September 22, 2018
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Are there human remains still buried beneath this little Bangor park?

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Old Cemetery Park at the corner of Buck Street and West Broadway in Bangor was the first Catholic cemetery in Bangor until Mt. Pleasant was developed in 1855.
By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

Pedestrians and drivers likely pass the intersection of West Broadway and Buck Street on Bangor’s West Side with nary a thought given to the little grassy area situated at that corner.

That area — technically a city park, nestled right in the middle of a residential neighborhood and managed by Bangor Parks & Recreation — was once home to one of Bangor’s first cemeteries. Hence the park’s rather blunt name: Old Cemetery Lot Park.

According to the Bangor Historical Society, the park was originally the site of the first Catholic cemetery in Bangor, established in 1836, in the midst of the wave of Irish immigration the city welcomed during the era. Less than two decades later, the cemetery, which was rapidly running out of room, was moved to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery on Ohio Street.

That lot was abandoned for nearly 100 years, until 1944, when the site was conferred to the city to complete the extension of West Broadway. It’s since been maintained as a park, though it contains very little infrastructure and isn’t listed on the Bangor Parks & Recreation website.

“It’s just passive green space for the neighborhood to enjoy. It’s really just so there’s a green space where people can stop and chat or meet or whatever. That’s a good purpose in and of itself,” said Bangor Parks & Recreation director Tracy Willette.

Before the construction of large cemeteries on the outskirts of town, such as Mount Hope, Mt. Pleasant and Pinegrove, Bangor had several small cemeteries scattered throughout what is now downtown Bangor and other heavily populated residential areas.

A tiny cemetery was also located on Thomas Hill Road, near the Standpipe, though it was abandoned very early on in the city’s history, sometime in the 1820s.

Two other cemeteries were located even closer to downtown. A cemetery on Oak Street — located at what is now the parking lot for the Bangor Career Center — was, according to Bangor historian Dick Shaw, the city’s first. Many notable early Bangorians were originally buried there, such as Jacob Buswell, the first settler in Bangor, and Joseph Junin, the city’s first murder victim, both of whom are now interred at Mount Hope.

“In those days, cemeteries were in the middle of towns or next to churches. And as cities developed around them, the land became too valuable,” Shaw said.

Brian Swartz | BDN
Brian Swartz | BDN
Its orange leaves illuminated by the mid-October sun, an ancient maple tree lends its autumn beauty to Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor in this Oct. 13, 2013, file photo.

Another cemetery was located at the corner of Court and Hammond streets, on the hill where the former Bangor YMCA was originally located. That cemetery stood until 1837, when the hill was regraded to spur more development. An old story holds that during the process of regrading, a number of coffins surfaced, some of which were forced open to reveal human remains, in plain sight along a busy Bangor street. What remains could be found were reburied at Oak Street, and the graves there were then moved to Mount Hope in 1850.

As far as anyone knows, no bodies remain in any of those locations, either West Broadway, Thomas Hill, Court or Oak. But then again — nobody’s exactly sure if there are, either.

In 2007, a group of Bangor High School students and their teachers used ground-penetrating radar to examine the Old Cemetery Lot Park to see what, if anything, lay beneath the surface. In the 1940s, when the city took possession of the lot, old burial markers and remains were moved to Mt. Pleasant. It is entirely possible, however, that a few remains were missed, and could still be there, or in the other locations. Who knows what secrets lie underground?

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