I live next door to a cemetery, which means I can tell people, “My next-door neighbors are quiet. Because they’re dead.”
(Actually, this is my wife’s joke, but she doesn’t write a column for the Ipswich Chronicle, and I hate to see a perfectly good joke go to waste.)
I have not lived here long, and I was a bit, shall we say, disconcerted to learn, sometime after my arrival in town, that Ipswich has a Cemetery and Parks Department. It makes sense to me to have a Cemeteries Department. We are not barbarians; we bury our dead. People must look after our cemeteries. Especially since we have more than 375 years’ worth of dead people. And it makes sense to me to have a Parks Department. Children must play, and lovers must stroll, and senior citizens must sit on benches and feed birds and read books. Also, real estate values must be maintained, and it’s good for real estate values if we have pleasant places for children and lovers and senior citizens to do their aforementioned things.
But to have the “Cemeteries” and the “Parks” in the same “Department” gives me an odd feeling. It seems a bit too much melding of the living and the dead. I’m even more uneasy about having the “Cemeteries” first, before the “Parks.” It’s like Ipswich is hurrying me along. Play in the park, sure — but keep moving: The cemetery is already waiting for you.
Then one day, not too long ago, my friend David Wallace posted the following question on an Ipswich-related Facebook page:
“A Cemetery and Parks employee mowing the grass in front of the Old Town Hall today: Does anyone else find that a bit strange?”
Well, yes. I find it a bit strange.
First of all, this is the building that bears the DISTRICT COURT sign, which we locals all understand to be not the District Court building, but rather the “Old Town Hall.” There once was a District Court inside this building, but it is no more. (A moment of silence for the dear departed.) Before it was a court, the building did indeed function as the Ipswich Town Hall. But then our government moved to a former insane asylum, which later became our high school, before becoming Town Hall. A logical progression, perhaps. (Anyway, another moment of silence for the dear departed.) And before Old Town Hall first became Town Hall, it was the Unitarian Church. (Which only lasted 10 years, then withered and went away. I guess we should offer another moment of silence for the dear departed.)
Still, in its most recent permutation, the not-a-church, not-a-court, not-Town-Hall was at least the property of the Town of Ipswich. Until we sold it to a theatre impresario, who hoped to make it a part-retail part-jazz-club part-performing-arts-center. But this dream died. (Another moment of, etc.) Today, the enormous, venerable edifice is tied up in court, like an aged Rolls-Royce that neither party is willing to give up in an embarrassing divorce case. It won’t run, nobody can drive it, and it’s rusting to death while the lawyers grunt through their slow-motion arm-wrestling match.
So a Cemetery and Parks guy mowed the grass out front. Strange, indeed. Old Town Hall is alive — architecturally valuable and potentially beautiful — but it’s not quite a park. Old Town Hall is also dead — tragically neglected, decaying day by day — but it’s not quite a cemetery.
Perhaps the only thing to do, in this sad limbo, is to mow the grass. Like we do for our parks. Like we do for our cemeteries. Mowing doesn’t cost us much. Make it look nice. Put a proper face on it. Hope for something to happen.