The Laurent and Eliza Clerc Garden
How important is a final resting place? I suppose that it is as important as the generations that live on think it is. Well, we think that it is pretty important to recognize Laurent and Eliza's contributions by ensuring that their final resting place at Spring Grove Cemetery, in Hartford CT is properly cared for. In 2022, the Societe Laurent Clerc and the American School for the Deaf began a project to beautify and care for their historical grave site. Come join us in our journey.
A Special Thanks!
We would like to thank the Spring Grove Cemetery and their manager, Ray, for all the assistance in making this project happen. Their flexibility and support goes a long way to making this effort a success.
In the spring of 2021, I had a chance to swing by the Laurent and Eliza grave site at the Spring Grove Cemetery. I had been to the cemetery years before but could not remember what it looked like. I found the garden pleasantly cared for despite the difficulty that the cemetery had with resources. The garden enclosure was well kept but the section of the cemetery where the oldest graves were was not yet mowed. It was then that thoughts began circulating through my mind about how this great great great great grandson might someday pay homage to Laurent and Eliza for his existence and for their contribution to America.
But what did I know about the garden and its history? My visits were few and far between. We learn that the cemetery was established in 1845 and was one of the city's oldest cemeteries, and its first private non-sectarian cemetery. The land on which the cemetery was established was farmland owned by the Page family when Stephen Page buried his wife there in 1845. The Pages then proceeded to sell burial plots to others. In 1864 a number of plot owners banded together to purchase the entire cemetery, establishing the non-profit association that now manages the property. In 1884, the association hired landscape designer, Thomas Brown McClunnie, to lay out the cemetery's northwest quadrant. In contrast to the rural cemetery movement, McClunnie's park like setting emphasized a simple rectangular layout, rather than winding lanes that conformed to local topography. (Wikipedia)
We know that Laurent Clerc died on July 18, 1869 and Eliza on May 17, 1880. They were some of the cemetery's earliest settlers. Not much is yet known about what happened to the grave site until 1998 when we see it renovated by a group of Laurent fans.
The Friends of the National Association of the Deaf, The Gallaudet University Alumni Association, the American School for the Deaf and the Les Anciens Eleves L'INJS de Paris-France (assume a alumni association of Laurent's Paris school) replaced the old headstones with new granite ones. On a rainy day on April 17, 1998, on the 181st anniversary of the founding of the American School for the Deaf the dedication of the new headstones occurred.
A fascinating story surrounded the dedication that day. Apparently the installation of the new headstones resulted in Laurent's being over Eliza and vice versa. A quick witted admirer caught the problem and the headstones were properly re-installed before the ceremony.
The older headstones were spirited off to the ASD history room in the old school building. When this building was razed in 2015 to make way for the modern school the headstones made their way to the Cogswell House Museum, where they can be seen to this day.
There is some evidence that the American School for the Deaf helped maintain the grave site. Some years the American School for the Deaf made school visits as part of their classroom instruction.
Now back to 2021, this undertaking was going to be large and would take many loving hands to make it possible. The condition in September showed how wild the enclosure came without the proper care.
Since I live in Montreal, QC it was going to require some more local help. Of course, the American School for the Deaf (ASD) was the first thing I thought of. I shot off an email to Jeff Bravin, Director and he responded that he was committed to having the school help.
Of course no fun happens without the help of Jean, curator at the Cogswell House Museum, and my distant cousin Darlene who attended and works that ASD to this day. They were very enthusiastic and we three egged each other on.
It was of course important to involve the Spring Grove Cemetery in our project. We did not know how they would react to our ideas. The office at the cemetery never seemed to have anyone in it but their green door gave me the information I needed. I phoned Ray, the manager, explaining Laurent's and Eliza's contribution. He was very excited about our project and gave us carte blanche immediately to design a garden and install it.
The hitch was that I am not a gardener and surely not a garden designer. As luck would have it my daughter, Sarah, was friends with Carly who is a garden designer in the Washington DC area. Carly was kind enough to create a garden diagram with a plant list to guide us at the nursery.
While we all waited for the money and spring to come it was decided that we would clean up the grave site and get to know our tableau. In October I organized a clean up event where 13 volunteers worked to prepare the ground for the spring planting. Flat Laurent was there watching our progress and keeping us on task.
We wanted to keep our garden project as local as possible and for this reason we chose Moscarillo's Garden Shoppe close to the West Hartford campus of ASD for our perennial plants. The dilemma we now faced was how to pay for it all.
There is a world full of ways to fund raise for something like this but I wished to get into the habit of using Go-Fund-Me. https://gofund.me/72cfa697
Any long stamp project related to Laurent Clerc was going to cost some dollars and it was good to learn the begging for money touch early. After 4 months of work we were able to raise from our lovely donors approximately $3000 USD for the cause.
Then in May 2022, with garden design, plant list, volunteers and a load of greenbacks I made my way back to Moscarillo's. On the day of installation they delivered the plans by truck before the volunteers worked for 6 grueling hours to get the plans into the ground. We all left there with a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. We hoped for great things over the next 3 years as the perennial garden would take shape.
I know that I stated earlier that I was not a gardener and I went on to prove it almost immediately. On my early June return to check on the progress of the perennials I found that the graveyard groundhogs (said to be 30 in number) had consumed all the phlox plants (about a 1/4 of the garden). Apparently phlox is like candy to them and they were eaten to the ground. Not to be deterred, I did some homework and purchased groundhog resistant plants for their replacements. While I had to solve the long grass issues, the plants seemed to be doing well and it was taking on the look of a somewhat wild country garden.
