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To encourage and support the preservation, maintenance, and study of Maine's old cemeteries and their records.


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  • 25 Aug 2023 8:49 AM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    photo of Merrill Family Cemetery by Sam Howes

    by Helen Shaw
    MOCA Legislative Liaison

    Who can access a cemetery or burial ground can be a tricky question and depends on a number of issues. To keep things simple below I will use the term cemetery as the general term.

    If the cemetery is public anyone can go into it during posted hours (usually daytime). 

    Title 13, §1101-A. Definitions: "Public burying ground" means a burying ground or cemetery in which any person may be buried without regard to religious or other affiliation and includes a cemetery owned and operated by a municipality, a cemetery corporation or a cemetery association.   

    If a cemetery is adjacent to (ie: touching) a public right of way, anyone can go into it; again, usually only during daytime. 

    The access issue becomes complex when the cemetery is private and is not adjacent to a public right of way. This issue comes up when talking about accessing an Ancient Burying Ground. The statutory definition is below.

    Title 13, §1101-A. Definition

    1.  Ancient burying ground.   "Ancient burying ground" means a cemetery established before 1880 in which burial is restricted to:  

    A. Members of the family or families that established the cemetery, their descendants or others as chosen by the members of the family or families that established the cemetery; or   [PL 2019, c. 561, §2 (NEW).]

    B. Persons or a group of persons as specified by the persons or group of persons that established the cemetery.   [PL 2019, c. 561, §2 (NEW).]

    The existence of an ancient burying ground may be established in accordance with section 1101-B, subsection 3.   

    Title 13, §1101-B. Ancient burying grounds

     1.  Access to ancient burying grounds on privately owned land.  The owner of an ancient burying ground shall provide a municipality or its caretaker designated pursuant to section 1101 access necessary to perform the duties pursuant to section 1101 and Title 30-A, section 2901. Any unreasonable denial to provide access may result in the owner being held responsible for any fines, court costs and attorney's fees incurred by municipalities in legally obtaining access or for failing to meet the requirements of section 1101.  
    [PL 2013, c. 421, §2 (AMD).]

    2.  Maintenance by landowner.  A person who owns a parcel of land that contains an ancient burying ground and chooses to deny access to the municipality or its caretaker designated pursuant to section 1101 shall assume the duties as described in section 1101 and Title 30-A, section 2901, subsection 1. Maintenance of an ancient burying ground by the owner exempts the municipality from performing the duties as described in section 1101.  

    A municipality or its caretaker designated pursuant to section 1101 to carry out the municipality's functions regarding an ancient burying ground must have access to any ancient burying ground within the municipality in order to determine if the ancient burying ground is being maintained in good condition and repair. If an ancient burying ground or a veteran's grave within an ancient burying ground is not maintained in good condition and repair, the municipality may take over the care or appoint a caretaker to whom it delegates the municipality's functions regarding an ancient burying ground.   

    Title 13, §1142. Family burying grounds

    When a person appropriates for a family burying ground a piece of land containing not more than 1/4 of an acre, causes a description of it to be recorded in the registry of deeds of the same county or by the clerk of the town where it is situated and substantially marks the bounds of the burying ground or encloses it with a fence, it is exempt from attachment and execution. No subsequent conveyance of it is valid while any person is interred in the burying ground; but it must remain to the person who appropriated, recorded and marked that burying ground and to that person's heirs as a burial place forever. If property surrounding a burying ground appropriated pursuant to this section is conveyed, the property is conveyed by the person who appropriated the property or by an heir of that person and the conveyance causes the burying ground to be inaccessible from any public way, the conveyance is made subject to an easement for the benefit of the spouse, ancestors and descendants of any person interred in the burying ground. The easement may be used only by persons to walk in a direct route from the public way nearest the burying ground to the burying ground at reasonable hours.

    The ACLU has on at least one occasion stated in a legislative committee meeting that access by family members as outlined in the statute above, only applies to family cemeteries established after the statute was passed in 1991. MOCA and other groups have tried for years to get legislation passed to allow access for descendants of those buried in Ancient Burying Grounds surrounded by private property. The issue of who owns an Ancient Burying Ground is very complex and is also an issue that MOCA has tried to clarify via legislative action.

    On a related issue, the following is the statute regarding the care of veterans’ graves and Ancient Burial Grounds in general. This covers access for those caring for veterans’ graves and Ancient Burial Grounds.

