, Salem, MA

September 28, 2013

Historic Salem cemetery gets a haircut

Arborists work on centuries old trees


---- — SALEM — The Burying Point is the oldest cemetery in the city, dating to 1637.

This plot of land on Charter Street is the ground Nathaniel Hawthorne trod and mentioned in his writings. It is also the final resting place of noted architect Samuel McIntire, Witchcraft judge John Hathorne and Capt. Richard More, a passenger on the Mayflower.

This is a favorite haunt of tourists, especially in October, who like to stroll its stone dust paths and peer down at the faded inscriptions on the sea of slate-gray gravestones.

There is so much to see in the cemetery, however, that visitors often miss the forest and the trees.

There are pin oaks, mulberries, cedars and cork trees. Maybe most majestic are the white oaks, some of which are well over a century old, with trunks several feet in diameter and huge branches that reach out horizontally like winding rivers of wood.

Several weeks ago, one of those huge branches split at its base and came to rest on the tomb of Gov. Simon Bradstreet (1603-1697), an early Colonial governor of Massachusetts. That, it turns out, was a breaking point.

Long ago, Chris Wood of Ravenswood Tree & Landscape of Peabody, wrote to the city about his love for the trees in The Burying Point, which he and partner John Zannino have visited for years; of their concern for the condition of the trees; and of their interest in pruning them at a reduced rate.

With the city’s tree workers backed up with work, and the heavy limb resting directly on Gov. Bradstreet, the city took him up on the offer.

This week, Wood and Zannino climbed up into the towering trees and repaired them the old-fashioned way — using ropes and pulleys to lower branches.

“We’ve been excited about doing this for a while,” Zannino said as he helped Wood with a delicate chainsaw cut near a tablet on Bradstreet’s grave that read: “He was a man endowed with keen judgment which neither threats nor honors could sway.”

“These trees are important and historic monuments,” Wood shouted from a precarious perch high in the oak.

For more than two days, they climbed and trimmed the aged trees, removing dead or damaged branches and lowering them gently to the ground where the remains of city fathers lay.

“We’re really grateful for the work,” Wood said. “It’s a real delight to work on trees like this. This will be the highlight of our careers.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at