Little boy lost is found
BETHANY - A small white headstone has been restored to its rightful place in Christ Episcopal Church cemetery after decades of obscurity. It marks the grave of 2-year-old Charles E. Sperry, son of Barton and Elizabeth Perkins Sperry, who "was drowned," as the stone records, on July 20, 1834.
The child was remembered with sadness at his brief life and fate in a simple rededication service by the rector, the Rev. Peter Stebinger. Surrounded by a group of parishioners as the sun was setting on the little boy's gravestone and the tree-shaded country cemetery, Stebinger quietly spoke timeless and comforting words for the occasion.
"It is good to restore that which is broken," he said at the conclusion.
The stone was discovered last fall lying face-down behind the Parish House, not far from the 1810 church, by parishioner Albert Mayer, the church's cemetery superintendent.
"It appeared to have been there for quite a number of years," Mayer said. It may have been loosened by frost heave, toppled over and then put aside for future replacement.
Because time and weather are harsh, much of the inscription is illegible or only partially readable.The discovery immediately posed a mystery: Whose gravestone was it? What did the inscription say? And where did the stone belong in the cemetery?
Over the years three surveys have recorded information on the gravestones in Bethany's seven, now six, cemeteries. They proved invaluable in finding answers, Mayer said.
Two ministers, the Rev. Wallace Humiston of the First Congregational Church in Bethany, and the Rev. Leonard Todd, who had long Bethany roots, prepared the earliest survey in 1914, complete with birth and death date information, epitaphs and headstone symbols. Humiston's niece, Alice Bice Bunton, former town clerk and a local historian, updated the list in 1965.
A second report was compiled in 1934 by a government team as a Depression-era jobs project, headed by Charles E. Hale, state military necrologist. It recorded births and deaths, not epitaphs, but listed stones in groupings that indicated their location in relation to some others. Charles' name was illegible and listed as "child who drowned."
The third survey, done in 1972 as an Eagle Scout project by John Childs, son of Brevard and Ann Childs and a Troop 59 member, included a crucial map, keying each headstone's location in the cemetery, as well as those in the town's other cemeteries. He also commented on the stones' conditions.
The first mystery was to identify whose headstone had been found. By combining the surveys and comparing the information with the stone, Mayer was able to piece out answers to the questions.
Since Charles' and his parents' names were essentially unreadable, the epitaph, which was small but in bettter shape, became the key because it could be compared with a written text of epitaphs in the Humiston-Todd record. Only one epitaph matched that on the stone and, thereby, provided the child's name identified in the text.
It reads as follows:
This lovely bud so young and fair
Called hence by early doom
Just came to show how
Sweet a flower
In paradise would bloom
Then by matching Charles' information with the location on the Childs' map and the ministers' description, Mayer pinpointed exactly where the small stone belonged. Now Charles' limestone marker again nestles protectively next to that of his maternal grandmother, Molly Perkins.
Above the inscription on Charles' gravestone are carved two common 19th century designs: a willow tree, signifying grief, and an urn, representing mortality.
It is still not known where the graves of Barton and Elizabeth Sperry are located but many family members are buried in Woodbridge and New Haven's Grove Street Cemetery, Mayer said.
Mary Jane Winne, a guest at the rededication and a former resident now living in Beacon Falls, was particularly interested in the young boy because she is a Sperry and Perkins descendent. A passionate family genealogist, she said cemeteries are not only memorials, but "books of history just waiting to be opened."
Questions still remain on how little Charlie came to drown that July day 167 years ago. Did he wander away from busy parents and tumble into a brook or watering pond? We probably will never know but his gravestone has been restored to its proper place after long years. And Mayer is continuing his research efforts on the family as he compiles further material on Christ Church cemetery and those who are buried there.