September 22, 2014

Missing headstone returned to Williston

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By Stephanie Choate
Observer staff
After turning up in the basement of a former fraternity house, a headstone belonging to a long-deceased Williston infant is back in town.
Chris Walker, who works in the training and compliance office at the University of Vermont, said the university is in the process of cleaning out the site of the former Delta Psi fraternity house at 61 Summit Street. The university purchased the stately house in 2007 and is renovating it for use as an alumni home.
In the basement of the empty house, resting on a bar, Walker discovered a headstone that reads “Infant son of George A and Mary L Chapman. Died Sept. 20 1841,” the words faint after a century and a half of wind and weather.
The child’s name was apparently never given or never inscribed.
Walker said he asked around, but no one seemed to know much about the headstone, so he turned to the trusty tool Google. Walker learned that George and Mary Chapman were Williston residents, and he contacted the town offices.
Town Manager Rick McGuire said he received an email last week from Walker.
“I would love to return this head stone to its rightful spot,” Walker wrote in the email.
After McGuire and Town Clerk Deb Beckett verified that the person on the headstone was buried in the East Cemetery, Walker delivered the headstone to the town hall.
“It will be placed where it belongs in the cemetery,” McGuire wrote in an email to the Observer. “We are all speculating that the headstone was stolen from the cemetery a number of years ago and remained in the basement until today.”
Like many Williston residents in that era, George and Mary Chapman were farmers, according to town records turned up by Beckett. George Chapman was born in 1811 in Cavendish and died in 1894 of “congestion of the lungs.” Mary (Wright) Chapman was born in 1814, the daughter of Abram and Hannah (Dunham) Wright. She died in 1895.
Beckett said it’s hard to say when the stone went missing.
The stone will have to be repaired before it can be replaced, Beckett said. The 2-foot high fragment, broken at the base, looks like it was knocked down. About a quarter of it likely remains in the ground.
Until it can be returned to its proper place, it is safe in Beckett’s office.
“I’m glad that it’s going to be back in its rightful spot,” Walker said.

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