The Mayor's Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee of Portsmouth, New Hampshire


Unearthing stories of deceased citizens

By Emily Aronson

July 11, 2005 PORTSMOUTH NH - Roger Syphers has uncovered a lot of history since he began restoring the city’s old burying grounds for the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee.

Roger Syphers of Syphers Monument Co. examines the gravestone of Mrs. Mary L. Hill, who died in 1823. Syphers discovered the stone as he and his crew were working on the restoration in North Cemetery on Maplewood Avenue.
Photo by Deb Cram

And an afternoon of work at North Cemetery on Thursday was no different.

Syphers, owner of Syphers Monument Co. in Hampton, was digging out a gravestone located on top of Gov. John Langdon’s family tomb.

The slate marker belonged to Mary L. Hill, who died at the age of 41 in 1823. Syphers said only the top of the gravestone, which was cracked and tipping over on its side, was located above ground.

When Syphers dug farther, he quickly uncovered the rest of the marker, which had a lengthy epitaph carved down the side - something Syphers said was quite unusual for the time.

"It takes a lot of money to do that," Syphers said, pointing to the script-style, hand-carved lettering.

Syphers and his two co-workers then lifted out the marker, which had cracked into four large pieces. Syphers said he guessed the entire stone weighed around 200 pounds, "but felt like 600 pounds when you try to pick it up."

Laying the broken slate pieces together on the ground, Syphers spit on his hands and wiped away the years of dirt stuck inside the carved lettering.

"At the age of 22 she renounced the world and became a follower of Christ," Syphers read. "She was (an) ... example of patience and piety."

The rest of the epitaph was difficult to read, with tiny cracks running through letters or entire pieces of slate broken off in the middle of a word.

Syphers said he would take the stone back to his shop and glue it back together, hoping to make the epitaph readable again.

He said he’ll also put a brace on the side of the grave to keep it from tipping and re-bury it at North Cemetery next week.


For more information on the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee, visit

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