    Title 13, §1101. Maintenance and repairs; municipality

    1.  Grave sites of veterans in ancient burying grounds.  

    In any ancient burying ground, as referenced in Title 30-A, section 5723, the municipality in which that burying ground is located, in collaboration with veterans' organizations, cemetery associations, civic and fraternal organizations, descendants of veterans buried in the ancient burying ground and other interested persons, shall keep in good condition all graves, headstones, monuments and markers designating the burial place of Revolutionary soldiers and sailors and veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States. To the best of its ability given the location and accessibility of the ancient burying ground, the municipality, in collaboration with veterans' organizations, cemetery associations, civic and fraternal organizations, descendants of veterans buried in the ancient burying ground and other interested persons, shall keep the grass, weeds and brush suitably cut and trimmed on those graves from May 1st to September 30th of each year. A municipality may designate a caretaker to whom it delegates for a specified period of time the municipality's responsibilities regarding an ancient burying ground. A caretaker for a municipality may be designated only by a writing signed by the municipal officers as defined in Title 30 A, section 2001, subsection 10.  [PL 2019, c. 561, §1 (AMD).]

    1-A.  Grave sites of persons who are not designated as veterans in ancient burying grounds.  

    To the best of its ability given the location and accessibility of the ancient burying ground, the municipality in which an ancient burying ground is located may keep the grass, weeds and brush suitably cut and trimmed from May 1st to September 30th of each year on all graves, headstones, monuments and markers in the ancient burying ground not designating the burial place of Revolutionary soldiers and sailors and veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States. A municipality may designate a caretaker to whom it delegates for a specified period of time the municipality's functions regarding an ancient burying ground.

  • 04 Aug 2023 8:43 AM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    GPR. If there were magical letters to cemetery folks GPR is it. Or is it? A lot of folks have seen a typical GPR unit in use. The usual model resembles a lawn mower with a video screen for cemetery uses.

    Just as one doesn’t need to know how a car engine works to get a drivers license, the more one learns about a car the more you know when something is wrong or needs attention.

    GPR is similar in this fashion. You don’t have to have a degree in geophysics but the more you understand GPR’s uses and limitations, the better information and decisions will be had.

    FACT! - GPR IS NOT AN X-RAY MACHINE. Do not expect to use GPR and see bones in a coffin or in the ground.

    At its basic level GPR emits a burst/pulse on microwave energy downward. What comes back is/are reflection/s. It is these reflections that the degree or extra training in geophysics comes in handy.

    The above picture is what you first see on a typical GPR screen. It displays the depth of the wave, area covered in length. The operator has the option to mark the return waves with arrows. The reflected waves suggest to the user that there might be something of interest or not.


    Soil types affect density which affects reflectance. Recent rain fall or high water table affect reflectance.

    Lastly, you have a good reason to believe that you are in the right search area.

    I have used GSSI GPR equipment, an industry leader in GPR from Nashua, NH. I have GPR’d veteran graves at the State’s four veteran cemeteries. I can tell you once you start to understand the waveforms it becomes a good tool to find the edge of existing coffin/casket. As long as you understand the soil type, water levels, recent fertilizer/pesticide applications and are fairly certain that there is reason to believe something is done there are the expected depth. See? Simple.

    At this point the discussion will become very technical. Let’s end with the understanding and expectation that GPR is a good tool on the belt that may or may not provide the evidence you seek.

    by Glenn Roberts

  • 02 May 2022 5:07 PM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    Eastern Cemetery in Portland, one of the earliest burying grounds in Maine (established 1668), is the only cemetery in the state that offers daily guided tours in season. Initially tours were offered only on weekends but in 2013, noted cemetery historian Ron Romano began improving and developing the tours and interest grew steadily. Today, tours are given every day from June through October.

    Tour guide training and scripts improved every year, leading to being named one of the top five cemetery tours in New England by Yankee Magazine. By 2019, about 1,200 visitors were greeted each season and the team of trained guides increased to a dozen volunteers.

    During the pandemic all historic sites in the city suspended guided tours and the gates of Eastern Cemetery were locked. But Spirits Alive offered to take on “gate duty” and designed a self-guided walk for those who wished to tour the cemetery on their own. In 2021, the tours returned and their popularity rose as the guided cemetery walks offered an outdoor, socially-distanced activity suitable for all ages.

