BRATTLEBORO — When Morningside Cemetery opened at the turn of the 20th century, it proved so popular, the family of the late Vermont Gov. Levi K. Fuller (1841-1896) moved his grave to the new grounds, adding what was then the state's tallest memorial.
In the 125 years since, the South Main Street cemetery has grown with the passing of generation upon generation of locals, from Antonio Abbiati (1920-2003), a monument creator who designed poet Robert Frost's crypt cover, to Leslie Zagrubski (1906-1999), a ripsaw operator at the neighboring Cersosimo Lumber Co.
But the 2,000-plot resting place is hardly a favored destination - especially for those who've disagreed with its age-old rules and regulations that call for caskets and traditional configurations.
Enter the municipal Cemetery Committee, which is aiming to bring the historic site into the present.
“We've been working on a project for a number of years to open an area for 'green' burials without embalming, coffins or vaults,” Committee Chair Brian Bannon recently told the Selectboard.
The committee was revising its ordinance when area Muslims asked permission to change the geography of their plots. Morningside has followed the practice of Christians, who point their graves east-west toward the rising sun. The Islamic faith, in contrast, faces them north-south toward its holiest site of Mecca.
That's when local leaders started thinking.
“Why not combine these,” Bannon recalled, “and allow everybody to have a chance for dignified burials?”
New, inclusive options
On Memorial Day, a new cemetery section opened to offer that opportunity for anyone seeking options.
“It's intended to be inclusive,” Bannon said, “and meet the needs of folks who haven't been taken into account.”
Locals were similarly inspired when they founded Morningside a century and a quarter ago.
Back then, Brattleboro was served by the neighboring Prospect Hill Cemetery, established in 1796 to hold such legendary locals as Royall Tyler (1757–1826), author of the first American comedy play, and William Morris Hunt (1824–1879), an acclaimed portrait and landscape painter.
With space dwindling by 1900, locals purchased adjacent farmland to create Morningside Cemetery.
“It quickly became a favored place to be interred,” resident Lee Ha wrote in a recent Brattleboro Historical Society newsletter. “Many people moved their deceased loved ones from their original gravesites in other cemeteries.”
The new cemetery section is adjacent to one for the Jewish community, whose Orthodox members, like Muslims, believe burials should occur within 24 hours of death. The area will be open to people not only from town but also the surrounding region.
“There's nothing like it around for 100 miles,” Javed Chaudhri, a member of the local Muslim community, told municipal leaders.
The special section has its own name: “Rawdat Al Salaam.”
“Garden of Peace,” Chaudhri translated. “It's open to everybody. That's the beauty of it.”