Though the still colorful season calls for cemeteries to soon take on macabre night fright air, there really is much more to them. They can be places of rest, reflection and serenity. There are intricate gates, stone walls and carvings. For the local history buff, there is much to unearth as well.
Last year, as part of Conway's 250th birthday celebration, the Conway Historical Society published "The Cemeteries of Conway, New Hampshire" written by Jane and Ken Rancourt and Brian Wiggin.
The book provides locations (complete with GPS coordinates), photos and interesting nuggets of information about 50 or so graveyards and memorials sites in Conway and its environs. For the curious cyclist, the book can act as a guide, revealing locations that are often pedaled past within sight of the road.
Headstones come in various shapes and sizes, and conditions. Some are easily read while others are obscured by time. There are some old gravestone markings with meaning that can be found in cemeteries across the valley.
Arches and garland both pay tribute to victory in death. Corn signifies ripe old age. Trees celebrate life. A lamb observes innocence. A full-blown rose marks prime of life.
There are also some military emblems like a flag that acknowledges the grave of a veteran. The letters G.A.R. on a tombstone is for Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization comprised of northern force veterans during the Civil War.
Though Route 302 has a shoulder, it seems to be a bit busier nowadays around Center Conway. Valley cyclists use it for loops and also as a gateway to the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg. Across from the Conway Recreation Center is the easily spotted Center Conway Cemetery. Among local notables from days gone by are Sarah Porter, wife of Conway's first full-time pastor, Richard Odell, a selectman who served in both the 18th and 19th centuries, and John G. Garland who has the distinction of being the town clerk who officiated at more Conway weddings than any other in that position.
Interestingly, the cemetery also has a pauper section with rock markers.
Further east on Route 302 is a two-for-one viewing, made simple to see due to recent transformation of the adjoining acreage from forest to farm. The grounds closest to the road is the Nevers Cemetery with the oldest stone dating to 1821. The graveyard behind it is the Osgood Cemetery with about 60 head-markers.
West Side Road, one of the most popular valley cycling roads with its rolling way, vistas, nice shoulder and benign speed limit, has a handful of cemeteries, the most visible being the ones across from Side Track Road. There, adjacent to fields and cloistered by the forest are three burial grounds: Hill-Russell-Hale, Shackford-Davis with its granite walls and black gate, and Garland.
The Shackford-Davis Cemetery is where Ruth B.D. Horne is buried. She wrote the local historical tome, "Conway Through the Years and Whither" published in 1963. The Hill-Russell-Hale Cemetery contains granite posts and its oldest stone is dated to 1821.
If you're cycling West Side Road, there's a good chance you've incorporated Washington Street into your ride. That's where you'll find the Conway Village Cemetery. Frankly, it's a striking piece of property with its wide-views up to the craggy dome of Mount Chocorua. But it is a cemetery and there's a sign forbidding bicycles. So dismount and be among veterans from the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Of note is Charles Broughton. He's a Civil War vet buried there. He built two covered bridges in the valley: the Jackson Covered Bridge in 1876 and one over the Saco River in 1890.
Graveyards, where ever they may be, certainly are places to remember and honor those who have come before us. Respect this if you decide to venture forth into them while clad in your tight and bright clothing and helmeted head. But cemeteries are also for the living, a place to reflect upon the past, to live in the moment and contemplate the future for ourselves, our loved ones and for those who have yet to come.
The fourth annual mountain bike weekend is Oct. 21-23 in Goham from the Top Notch Inn. Teaming up with the Coos Cycling Club, group rides are planned Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m., including a Saturday Presidential Rail Trail Eco tour. There's a Friday night 6 p.m. beer and chili get together Saturday Libby's dinner. Go to Register at bikereg.com.
Caption: West Side Road contains a number of cemeteries cyclists roll right by. (MARTY BASCH PHOTO)