- Founded: 1846
- Acres: 200
- Design: Garden Style
- NRHP: Yes #77000007
- Topo: Perfect blend of rolling/level/hilly terrain
- Neighbors: What neighbors… it’s seriously quiet here!
- Gear: Flip flop approved
I was presented with the opportunity to travel to Swan Point quite by accident. My offspring needed to make an appearance in the far reaches of Massachusetts for job training and, the day prior, the oldest cancelled. Of course, little sister didn’t drive, so I begrudgingly made arrangements to take off the work day and then steeled myself to mobilize my tired bones at what, in my family, we lovingly refer to as the “ass-crack of dawn”.
As that crack loomed, quite literally, on the horizon and my tired eyes remained stubbornly open I recalled that, somewhere/sometime, I had cataloged in the (useless) knowledge section of my brain a cemetery in Rhode Island rivaling the grandest that points north had to offer. A quick search and I found that my memory had not failed, and that Swan Point lay but a half an hour away from where I was headed. I skimmed the essentials then closed my eyes in hopes of managing at least ten (10) brief winks; content with the notion that, even if not so grand, a visit there was better than asphyxiating in the car for hours while small child learned the art of hard and fast life-saving CPR to the rhythmic beats of “Another One Bites the Dust”.
As I entered the Cemetery, I deliberately by-passed the Administrative Office, intent on mustering a productive crawl… even if it involved some rule-breaking. I know, right? The sheer audacity of me, a Trustee myself, disregarding a fellow cemetery’s policies (my only defense, which is no defense, was I was tad grumpy at having to be ANYWHERE at the ungodly hour of 8 AM). You see, when you visit, you need to be aware that Swan Point is one of the few (perhaps only?) rural cemeteries in this area that expressly prohibits photography of their headstones.
Again… I know, right?
I knew this beforehand, from having visited the website. I knew it but given the early hour, and the vast expanse, I opted to evade the red tape and pleading for permission in the hopes I would be in and out before anyone even noticed. I was operating within a limited time frame, anyway; waiting for the text from small child beckoning my return. Little did I know though, unlike some, their rule is not made to be broken.
Within a short fifteen (15) minutes, I ran smack into “Joe”. I shall call him “Joe”, because I can’t actually remember his name and “Joe” has a nice, familiar ring. It also sounds much more polite than “Howdy” or “Opie”… both of which flashed instantly to mind in response to his delightful shock of red hair and wild smattering of freckles. My new friend, Joe, decked out in a quite snazzy uniform, approached me in a security vehicle just as I was taking a knee to capture a shot. The smirk, and slight shake of the head, he offered as he neared made it clear that he knew, without asking, that I didn’t have that necessary permit from the Office to be doing exactly what I had been caught red handed doing.
Now, I probably haven’t had occasion to mention it yet, but I happen to be a horrifically bad liar. Just, horrific. Because of this, I just don’t waste time – mine or others’ – even trying. Before Joe could even utter a word, I had confessed.
“I know, and no… I did not stop on my way in,” I said to him – I’m sure with a guilty, red-faced shrug – and with that I was immediately, but with a smile at least, banished from the grounds to the ominous Office.
Once there I found, much to my delight, that the ladies were actually quite gregarious and more than willing to give me a permit to photograph “angels and other similar statuary – absent of identifying information – for my own personal collection.” (<— coughcough-hinthint). Armed with their blessings I set off again, with thirty (30) fewer minutes of precious time at my disposal to cover an enormous amount of ground. Luckily when I, yet again, encountered him a few moments later, I found that Joe had taken a bit of a shine to me (or perhaps pity on me… either way lol!).
Joe took it upon himself, as I guess he had nothing more pressing to do, to give me a bit of a guided tour to his personal favorites scattered throughout the grounds. Now, in all honesty, I was resistant to this at first… politely trying multiple times to refuse. I do not, most times, play well with others. In all aspects of my life I like to set my own pace, find my own path, make my own way. I realized, however, that I might not get a chance to return and thus following instead of leading in this case would ensure setting my eyes on, what was likely, some of the best Swan Point had to offer.
As is the norm in cemeteries such as these, the mixture of offerings is wide and varied. Old marbles, irons, bronzes… lambs, sleeping babes, roses… the low lying standard fare no doubt peppered with those fantastic, “one-in-a-million” finds we all stumble upon after hours of wandering. The landscaping and canopy are gorgeous, and so lush in some areas it’s literally like stepping from day into night. With that, of course, comes the passing rabbit and other wildlings; and the birds are bountiful. The Seekonk River brings up the rear, and the banks seem perfect for a mid-day break. I had little time, in my endeavor to keep pace with Joe (and before being summoned back to the land of Motherhood), to enjoy any of that, however. No, our sights were set on bigger things.
Without question, my favorite ended up being the Sprague gisant monument. How it is I was unaware that this existed, I don’t know; but I was drawn to it the moment I saw it. It is massive, heart-wrenching, and sadly showing the harsh effects of Mother Nature as she slowly erases its tender features. (digressing… I also found it ridiculously hard to photograph… the lighting and angles, my being vertically challenged, and the hurried nature of it all just refused to work in my favor!)
The monument was commissioned by Byron Sprague after the deaths in 1850 of his son William, who was just shy of his third birthday, and his ten-year old daughter, Mary, who passed just three (3) months later. The grief that surely consumed him is palpable even today; for it is carved into every fold, every tiny finger, every wrenching word of the epitaph that ends:
“God’s will be done – not ours.”
Moving on, there is much to see in the way of statuary and architecture in Swan Point… with very little repetition. The Nightingale and Lownes bronzes are two (2) absolutely not to be missed; and both are located back towards the river. I mean, I could probably go on and on… until you were literally bored to tears with my ramblings.
Suffice it to say that Swan Point is just that damn cool.
Find them on the web at SwanPointCemetery.com; and line up a day or, perhaps even two, to visit. I will, again, one day. At least, I hope so… because a mere two (2) hours spent there is completely unacceptable! And, yes, if and when I do return, my first stop will certainly be the Office!
Until next time… cwc.
PS: I guess I should probably spill the beans that, for all who didn’t know but might be interested, it’s also the final resting place of the inimitable H. P. Lovecraft. You won’t find a colossal monument to his genius, however, just a humble stone and passing mention amidst the rest of the Phillips family plot.
Want to see more Swan Point? Find it by following the link to the left to my Flickr.