    Because the tours of Eastern Cemetery were so popular, Ron Romano has since designed tours of Oceanview Cemetery in Wells for the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit, as well as the landscaped garden-type Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco for the Old Orchard Beach/Saco Adult & Community Education program. Tickets to both tours sold out quickly, proving that interest in cemetery tours is increasing.

    This year Ron will be rerunning the Laurel Hill tours and in June he will lead a tour to discover the early slate gravestones and “billboard monuments” in the churchyard of the Old Baptist Cemetery for the Yarmouth History Center. He has also designed two new cemetery tours: Dunstan Cemetery in Scarborough and Greenwood Cemetery in Biddeford. All of these sites are local treasures with lots to offer those who would like to join a guided tour.     

    Tours, each running 60 to 90 minutes, will run in May and June and are posted on the MOCA events calendar at More information and tickets are available through the host organizations. Email Ron Romano at with any questions.

  • 04 Sep 2021 7:33 AM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    Our member Ron Romano kicks off Buried in Time, a new podcast show certain to please the discriminating taphophile. In their very first episode, Ron delves into the story of stonecutter Bartlett Adams:

    "The year is 1800 and at just 24 years of age, Bartlett Adams, a young stone cutter from Kingston Massachusetts, arrives in the bustling seaside town of Portland Maine. He’s single, talented and has a bit of money in his pocketbook when he sets foot on Maine soil. Many families had already settled in the well established area over the last 150 years, with access to much of everything they could need, everything except gravestones. On that September day, Adams probably had little inkling that he would become such an important fixture in the local funerary business but considering mortality rates during this era was nearly one death every three days, it is no surprise that his first stone-cutting shop would be in extremely high demand."

    Podcast hosts Anna Adams and Allison Dewitt invite you to join them as they unravel the mysterious past of New England residents and visit the vessels that keep them; untangled folklore of the famous and the unknown; and put names to faces & share stories lost to time.

    This episode is available on every podcast platform, but you can also listen to it on the Buried in Time website.

    Listen Today!

  • 10 Aug 2021 7:41 AM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    Portland, Maine - The non-profit group Spirits Alive will again be offering their popular "Walk Among the Shadows"  event this October in Eastern Cemetery. This year's theme is "The Secret History of the Eastern Cemetery - Movers and Shakers in the Old Burial Ground" Seven Spirits will rise from their graves to tell stories of their time in the Old Burial Ground: true tales of new stones, old stones, overcrowding, unexpected relocations, and more.

    Audience members will be led through Eastern Cemetery by specters, encountering each story at a different location within the graveyard. The event occurs live at Eastern Cemetery on October 21-23 and 28-30, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. There will also be a twilight performance on Sundays, Oct. 24 and 31 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Audience groups will enter from the 224 Congress Street gate every 20 minutes during the event on a first-come, first-served basis. Each Walk Among the Shadows performance lasts about 40 minutes. The audience is cautioned to dress for outdoor evening weather and slightly uneven terrain.

    Tickets are available on Eventbrite or at the gate. Suggested donation for admission is $10 ($5 for under 12). Spirits Alive is a non-profit organization formed in 2006, and dedicated to the preservation of Eastern Cemetery. "Walk Among the Shadows" is their largest fundraiser. Eastern Cemetery, 224 Congress Street, is Portland's oldest graveyard, founded in 1668. It is on the list of National Historic Landmarks. All proceeds from this event go to Spirits Alive to help accomplish their twin missions of education and preservation. More info at    

    This presentation is Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

    Other generous event sponsors include: Coffee By Design, Norway Savings Bank, Townsquare Media, UpPortland, Murray Plumb and Murray, Otto Pizza, Osher Map library, Carlson & Turner Bookstore, The Maine Celtics and Learning Works.                            

    Walk Among the Shadows, "The Secret History of the Eastern Cemetery - Movers and Shakers in the Old Burial Ground" October 21-23 & 28-30, 2021 from 6:30 to 7:30pm. Sunday, October 24 and 30, 2021 from 5:30 to 6:30pm. Eastern Cemetery at 224 Congress Street, Portland, Maine. $10 adults, $5 children under 12 years, suggested donation.

  • 20 Nov 2020 2:04 PM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    Legislative Update and Cemetery Laws
    Helen A. Shaw
    October 15, 2020 

    With autumn comes the urge to clean up cemeteries and gravestones before winter sets in. It is great that so many people are willing and able to do the work, but before starting such projects, please make sure to obtain permission from the cemetery’s owner.

