing a common pair of ancestors. At the center are the graves of Theodore Sedgwick, family patriarch and a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and his wife, Pamela Dwight Sedgwick.  At their feet, buried in a circle around them are their seven children. The children of those children are buried around them and so on for SIX generations.  The pie also includes in-laws, servants, and family pets all grouped by family affiliation.

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Diagram of the Sedgwick Pie. Image via Sedgwick.org

And if that wasn’t enough, the buried are laid to rest with their feet toward the center. Traditionally (at least at Stockbridge Cemetery), graves are oriented to the east – the direction of the rising sun, Jerusalem, and the Resurrection.  So the joke is that when the Sedgwicks rise on Judgement Day, they will only have to see other Sedgwicks!

Beyond the kooky-ness factor of the Sedgwick Pie, I really like this funereal anomaly because it tells a story. There is a bigger picture here than a single grave with a headstone. By choosing to be buried in this manner, it is obvious that these Sedgwicks (as not every descendent has chosen to be laid to rest here) value their family and tradition.  And not just that, they value their traditions above others. They don’t mind hanging out for eternity eschewing the traditions of the majority (feet facing east? pshaw!)  just doing their own thing with their own peeps.

So I guess the lesson here  is if you aren’t famous and you are afraid of being forgotten, make sure you’re buried in an unusual way?  Have you seen other unusual burial plots? Or tombstones?  Share in the comments!

*It was Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer, Something to Talk About, Phenomenon) that was the Hollywood star with Colonial roots. Also there was Edie (who is not buried in the pie, unfortunately). And there are a whole host of other famous Sedgwicks (authors, lawyers, politicians) as well.

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3 comments

  1. sunnystewart5

    Wow, thanks! I’m glad you identified with my post. Part of what was so inspiring to me was the passion that Dean Ruedrich has for his work. He does other kinds of restorations to, but he has a special place in his heart for cemeteries and it really inspired most of us in the class. The Sedgwick Pie sounds fascinating!

    Another interesting tradition that I’ve recently witnessed is that of the Moravians. Part of our field school was held at Old Salem (in Winston-Salem, NC), which the Moravians established in the 1760s. The graveyard there is called God’s Acre (which Wikipedia says is the traditional name for most Moravian cemeteries), and it has some pretty interesting, unique characteristics. Historically, Moravians weren’t buried with their families but with others of their gender and age. And each marker is the same size:

    “Moravians believe strongly in equality, even in death; therefore, every stone in a God’s Acre is a recumbent stone with the same proportions and made of the same material so that no one person stands out among the stones.” (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God's_Acre)

    Most stones have some a Biblical phrase or poignant quote engraved along with their name, years of life, and birthplaces. It’s really a beautiful place.

    • bricksandmortarpreservation

      Thank you for writing such an inspiring post! Moravian cemeteries sounds really interesting! I’m not at all familiar with any Moravian traditions. I read the Wikipedia entry, and I love that the Moravians are buried by choir, and not (like you said) by family, so that the congregation symbolically continues in the graveyard. To me, it also symbolizes that the congregation is a type of family, and that’s really beautiful. Thank you so much for the comment and keep up the good work at A Touch of History. I love reading it!

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