Evergreen Cemetery had eluded me previously. Little was I to know I had made it here once but I came in through the upper gate which wasn’t labelled with the cemetery’s name. Even funnier still I was within eye shot of the stone I was looking for that day and had no idea. Today I went with a few “before you go” tips.
I wanted to find the stone of Joseph Palmer who was a man after my own heart. He died in 1873, with great humor. He ordered a stone to be carved in his likeness with the epitaph, “Persecuted for wearing the beard.” Apparently in his day and age men didn’t wear beards in New England, especially ones with any status. It was considered brutish, unclean, and the men who did wear beards tended to be the same people we liked to harass at the time – minorities like the tiny Jewish population that was probably somewhere (in the cities perhaps?) The church wasn’t any happier with his dogged insistence on facial hair than the community was and he was harassed here too. When the local pastor asked rather unkindly why he didn’t shave Palmer replied, “… Jesus wore a beard not unlike mine.” which has to be the best answer ever, if not the reason he was eventually excommunicated from the church.
In May 1830 things got even worse when he was attacked in the streets of Fitchburg by four men armed with scissors and razors who had plotted to shave the beard off themselves. They hadn’t realized they’d be in for the fight of their lives. The old farmer wasn’t terribly patient with such things and he pulled out a knife and began slashing, wounding two of the four assailants. To add insult to injury he found himself arrested after this for “unprovoked assault,” known today as self defense. He was found guilty and fined by Judge David Brigham. Palmer refused on principle to cough up $750 for his fine, court fees, and bond, and was sent to prison for fifteen months.
Prison life didn’t treat him any better than the outside world. Other prisoners continued to try and shave off his beard and prison officials kept coming up with increasingly cruel and sadistic punishments for him. He kept a detailed journal of the whole charade and eventually left…. beard in tact and free… if not with a slightly bruised ego. He only gained his freedom by paying his $10 fine after the judge who sent him to prison begged him to.
His life after that got even more interesting as he befriended many intellectuals and writers of the day. He even ended up being the basis of the character Moses White in Louisa May Alcott’s Transcendental Wild Oats. In 1843 he even joined a commune called the Fruitlands Experiment and when that failed he even tried to run his own commune later in life. He remained active in politics, religious reform, abolitionism, and of course beard activism until the day he died — which funny enough was the same era where beards had once again become fashionable. So now you know the twisted and strange story of Joseph Palmer.
I must admit the cemetery Joseph Palmer is buried in is gorgeous. Clearly people of great wealth had been buried here for quite some time. I spent a few hours walking and snapping photos of the angels and Cherubs who decorated many stones. Another stone of interest was found in the new part of the cemetery where a woman had been buried with her beloved pet cat Dr Pepper.
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