Recently, on Trails & Sails Sunday, I went out to some of the events. The day started horribly with torrential downpours and most events for the day had been cancelled. Typical of unpredictable New England weather, the sun came out by 1:00 and the day turned into a pleasant though cloudy afternoon. Taking the sign of better weather, I ventured out to some of these sites. Most were cancelled.
So I decided to visit a site I had been meaning to get to but have always been so busy travelling ‘somewhere’, Caleb Cushing’s Memorial. A small grant had been provided for a path to his tomb and some general improvement of the area and I wanted to see what had been done.
I entered by the appropriate entrance, walked in a little way and sure enough, a well-bordered gravel pathway was clearly visible on the right with a nice stone indicating Mr. Cushing’s accomplishments. It weaved in and out and it made it easy to cross between the tightly rowed tombstones so as not to be trampling over ‘someone’.
I walked to the left and saw nothing, I walked to the right and noticed some late nineteenth century stones but his name was not on them!
What I did start to notice was how poorly the Highland Cemetery had been maintained over the years. Chains between standing stones had long ago rusted and fallen off; stones were split and discarded; urns were on their side half-smashed – and the pile of yearly leaves stained and left great holes in the grassy slopes. I realized that the new Highland Cemetery Commission had a huge job ahead of them! I was also understanding why the Friends of the Highland Cemetery Commission was established so a non-profit could receive grants to fix up the grounds.
But still, I could not find his Memorial site!
His stone should be massive – He was the first Mayor of Newburyport! It was his diplomatic skills that opened up China and Japan to American commerce! His treaties are so respected that both are in effect today and his Chinese treaty is still upheld by the Communist Chinese. Though his efforts to stop the secession of the southern states failed, he was a staunch unionist and worked tirelessly with the Lincoln Administration. When England and some European nations wanted to ally themselves with the South over a ‘diplomatic incident’; it was Caleb’s diplomacy again that kept Europe out of the war guaranteeing the North’s victory. He was even nominated to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court! His power was palpably felt throughout the Capital and the Nation.
SO WHERE IS THIS MEMORIAL!?!
It took some doing but finally, I spied his name. There it lay on a small unassuming obelisk. Field stones and bricks were jumbled together to hold a tiny platform up from the ground. I realized that Caleb was, as Jefferson and Washington did also as so many were in the 18th and 19th century; followers of classic Western Civilization. Cincinnati was a Roman farmer, who when the city was endangered, put down his farming tools, took up arms and became a great general and saved Rome. He was so admired, they offered him to be king of the city. He refused, put down his weapons, walked away from power, and picked up the plow again.
Caleb lived when he wasn’t in Washington, in the grand house on ‘The Ridge’ but at his death, he was placed in this humble plot.
Take some time to go out and visit his memorial and so note as you look at this place there are no achievements listed on his stone, no proclamations and no messages.
He is letting his deeds proclaim for him, “Here lies a great man.”
“Someone asked me what was the most important thing I had learned since being in Washington. I replied that it was the fact that temporal power is fleeting.”
Baker went on to observe that once driving through the White House gates he saw a man walking alone on Pennsylvania Avenue and recognized him as having been Secretary of State in a previous administration. “There he was alone – no reporters, no security, no adoring public, no trappings of power. Just one solitary man alone with his thoughts. And that mental picture continually serves to remind me of the impermanence of power and the impermanence of place.”
-Former Secretary of State James Baker