Historian seeks out identities of veterans buried in Concord unmarked graves

  • Historian Jim Spain at the marker for the veterans that were buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery that were at the New Hampshire Hospital. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/30/2022 4:22:10 PM

Mention any part of Concord’s history – its buildings that still stand, its storefronts that are long gone, the welcome home parade after World War II – and Jim Spain gets excited.

Mention the forgotten veterans buried in five city cemeteries – some with headstones devoid of names, dates and hometowns, others with no stone at all – and his excitement approaches obsession.

“The sons came back from the Civil War and their families saw a person who had changed,” said Spain, as he stood in Blossom Hill Cemetery last week.

“So they were brought to the State Hospital to get some treatment and many lived the rest of their years there. When they died, they were buried here and not recognized as veterans, and that incited me.”

This marks his new project in a life filled with projects. All connected to history, of course. Spain plans to check cemetery records and resources offered by the library. He wants to identify or at least acknowledge the existence of the fighting men whose lives had faded like old tombstones.

He writes poetry and networks with people on Facebook, looking for nostalgia with his presentation of “I’m from Concord NH and remember when. . .”

He speaks to seniors in wheelchairs and students in desk chairs. Recently, he said he read a history book late one night, making sure to mention that he read by candlelight. He said it was a historical account of a possible burial ground near Pleasant Street, close to Concord Steam.

The book gave a general location. Spain used penetrating ground radar – a lawnmower-like contraption with a monitor on the handlebar – to search for underground anomalies.

Spain has the investigating abilities of Sherlock Holmes and the attention to detail of a watchmaker. He found 28 bodies, buried clandestinely, in an unofficial site filled with former patients at the State Hospital, from the 19th and early 20th centuries. These were burials that were never recorded. Spain placed a marker there, a tribute.

“You end up dying, and they did not buy caskets, they threw them in a canvas and they would dig a hole and throw them in,” Spain said.

He pointed toward a nearby grassy piece of land at Blossom Hill Cemetery, stretching to Route 3. Headstones will soon be standing there, proud and erect and new, once Spain finishes his work there.

This time, his GPR discovered 121 bodies. Common sense says there must be some veterans buried there, from the Civil War through wars spanning the early part of the 19th century.

“I basically feel like I’ve adopted them,” Spain said.

These grounds, while missing any sort of above-ground recognition that they were remembered, at least in some small way, will soon show that someone did, indeed, care.

Spain gets help from director Jill McDaniel-Huckins and manager George West, Blossom Hill’s one-two punch of information, always willing to do a little extra themselves. Lend a hand.

There’s a large granite marker already at the site, with 121 names inscribed, soon to be joined by 121 tombstones. Spain wants to share this information with anyone who will listen.

Beyond Blossom Hill and Pleasant Street, three other sites have State Hospital patients buried on their grounds. The Clinton Street cemeteries, featuring Meadow North and Meadow South, have already experienced Spain’s TLC and now boast manicured lawns and flat-to-the-ground makers with IDs and dates.

Calvary Christian shares land with Blossom Hill and is also the final resting place for some of these veterans.

But right now, Blossom Hill Cemetery has taken center stage in Spain’s effort to respect those who sacrificed and make sure you do as well.

Spain said he’ll order the headstones by the end of the summer, then wait for the federal government’s approval. All markers are free to veterans.

One name on the memorial at Blossom says “Rudolph,” with no last name.

“How can that happen?” Spain asked. “That’s just not right.”


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.



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