H is for Hearse

Norwich Town Hearse, donated to NHS by the Cemetery Commission

The hearse was purchased by the Town of Norwich in 1901 from George L. Brownell for $500. Charles F. Lewis was the driver and was paid $30 for his yearly services. 
Among the first orders of business for Norwich's early settlers was to designate a burying ground. Norwich would eventually have 11 cemeteries spread throughout town as well as numerous family cemeteries. The first known internment was in 1770, the twin Slafter boys, who died just nine years after the town was chartered.

Old cemeteries can reveal the impact of past epidemics on a community. Norwich worked hard to avoid a smallpox epidemic by voting at town meeting to provide for the inoculation for smallpox....by the Selectmen! Unfortunately Norwich did not remain free of smallpox--In 1797 there was a pest house (and nearby graves of smallpox victims) near Beaver Meadow. The birth and death records at the Town Clerk's office provide something of a medical history of Norwich. In 1798 around 30 people died of dysentery in the Pompanoosuc neighborhood. In 1842, around 25 children died from "canker rash," or scarlet fever. Spotted fever, thought to be cerebro-spinals-meningitis, also took its toll.

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From a Vermont Receipt:    Cure for Spotted Fever

To one quart of lime add one gallon of water. To one quart of tar, add two quarts of water. Let these stand in separate vessels until they froth, skim the froth, pour them together. To this mixture add eight ounces of saltpeter, four ounces of opium -take a glass when going to bed and repeat the same in four or five hours.


100 years ago the Spanish Flu swept the world. It came in three waves, the deadliest in fall of 2018. Norwich was not spared. Norwich Death Records reveal four casualties in October 1918 and the  reported on more in the region. As was typical of Spanish Influenza, the Norwich victims were in their 30's and succumbed after 12 - 13 days of being ill. Mary Hitchcock Hospital was so crowded that beds were placed in corridors and sunrooms. Dartmouth College reported 325 cases.

Schools were closed for five weeks. They had already been closed for many weeks in the spring while Whooping Cough made its rounds. The Turnpike Road schoolhouse teacher managed to keep classes in session by walking miles each day from house to house to teach individual lessons.

Norwich's hearse reminds us that the men, women, and children who lived in our homes and walked in our streets had the same sorts of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears that we have today. The human condition spans generations.


Norwich A – Z is a weekly post spotlighting artworks and artifacts from the Norwich Historical Society’s collection.  We will explore the artifacts as well as the people who made and used them. Along the way, we’ll reflect on how we came to where we are today in Norwich. By Sarah Rooker and Nancy Osgood

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