If only we could get some mulch around those plants and help us keep the weeds and grass down. With only monthly trips to care for the garden it was going to be hard taming it. Jeff Bravin came to our rescue again and arranged for the ASD grounds contractor, BrightView, to come and mulch all around the plants. We were somewhat confused when they contacted us and said they could not figure out where to put the mulch. Interesting, we thought it was a no brainer.
Confused, but have cleared many gardening hurdles already, I was feeling very sure of myself and looking forward to my next visit. Nothing was to prepare me for the horror and shock of what I was going to see. Somehow the cemetery mowing contractor had decided to weed wack and mow down all the flowers in the enclosure. I could of course not fathom how someone would take that decision but there was no going back. Cemetery manager, Ray, was equally horrified. The upside of this travesty was that Ray agreed to allow us to take all responsibility for the enclosure in the future and the contractor was asked not to ever step inside again.
We did not know how many of the perennial plants were going to survive. Mowed to the ground, we might only know next spring when they returned. Some rebounded quickly while others were either dead or laying dormant. I staked out the plant locations to make sure we did not weed them in the spring. BrightView returned and mulched all around the plants.
Then we waited. But then a drought came for over two months. There is no water close to the enclosure and all of it has to be brought in by hand. The grounds crew and the cemetery understandably could not take responsibility for it. Between my monthly trips I had anxiously watched the rain tables and hoped that our drought resistant species would survive the summer. Things looked hopeless at times and we feared all these catastrophes were going to set us back at least a year.
Plants are amazing beings. Despite the cuttings and the lack of water some of them began to thrive. Trips to the garden in September, October and then November showed their resilience. A garden was indeed taking shape.
While awaiting the final damage report this coming spring of 2023 there is still lots to do. When the plants are up in the spring we will have a better idea where to lay down the layer of wood chips. In the meantime we laid down a wood chip border and cut the stringy grass. Plans are percolating about replacing the grass with gravel so that grass care becomes a mute point. There is a lot of winter studying to be done so that this non-gardener does not weed perennials in the spring.
Ray and I are working on repairing a fallen headstone of Laurent and Eliza's second son, Charles Michael Clerc, who died in young adulthood. A tombstone restorer has taken photos and we are awaiting the estimates.
Until I am able to secure more routine care and maintenance of the garden my monthly visits will have to suffice. I have begun to make contacts with local gardening groups in the hopes of finding further expertise and help in making it through next summer's drought.
Keep tuned in here for progress and updates. If you wish to contribute financially to this project please go to
NOVEMBER 2022 UPDATE
"OK, Welcome back to our next Installment for the Laurent Clerc and Eliza Clerc Garden. So what we are doing now is that we are trying to put down mulch to keep weeds down. See, we have done an interior border between grass and plants. We do not know what is exactly going to come up again next year because our plants were mowed down and the groundhogs eat all the phlox. So, we hope to in the spring to see what is coming up, continue to mulch and isolate those plants and at some point we will work on this fence and get it done. See that tree is pretty nasty but it looks like it is leaning the other way so if it goes, fortunately it may go towards those other folks as opposed to the nice fence. That is our Installment for today and I hope everyone is fine. You can continue to contribute to the garden work on our go-fund-me page.
You can check our progress here on our Facebook page and eventually on our website… laurentclerc.org. So thank you very much and goodbye. Laurent"
SEPTEMBER 2023 UPDATE
Clerc Jardin Redux
This last trip through Hartford I stopped by the garden to make some small progress in the rehabilitation of Clerc's final resting place. We are still evaluating the outcome of the maintenance crews' decision to mow down the garden last year. While it may look bleak we are beginning to turn the corner so to say and the future looks brighter.
This trip I brought my trusty weed wacker and mowed the grass for the first time. This area of the historical graveyard looks like a meadow with its long grass. A path was mowed from through the tall grass to the Clerc enclosure.
I had weeded most of the garden during previous trips and made an inventory of what survived the mowing, the groundhogs and last summer's drought. No issue with water this year with all the rain. One area was savage and this trip was the time to tackle it.
But the good news is that several of our perennials survived despite being consumed by the weeks. While not yet large, three Lavender plants made it through and have established themselves. It is said that it takes bout three (3) years for them to mature, so we have a start but a ways to go. Someday soon I hope they will look like this.
With the savage area tamed it is clear what the devastation was and what needs to be done to repair it. At least there is now lots of room to plant.
Still working on a plan to deal with the Sword of Damocles hanging over the enclosure. Hoping that it stays intact.
Hoping to tackle tree and this invasive vine this winter when I can get a good look at it. In the meanwhile, I am making some progress on its felled neighbor. Despite some chainsaw malfunctions we are slow getting through this fallen monster.
While down this time I finally made it over to DMR Materials in Bloomfield, CT to scout out the stone for the enclosure. The plan is to remove the grass so there is no need for mowing maintenance on my infrequent trips through Hartford. Such difficult decisions. I will be visiting gardens this fall to get a sense of which stone to use.
Last but not least we have some good news on the Charles Michael Clerc headstone. It had either been vandalized or just cracked in the past 150 years. I was able to get by the tombstone folks and get a plan for its repair. Rick, from Daley-Connerton Memorial Company, was able to evaluate the best way to approach it. Some apoxie along the crack, which was sharp and makes for good adhesive bonding for starters. Then a cement footing just under the dirt will keep it good for the next 150 years. Here is a picture of the headstone Rick took while evaluating its repair.
If you would like to help make progress on the rehabilitation of the garden or with the cost of Charles' headstone you can go here to find out how to contribute... https://gofund.me/72cfa697 .