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By Margaret G. ZackowitzPhotographs by Cary Wolinsky



Resting in peace, Barre, Vermont, is a little town with a reputation carved in stone.



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Barre makes a good living off of death: The boom years may be over, but more granite gravestones are still produced here than almost anywhere else in the United States. Gross sales of world-famous Barre Gray granite topped 11 million dollars last year. And Barre Gray is about the best there is. Fine-grained and impervious to weathering, it can be pulled from the earth here in huge flawless blocks. Street curbs and yuppie kitchen countertops aren't sufficiently noble uses for the stone; this stuff is meant to last the centuries. The steps of the east wing of the U.S. Capitol are made from Barre Gray. So are the grave markers of Stephen Foster, Harry Truman, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Col. Harland Sanders. (Does the man who invented Kentucky Fried Chicken deserve anything less?)

Hope Cemetery, where sculptor Giuliano Cecchinelli shows off the flower carvings, is one of three graveyards managed by the city. Only memorials made of Barre Gray are permitted there. Other than that, the options for eternal remembrance are wide open. "We allow bigger monuments than most other cemeteries," says Dwight Coffrin, whose title, Director of Cemeteries and Parks, seems to list his responsibilities in order of importance to the city. Hope also allows more unusual ones. Along with the usual crosses and cherubs, markers for the 85-acre (34-hectare) park's 10,500 graves include an actual-size armchair, an oversize soccer ball, an airplane, a race car, and a massive cube balanced mysteriously on its corner. A number of the stones mark empty graves. The pre-need purchase is common: Many people erect tombstones decades before they die. "That way, you know how you'll be remembered," explains Coffrin. "People want to enjoy their memorials while they're still alive." But those paying respects to their own gravesites are far outnumbered come autumn. "This cemetery averages 35,000 visitors during the six weeks of the fall foliage season each year, and those are just the ones on tourist buses," Coffrin says. "We don't even keep count for the rest of the year."

The rest of the year can be a problem in Barre. Despite the city's Green Mountain location, summer temperatures and humidity sometimes soar here, and the winters are numbingly cold. Just ask Pete O'Grady. In September of last year the 33-year city employee resigned as Barre's superintendent of streets to start a new life in Phoenix. The desert held an obvious appeal: O'Grady's job had involved clearing his hometown's roads of its annual average of seven feet of snow. But after only ten weeks away, O'Grady returned to Vermont in November. He'd been miserable in Phoenix. He'd hated the crowds and crime, the traffic and bureaucracy. "Everything's so complicated there," he remembers. "You have to give them your social security number and sign your life away just to get your utilities hooked up. In Barre, whatever you need, you make one call and it's done." O'Grady's former job had not been filled yet, so the city rehired him. The superintendent of streets of Barre, Vermont, picked up right where he'd left off—in time for the season's first blizzard.  "I didn't mind," says the guy who grew up on Granite Street. "It was so good to be home."

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The rockbound hills of Vermont, formed hundreds of millions of years ago, have supplied the nation with a variety of stone—granite, slate, and marble—for decades. Quarriers in colonial days cut Barre Gray granite into hitching posts or millstones to grind the grain of settlers into flour. Today the same granite, best known in cemeteries, is also manufactured into exceptionally smooth press rollers for the paper industry. Bethel White granite is as popular now as it was in 1902 when it was picked for the facade of Union Station in Washington, D.C. The Bethel granite of the new Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, as white as Utah's mountain snows, dazzled visitors to the 2002 Winter Olympics.

By the mid 1800s the slate quarries of Poultney and Fair Haven were hard at work producing Vermont's famed green and purple slates, which kept out the rain and snow on roofs around the nation. In recent years there has been a resurgence in this industry for upscale flooring, roof shingles, and countertops. Vermont slate is exceptionally fine-grained, impervious to water, and comes in hard-to-find colors.

Vermont's marble put a visible stamp on 19th-century America. The quarries in Proctor and Danby supplied the stone for the Jefferson Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the United Nations headquarters in New York City, among many other grand buildings throughout the country. At Danby, the world's largest underground marble quarry still supplies stone to the Department of Veteran Affairs for its standard grave markers.

—Jeanne E. Peters

Did You Know?


Related Links
Barre Granite Association
www.barregranite.org  
Read about the history of granite quarrying in Barre, the Italian carvers who still live in the area today, and the many uses of this fine-grained durable stone.

Jerry Williams
www.barresculpture.com
See how a famous Barre sculptor works, from creating a model to carving the stone.

Barre Architecture
www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/centralvermont/cv28.htm 
Explore the history of Barre landmarks and the city's historic downtown.

Central Vermont
www.central-vt.com/heritage/index.html 
Travel the towns and villages of central Vermont, including Barre and its soon-to-open Vermont Granite Museum.

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Bibliography
Allen, Donald G. Barre Granite Heritage. Friends of the Aldrich Public Library, 1997.

Clarke, Rod. Carved in Stone, A History of the Barre Granite Industry. Rock of Ages Corporation, 1989.

Myers, Donald. "The Last Italian." Sculpturedisplay.com, April 2003.

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NGS Resources
Leacock, Elspeth. Travels Across America: The Northeast. National Geographic Reading Expeditions, 2002.

Jermanok, Stephen. "Vermont's Rolling Green Mountains," National Geographic Adventure (May/June 2000), 112-14.

Perrin, Noel. "Country Unbound: Vermont," National Geographic Traveler (October 1999), 184-86.

Hoagland, Edward. "A Special Place: Vermont: Suite of Seasons," National Geographic (September 1998), 72-91.

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