    Who owns the cemetery and who can give permission can be difficult to determine and sometimes no one knows who owns a particular cemetery. In the case of Ancient Burying Grounds, it is often the municipality where it is located that can give permission, simply because descendants of the family(ies) that established the cemetery are no longer in the area or cannot be identified or located. Under Title 30‐A, Section 3104, these Ancient Burying Grounds are considered Abandoned Cemeteries: “a cemetery in which no burial has been made in the previous 40 years and the lots or grave sites of which have not been maintained within the previous 10 years, except for maintenance rendered by the municipality in which the cemetery is located.” Under this statute an abandoned cemetery may be formally acquired by a municipality, but many are reluctant to do this due to legal and financial obligations.

    Regarding Ancient Burying Grounds, municipalities are only obligated by state law (Title 13, Section 1101) to care for veterans’ graves and that care only extends to mowing the grass and keeping the graves free of debris, weeds, vines, and fallen trees and branches. Flags must also be placed on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day. Under the same statute municipalities MAY also care for non‐veteran graves, again only mowing and trimming brush and weeds and only from May 1 to September 30.

    Under Title 13, Section 1101, a municipality may appoint a caretaker to take care of both veterans’ and non‐veterans’ graves. The best way to make sure you can take care of an Ancient Burying Ground is to have a municipality appoint you the caretaker for one or more specified burying grounds. A person who owns land surrounding an Ancient Burying Ground may refuse the municipality or designated caretaker access to the burying ground to care for veterans’ graves. In that case, the property owner is obligated to care for any veterans’ graves in the burying ground, but must allow the municipality or designated caretaker access to the Burying Ground to determine if the veterans’ graves are being cared for properly (Title 13, Section 1101‐B, part 2). Access to Ancient Burying Grounds surrounded by private property continues to be a problem and is being worked on. 

    A bill passed by the state legislature in January 2020 and signed in to law by the governor in February amended sections of Title 13, clarifying the definition of, and documentation for the existence of, Ancient Burying Grounds. It also requires a municipality to designate caretakers in writing. A very important part of the revised law addresses the issue of boundaries of an Ancient Burying Ground, which has come up when property owners claim there is no burying ground because there are no fences or gravestones.

    Click to read the new law [PDF]

    NOTE: The revised statute is not yet in the online published statutes so those who want to become a designated caretaker may need to take a copy of the pdf to the municipality when applying.

    Gravestones belong to the family of the person(s) commemorated on them. Unless the stones are modern, it can be difficult to identify living family members to obtain permission to work on the gravestone(s). However, this may not be possible regarding stones in Ancient Burying Grounds. Title 13, Section 1371 outlines who may repair, maintain, or remove “...any tomb, monument, gravestone, marker, or other structure placed or designated as a memorial to the dead, or any portion or fragment of any such memorial or any fence, curb or other enclosure for the burial of the dead...” 

    Click to read Title 13 Section 1371

    When family members or descendants cannot be located, permission for repairs and maintenance is the responsibility of the municipality in which the burying ground is located.

    While it does not explicitly address the issue, Title 13 Section 1371 also protects memorials to Confederate soldiers buried in Maine cemeteries. This would include any version of a Confederate flag placed on the grave of a Confederate soldier. Such flags would be protected just as the United States flag is protected when placed on the grave of a U.S. or Revolutionary War veteran. 

  • 26 Mar 2020 7:12 AM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    The cancellation of the spring program in Lubec has left us with space to fill in the MOCA Spring 2020 newsletter. I am encouraging all members and interested parties to submit essays, articles, poems, photos, illustrations, and any other information related to MOCA activities, old cemeteries, local history, burial and funeral rites and rituals, etc. for consideration to be included in the upcoming newsletter. If we get a lot of submissions, we will hold them to use in future issues.

    Please send written items as Word documents and photos/illustrations in the highest resolution jpg format, and make sure the author of the writing is clear and include identifying captions for photos/illustrations. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, March 31, and items should be sent to me via my online contact form.

    Our members always send fascinating items so I am excited to see what we get this time!

    Thank you,
    Perri Black, MOCA newsletter editor   

  • 05 Oct 2017 3:58 PM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    The History Press has just released Ron Romano’s second book, entitled Portland’s Historic Eastern Cemetery: A Field of Ancient Graves. This book celebrates Portland’s 350-year-old burial ground, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  

    Many MOCA members visited the cemetery in July when the cemetery’s friends group, Spirits Alive, hosted the MOCA summer meeting.  Chapters include “Lost at Sea,” “The Dead House,” and “Five Men Hanged for Murder.”  The book also examines how the minority populations of African Americans, Quakers, and Catholics were treated by the town.  

