Brownstone Tombstones

Continuing my theme of tombstones, I would like to turn to a singular grave marker in Middletown, Connecticut, just across the border from the old brownstone quarries in Portland. I believe this may be the only tombstone with dinosaur tracks on it. It honors Joseph Barrett, an M.D., though judging from the stone, he was equally as proud to be a botanist and geologist. Who wouldn’t?

Barrett was well known in the area for his passion for tracks. His obituary in the New York Times read “So deeply was he engaged in this work that he neglected his profession and became a monomaniac on the subject of bird tracks. He saw all manner of fossils in city walks which no other eyes were able to see, and in his peregrinations about the town would stop suddenly, look at a stone, bring out a sheet of wrapping paper and, laying it out on the walk, draw upon it whatever his fancy painted, write the place where the stone lay and date its discovery.” Oh, to be able to see those drawings!

Barrett also regularly supplied tracks to Edward Hitchcock, who taught at Amherst College and is considered the father of ichnology. Hitchcock never could admit that dinosaurs made the tracks; birds were the track makers.
When Barrett died, according to brownstone historian Alison Guinness, the local quarries donated two slabs of stone. You can find the facts on the smooth face. You can also see how brownstone weathers, peeling off layer by layer like sunburned skin. The back side, though, is the face to explore. Several three-toed tracks can be seen crossing at angles to each other. The most obvious one is just to the left of center, next to a round white lichen. Another one is a few inches down and to left. They have been designated as Grallator formosus and Brontozoum sillimanicum.

The back side of Barrett’s tombstone. Note the various tracks of three-toed dinosaurs.
The second slab, which the first sits on, has two tree casts. In addition, you can see where it says “The Testimony of the Rocks.” This book, written by Scottish geologist Hugh Miller and published the year after his death in 1857, is a curious combination of anti-evolution but supportive of a great age for the Earth.

Together these two slabs are certainly a wonderful tombstone testimony to the passion of a man for the stone and the fossils he loved.

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