“Reading the Gravestones of Old New England” with John G. S. Hanson June 18 2022

Watch the WilliNet video HERE

The Williamstown Historical Museum presented a free slide lecture onReading the Gravestones of Old New Englandby Williamstown native John G. S. Hanson, on Saturday, June 18, at 11 am in the Community Room at the Milne Public Library, following the Museum’s brief annual meeting. The public is invited.

John Hanson is a Williamstown native – son of the late Harlan “Harpo” and Dorothea Hanson – a 1976 graduate of Mount Greylock Regional High School, and the author of Reading the Gravestones of Old New England (McFarland, 2021, $39.95 in paperback)

For me, these graveyards hold an absorbing store of poetic messages from early New Englanders.  I started collecting interesting epitaphs in the Williamstown burial grounds when I was a kid, and through the years I keep asking myself ‘where did these verses come from, and how did they get on these gravestones?’” Hanson explained.

Trying to satisfy my curiosity on those two questions has led me on a personal journey of heart and mind into the literary and spiritual world these people inhabited. Each time I stand in front of a gravestone and read, I hear the sadness, grief, hope, joy, and faith of these ordinary people who lived and died two centuries ago and more.”

Hanson’s lecture will be heavily illustrated with slides, including examples from Westlawn and Southlawn cemeteries in Williamstown. “Westlawn has some great stones and carving, but is oddly short on epitaph verse,” Hanson said. “Whereas Southlawn is fabulous, with a remarkable range of scripture, hymns, original writings, and poetry.”

This lecture will give historically-minded members of the community a new window, albeit through an odd aperture, into the reading, writing, and devotional lives of the early settlers, some of whom may be their ancestors.”

The lecture will be preceded by the brief annual meeting and election of officers of the Williamstown Historical Museum, and followed by a question and answer session. If you have a copy of Hanson’s book, bring it along and get it signed.


John G. S. Hanson is a Williamstown native currently dividing his time between Cambridge and Tyringham. He received his AB in English and American Literature from Harvard. Hanson has been collecting and studying early New England epitaph verse for many years. When not exploring old burial grounds, he is an executive at an Internet services company. Hanson is the author of Reading the Gravestones of Old New England (McFarland, 2021, $39.95 in paperback).


The Williamstown Historical Museum was founded in 1941, as the Williamstown House of Local History, to preserve and to promote knowledge of the town’s history. Its goal is to document the diverse people and buildings, the associations and businesses, the institutions and events, which form the town’s history from the earliest days to the present time. The collection includes photographs, documents, and artifacts from the 1700s to the present day, as well as published works related to the town’s history. There is a permanent display, and rotating exhibits use many items in the collection to help educate our community on many aspects of the town’s history. The museum’s current exhibit is “Schools and Children in Williamstown Through the Years.”