Greetings from spooky Easton! Well, things have been a little spooky here this week, as a major nor’easter Tuesday night and Wednesday left more than 50% of the town without power and caused nearly thirty road closures, causing school to be cancelled for three days. The Museum faired well, with no damage or power loss and only a few branches down. I hope to have power back at home sometime this weekend, and I am grateful for all those people who are working so hard to restore services.
Thank you to all of you who supported us through the Shaw’s bag purchase program. I do not have the final numbers just yet, but I will let you know how we did as soon as I know.
Back around 1694, Easton was found to be settled by seven brave pioneer families, one of whom was John Phillips of Weymouth. He came around the same time as William Manley, and lived in the area of Morse’s Corner (Belmont Street and Washington Street) in South Easton. Phillips became the first Town Clerk in Easton, the first Militia Captain, served in the expedition against Quebec in 1690 (he was probably a captain before arriving in Easton) and was married to Elizabeth Drake, sister to two other early settlers here. Fast forwarding some fourteen or fifteen generations, we find two of his direct descendants to be the topic of today’s story.
Brothers Austin (1912-2002) and Ivan Phillips (1917-2003) were a regular sight around Easton’s Furnace Village. Austin lived in an antique cape house at the end of South Street near Highland Street, and Ivan lived on a small lane known as Walnut Street that ran through the woods from the other end of Highland Street to what is now Eastman Street going into Mansfield. I did not know Ivan well, but I knew Austin very well. Austin was in charge of the Furnace Village Cemetery on South Street for many decades and kept a watchful eye on that place from his house next door. Nothing went unnoticed! If anyone should be lurking around the cemetery after dark, Austin would be there to make sure they would leave without causing trouble (he was always well armed with an old pistol and fortified by Jack Daniels). Many times he had the chore of digging up “wacky tobacco” planted by some of the locals in the extreme rear of the cemetery, which was not cleared, and provided a good place to grow something you did not want to be found – except no one could avoid the watchful eye of one of the Phillips brothers. Once, when I was investigating the ruins of an old mill on South Street, I came up from down below street grade to find Austin watching me. He had a pen and paper in his hand, ready to take down my license plate number. It turns out that for some time people would park a car along South Street, make their way through the woods, break into homes on Highland Street, and then get back into their car on South Street and make their getaway. Austin caught on immediately to their plans and began taking down plate numbers of any cars he suspected of unusual activity.
Getting back to the cemetery, we find the real reason for today’s story. Austin and Ivan, two inseperable brothers, shared one other thing together. They were grave diggers! When I was young, I never saw a digging machine in the Furnace Village Cemetery. All the graves that needed to be dug were done by hand, compliments of Austin and Ivan. Think about that! Two older gentlemen getting out their wheelbarrow and shovels, and a ladder, dutifully fulfilling their service to those who now reside in the cemetery, and with dignity, providing the final resting place for so many of their family, friends, and others who had need of their services. The two brothers were proud of the way the cemetery was well kept and especially proud that a digging machine, which could cause damage to surrounding stones and the lawn, would not be needed as long as they were able to continue to dig graves by hand. Finally, after many years and lots of digging, Austin and Ivan had to cease their services. The reason? They got too old to climb the ladder out of the graves! After all, they were in their eighties by then. Now the two brothers make their home in the very place they took such good care of. May my two favorite grave diggers rest in peace.
Until next week, stay well,
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Anne Wooster Drury