Grave Sightings: Mother Goose

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For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Here, friends, is a lesson to regularly backup your files: My laptop was stolen in 2011, and although I had an external hard drive that wasn't taken, my backup history was spotty at best. As a result, I lost at least six months worth of pictures, including our April trip to Boston. Although we were there to watch my sister-in-law run the marathon, I made our entire vacation party traipse over to the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street to visit the likes of Paul Revere, Sam Adams, and yes—Mother Goose. Because of the stolen laptop, sadly, this is not my personal picture of Mother Goose’s grave. But it also may not really be Mother Goose’s grave, so I guess it’s fitting.

So, here lies Mary Goose, wife of Isaac. After Mary died at the young age of 42, Isaac married a woman named Elizabeth Foster Goose. Elizabeth had a daughter, also named Elizabeth. The younger Elizabeth married a printer/publisher named Thomas Fleet, who, in 1719 or 1720, published a collection of the stories his mother-in-law told to his wife and her siblings when they were but wee goslings. Side note: Should you ever spot an ancient-looking book called Songs for the Nursery, or; Mother Goose's Melodies for Children at a garage sale, snap that sucker up.

But where does wife #1, Mary, enter the picture? Well, because Isaac is buried next to Mary, and because there is no other gravestone for Elizabeth Foster Goose, it’s assumed that she was buried in the family plot sans headstone (the cheapskates). This was apparently pretty common—in fact, although there are 2300 headstones in the Granary Burying Ground, historians believe at least 5000 people are buried there. Since Mary Goose's grave is as close as admirers can get to the woman they believe to be Mother Goose, she’s the wrongful recipient of coins and other tokens of affection.

Oh, and one more minor falsehood: French texts from as early as 1626 reference stories from “mere l’oye”—Mother Goose—meaning that Elizabeth Foster Goose, born in 1665, couldn’t possibly have been the Mother Goose. But, as they say, why let the facts stand in the way of a good story—or a good gravestone? 

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August 28, 2013 - 1:00pm
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