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The Discovery and Excavation of the Gershom Bulkeley Tomb

The tomb of Gershom Bulkeley was rediscovered in April of 2002 when Stanley Moroch spotted a section of marble plaque partially buried near a weed covered mound.  Upon inspection, he found two more plaque pieces and when assembled read, "The Tomb of Gershom Bulkeley and His Descendants".  His discovery launched an investigation and ultimate excavation of a site that the community had believed had simply been a temporary winter morgue.  In local lore is the story of kids breaking into the tomb in the 1930's and parading around town with a skull.  Allegedly, the next day, the tomb was sealed and buried in earth.

Excited by his discovery, Moroch asked fellow historian, Arthur Liverant, to contact family descendant Peter Bulkeley, who showed up at the site within an hour.  Soon, Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, the Connecticut state archaeologist at the time, was called in and everyone agreed that the nearby mound of weeds should definitely be explored.  Beginning in May, and with the help of his students and volunteers, Dr. Bellantoni began to clear the earth away from the mound and by June 18th had located the entryway and peeked inside.  Visible was a mess of bones and the remnants of nearly 30 stacked coffins.  Speculation was that during the 18th century, family members had tried to organize the then deteriorating coffins. 

Over the next 10 weeks, Peter Bulkeley along with Susan Bulkeley Daly, identified the family members by the decorative brass tacks on the coffin lids.  The tacks, driven into the coffin's hardwood, were arranged to spell out the deceased's initials, age and year of death and were often encircled by a large heart of tacks.  Altogether, 23 members of the Bulkeley family were identified.  A small zinc-lined coffin, thought to be a child, remained unknown.  In addition to bones and coffins, the crew found textiles, a child's boot, a metal comb, a Staffordshire plate, a cast iron finial and two porcelain teeth fitted in metal as a denture.  

The site was carefully documented as the exploration continued through the summer of 2002. Human remains were studied by Dr. Bellantoni and his students to determine the age, sex, ancestry and possible cause of death of the deceased.  The project was a unique opportunity for the students and volunteers.  By August, the tomb was emptied and cleaned.  Remains were interred into replacement coffins and all remains and intact coffin lids were reinterred and the entry resealed in September.  A new tablet, identifying the 23 Bulkeley family members was installed and on October 11, 2003, a rededication ceremony was held at the site.  A few examples of the unique coffin lids were saved to create an exhibit about the tomb in the Bulkeley History exhibit at the Colchester History Museum.  

View video of the discovery and excavation of the Gershom Bulkeley Tomb

To learn more about the Tomb of Gershom Bulkeley and His Descendants, visit the Colchester History Museum.

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