Rest in peace: Portland ceremony marks completion of cemetery restoration
PORTLAND — A three-year project that earned two local Girl Scouts high honors came to a close Monday, with the unveiling of one last tombstone at Grand Trunk Cemetery.
The girls, however, are now women.
Samantha Allshouse, now 21, stood at a podium Monday to thank a small group of attendees at Grand Trunk Cemetery during the unveiling and formal dedication of a new tombstone to mark the grave of Joseph Merrill, a veteran of the War of 1812.
Merrill's gleaming white stone now stands amid markers for seven other veterans, all of whom were buried in unmarked graves at the site between 1818 and 1860.
Allshouse was 17 when she started the project with fellow Girl Scout Kayla Theriault. Theriault is now a mother and wasn't able to attend the ceremony; Allshouse, a graduate of Cheverus High School, is now a student at the University of Maine at Farmington.
The project began when Girl Scout leader Marianne Chapman stumbled on the cemetery, which is behind Presumpscot Elementary School, and asked the two girls if they wanted to refurbish it as a Gold Award project, Allshouse recalled.
The Gold Award, which the pair received in August 2011, represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting.
"(It) challenges you to change the world – or at least your corner of it," according to the organization's website. "By the time you put the final touches on your seven-step project, you'll have solved a community problem – not only in the short term, but for years into the future."
The project was challenging right from the start, Allshouse said after the ceremony. The cemetery was overgrown with knee-high weeds and strewn with trash. Headstones were knocked over and graffiti was spray-painted "all over the trees and all over every headstone."
"It was gross," Allshouse said with a deep sigh.
Theriault handled the publicity and fundraising; Allshouse did the historical research.
The girls were able to confirm the locations of 84 of 104 people believed to be buried in the cemetery, using a combination of historical records and ground-penetrating radar provided by the city. They also discovered the cemetery is the final resting place of eight veterans.
In August 2011, the Girl Scouts unveiled seven new grave markers for veterans Crispus Graves, a North Yarmouth resident who fought in the Revolution War; Civil War vet James Moseley; and War of 1812 veterans John Sawyer, Joseph Sawyer, William Sawyer, Samuel Blake and Andrews Graves.
But the eighth headstone would take another two years.
Service records existed for four Joseph Merrills, so additional work was needed to determine which Merrill was buried at Grand Trunk.
That work came to a close Monday under a chilly autumn sky, with several of Merrill's distant relatives sitting around the headstones of all eight veterans. An honor guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6859 stood nearby at attention.
Portland historian Herbert Adams, who provided research assistance throughout the project, offered some reflections on the lives and deaths of the veterans, who, until recently were all but forgotten.
"The Greeks long ago, trying to make sense of this world, believed that a person is never truly gone as long as one person remains in the world to speak their name aloud once in a while," Adams said. "Thanks to the many new friends of those who rest here, that has been done today."