Merrimack River Current

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Todd Woodworth still gives tours of his favorite haunts

By Dinah Cardin/
Friday, October 29, 2004

Now retired, likes to give tours of his favorite haunts

While a cemetery tour might be good Halloween fun this weekend, Todd Woodworth doesn't do Halloween tours. The lifelong Newburyport resident instead marks each spring by guiding groups through Oak Hill Cemetery. He retired just last week from nearly 60 years in the funeral business.

Woodworth, 83, says he's been working since he was 15 years old, when he began volunteering on the gym floor at the YMCA. He ran his own business, Woodworth Funeral Home on High Street, for 20 years before Elliott Woodworth and Rogers Funeral Home on Green Street.

But retirement won't keep the man who knows the most about Newburyport's eight cemeteries from heading up the tours he has led for more than a decade. These peaceful parcels around the city set aside for the dead are places familiar to Woodworth throughout his life. He grew up in a State Street home that looked out on revered Oak Hill; nearby Pine Swamp Pond was within his stomping ground for fishing and ice skating.

Over the years, Woodworth has become an expert in locating graves for lost loves and family members. It has earned him the reputation as the city's unofficial cemetery historian. At Oak Hill, he has found 50 burials that took place before the cemetery's 1842 consecration, including that of a child who passed away in 1797.

His tours take groups around the graves of those made famous in local history books, from well-known sea captains to important figures in town.

More than eight decades of his friends and neighbors have found their final resting places there.

"You think of these people. I've been here all my life; maybe they'll think of me when I go," Woodworth says.

He tells stories along the way, like the one about the man who tended the Newburyport Public Gardens on the corner where City Hall is now. Ironically, grass will not grow on the gardener's grave because of overhanging trees that block the sunlight.

He has his favorite artful gravesites that look more like sculpture than a monument for the dead.

"I like the idea that people have taken the time and effort and expense to put something like that up," he says.

There is the grave with the 25-foot monument topped by an urn that Woodworth always enjoyed. He recalls a couple of trouble makers who used to hang around the cemetery and caused problems and scared people. They once tried to scale the monument, but when they tossed up a rope, the scalawags accidentally toppled the urn.

"I always said it was too bad it missed them," Woodworth snickers.

Woodworth's wife, Grace, just rolls her eyes at his tours, he says.

But he's been able to do some good with his wealth of knowledge and particular expertise. Over the years, Woodworth has come across the graves of a few who did something unusual in life, yet in their final resting place, lack a marker. In the business for so many years, Woodworth knows a thing or two about getting them some recognition.

Most of his family is buried at Oak Hill and, in a way only a funeral director would put it, Woodworth matter-of-factly says his place is waiting there, too.

"I've got my grave up there," he says. "It's all ready for me."

(This article replicated online with permission of the Merrimack River Current.)
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