PITTSTON — In the close, hazy heat of the early afternoon Saturday, a couple of dozen people gathered near a tent at the hilly south end of Riverside Cemetery.

They listened to some brief comments, and they bowed their heads in prayer.

But they carried no more grief with them than life usually brings. Instead of mourning, they were pleased, one week before the Memorial Day weekend, to be paying their respects to the 48 souls they believe are buried there in unmarked graves whose location was obscured for years by bushes and discarded grave trash.

Duane Tobey led the dedication ceremony that introduced the marker that has been put up in memory of the unknowns. He’s the second director of the Riverside Cemetery Association. The association, with three directors, a secretary and a treasurer, oversees the cemetery and its care.

“I would like to thank everyone for being here today,” he said. “This is an old cemetery with a lot of Pittston’s history in it. There are majors, sea captains, people from other countries and 88 veterans that we know about buried here.

“Thanks to Bunny Mansir and Barbara Shaw, who were working on updating our maps, they have found 48 unknown graves of people who come from all walks of life. Riverside Cemetery would like to take this day to honor these people, some of who may have served our country.”


A wreath was laid and a letter from U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree was read, and the Rev. Tim Clever, of the nearby Pittston Congregational Church, offered a prayer.

“I just got my heart set on doing this and doing this right,” Tobey said, adding that it’s been a long process that has attracted help and support from around the region.

His and his wife’s connection to the cemetery is a close one that began after the death in 1984 of their 18-year-old daughter Kathie, who is buried there. Sandra Tobey is the association’s treasurer.

Tobey’s fellow directors credit him with the plans for the memorial.

“Duane is a real spark plug. He’s thinking all the time. He got us moving on this,” Isabelle Kelsey said. She’s the third director, a position that was transferred to her after the death of her husband, Kenneth, 14 months ago; he’s also buried there. “It seems so terrible that people forgot them and no one comes to visit them.”

Identifying the location of the bodies was the work of Shaw and Mansir, who are known as the Jewett twins. They had learned from a cousin who was a sexton in Washington state at a family reunion how to use copper wire rods to find unmarked graves. Together they discovered 48 of them.


“We can’t tell what sex they are,” Mansir said, but if the bodies are small, they can tell whether they have found a child.

Their brother, Curtis Jewett, cleared and leveled the area and donated stones for the monument and the four corner markers that define the area where the unknowns were buried. Tony Masciadri, of the Hallowell monument maker S Masciadri and Sons, engraved and set the monument and cut and placed the four corner markers. The town of Pittston donated money for cleaning up the area.

While they all did what they could, there’s still something they can’t do — identify whoever is in those unmarked graves.

Some of the people buried there might have been residents at the former Willow Crest Nursing Home in Pittston. The fire that burned it down also destroyed all of its records, so there’s no way to tell if that’s the case for all 48 people.

The town on the eastern bank of the Kennebec River figures prominently in the history of the region. Just up the road from the cemetery stands the Major Reuben Colburn House, home of the Arnold Expedition Historical Society. Colburn was instrumental in supporting the Continental Army’s expedition to Quebec to seize the city from the British Army. The expedition’s bateaux were launched from Colburn’s property and were led by Benedict Arnold, who at that time was a colonel in the Continental Army.

Colburn himself is buried in Riverside Cemetery, and his grave, marked with the date of his death in 1818, is the oldest one there. Members of his family are buried near him.


The unidentified graves are in the oldest section of the burial ground, so it’s possible they could be from around that same period.

Another theory is that they could have been paupers who could not afford their own burials.

It’s also possible that none of those theories has merit and the explanation is something completely different.

“It may be in time someone hears about this and they find something in their papers,” Kelsey said. She reasons that if funeral homes were involved, the information might be housed there.

It will take someone taking the time to look and to share what they find, she said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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