    Romano is offering MOCA members free shipping on autographed copies of the book.  Contact him at for further details.

  • 07 Aug 2017 1:59 PM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    From Friday, September 8 through Monday, September 11 cemetery conservator Joe Ferrannni of Grave Stone Matters, based in Hoosick Falls, New York, will be working with the Ridge Association and a group of pre-registered participants at a workshop to preserve some of the stones in Ridge (aka South Parish) Cemetery in Martinsville.

    Ferranni will demonstrate a specific technique and then under his tutelage those participating in the workshop will have the opportunity to practice the technique as they work to preserve some of the gravestones in this cemetery.

    Depending on the condition of the stone various techniques may be required. Among the skills covered will be using correct materials and techniques to clean stones, straightening leaning stones, resetting stones in their current bases, making new bases as necessary, replacing rusted pins, repairing using epoxy and infill, and other preservation tasks as the workshop continues and specific needs are discovered.

    Documented direct descendants of any of the persons buried in Ridge (aka South Parish) Cemetery in Martinsville (St. George) Maine who do not want their ancestor’s stone preserved by this group should contact Joyce Davies by August 31, 2016. 

    The Ridge Association, which cares for this cemetery, has already authorized the work.

    Posted in the Knox Village Soup, 2 Aug 2017

    Also: The Courier Gazette, published by Courier Publications LLC, 91 Camden St., Rockland, ME 04841, page D3, Thursday, August 3, 2017

    Workshop Registration Opens 9 August 2017

  • 28 May 2017 9:41 AM | Debi Curry (Administrator)

    Jonathon Flaherty, a student at Cascade Brook School, discovered a potential error on a stone he was cleaning at Academy Corner Cemetery in Wilton. Deb Probert, right, a member of the Maine Old Cemetery Association, guided the stone-cleaning work.

    WILTON — Fifth-graders from Academy Hill School in Wilton and Cascade Brook School in Farmington cleaned stones in the Academy Corner Cemetery on Wednesday.

    But, it was more than just a lesson in cleaning.

    The project, called Stones with Stories, challenged their language arts, math and history skills. Their work will culminate in a map of the cemetery that plan to give to the town, teacher Sarah Reynolds said.

    The project resulted from the Maine Old Cemetery Association workshop at the Weld Road cemetery last summer, Deb Probert, association member, said.

    Town Manager Rhonda Irish thought it would be good to involve schoolchildren in cleaning the stones.

    Students previously visited the cemetery on the opposite corner of Main and Depot streets.

    After cleaning each stone, they compiled information, including names, dates and inscriptions. Jonathon Flaherty, a student at Cascade Brook School, discovered a potential error on a stone. Prior to cleaning, the name appeared to be John Hay but the clean stone indicated the name was John Day who died in the 1800s.

    Probert assured him the name would be researched.

    The students' history, literacy and writing skills were stretched as they researched the person or family whose names were on the stones and wrote about them and the period in which they lived, Reynolds said.

    Lucinda Carroll, a student at Academy Hill, relished the research task and is creating a snapshot of the Morse family, Reynolds said.

    Four members of the family died within four months from typhoid fever, the result of contaminated water, Carroll said.

    Maxine Brown of the Wilton Historical Society said there was an outbreak of typhoid fever in 1816 followed by another in 1830.

    The cemetery dates back to 1816, maybe 1810, she said. The are 38 stones that are visible and some may be buried. The cemetery sign says Academy Hill Cemetery but it is actually Academy Corner Cemetery, she said.

    The school across the street was originally the Academy Freewill Baptist Church which was built in the mid-1800s. Many buried within the cemetery were likely members, she said.

    The large, open barn-type building later became Wilton Academy, which burned in 1980, she said. A photo of the original church is on display at the society's museum.

    There are three veterans buried in the cemetery, she said. Two are veterans from the War of 1812 and one is from the Revolutionary War.

    The Maine Old Cemetery Association wants to "foster interest in the discovery, restoration and maintenance of Maine cemeteries and to preserve records and historical information which relates to them," according to its website.

    Reprinted by permission of author, Ann Bryant Sun Journal
    Franklin | Saturday, May 20, 2017

    See original article/additional photos

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