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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Dead Come to Life in East Cemetery Tour

The Dead Come to Life in 
East Cemetery Tour:
Reenactors share bios 
on notable war veterans
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – It’s unsettling to see so much activity in a graveyard. But local residents were just dying to get in to hear the stories of some of the cemetery’s celebrated inhabitants.

On Saturday afternoon May 14, the Fairfield Museum and History Center hosted an interactive tour of the East Cemetery, at the end of Old Post Road. Interred veterans of the War of 1812, Revolutionary War and Civil War were all highlighted. The event was chiefly organized by the Museum’s Librarian Assistant and Genealogist Rod MacKenzie.

“I learned that people are very interested in visiting cemeteries,” said MacKenzie. “We did two similar events in Greenfield Cemetery in past years. I chose the East Cemetery this time given that this year is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and there are 18 Civil War veterans from the area buried here.”

One of the 18 is Christopher Columbus Wells, whose story was being told by docent Amanda Nadolny. “Wells was a private who served in the Connecticut Heavy Artillery Unit,” she said. “He fought in battles at Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Hatcher’s Run. Out of 700 in his unit, 427 men were killed. He was fortunate to survive and became Fairfield’s first mail carrier.”

With regard to the Revolutionary War, there are three veterans interred in the cemetery, including John Morehouse, Abel Turney and Aaron Turney. The Turney’s lived in the immediate area and, in fact, an ancestral cousin, Bill Stansfield, was on hand touring the cemetery.

“I’ve always been interested in my family’s roots,” said Stansfield. “It’s great to walk by their houses, around where they were and here where they are buried. I’m a research genealogist so have learned much about the family.”

Portraying Stansfield’s cousin Aaron, Michael Perazzini said, “Aaron started out as a private in the artillery in the Colonial Army and fought at the Siege of Boston. He was also at the Burning of Fairfield and rose to the rank of lieutenant. He was never wounded.”

Standing in as Abel Turney, 15-year-old Sean Larson said, “Abel was a sailor in the Revolutionary War, joining when he was about 15, in 1781. He served on the Alliance, a 32-gun frigate that fought in a major sea battle between the Atlanta and the Trepassey, two British ships. Turney was shot in the leg, rendered unconscious and was almost thrown overboard with the dead. At the last minute, he regained consciousness and was saved. Though he remained a cripple, he pursued the building trade, married twice and had nine children.”

Representing the veterans of the War of 1812, of which there are over 30 buried in the cemetery, was Betty Oderwald, president of the Daughters of the War of 1812. “The conflict, fought between Britain and the U.S., was known as the ‘end of the Revolution,’” she said. “Notable graves include Joseph Sturges, Samuel Nichols and William Turney. All of these vets were in the militia. There were 5,000 militiamen from Connecticut. As a tribute to them, we’re giving flags to visitors to place at their gravesides. Next year starts the bicentennial anniversary of the war.”

What would a history-oriented event be without honorary town historian Marcia Miner? She stood by at the grave of Capt. Abraham Benson, her ancestral relative. “Benson was recruited to fight in the War of 1812 but did not report for duty and was fined,” she said. “He was a captain of a steamboat shuttling up and down the Hudson River at that time.”

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