A window to Randolph’s past

Randolph town historian Henry Cooke will kick off a series of tours at Central Cemetery next week. Randolph town historian Henry Cooke will kick off a series of tours at Central Cemetery next week. (Henry Cooke)
By Wendy Chow
Globe Staff / June 9, 2011

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In an effort to enlighten residents about Randolph’s rich historical past, the Randolph Historical Society is offering a series of free summer events. The “History Around Us’’ series will kick off with a tour of Central Cemetery next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Laid out in 1716, Central Cemetery on North Street is the town’s oldest burying ground. Town historian Henry Cooke will lead the tour and talk about some of the earliest settlers buried there. Also on the agenda is a visit to the Civil War memorial and the Petrified Tree, a local curiosity that seems to defy science.

Cooke said the tree is one of his favorite stops at the cemetery. “The tree was struck by lightning about 20 years ago, or so I’m told. It is bereft of its bark and its leaves. The lightning didn’t burn the tree, but the strange part is that it hasn’t rotted out or fallen over, which one would expect after all this time.’’

The tree is a hardwood, probably oak, Cooke said. “It has withstood the weather, the seasons, and seems to show no signs of deteriorating or falling down. So the story goes, if it doesn’t deteriorate, it must be petrified.’’

Resident Sandy Whatley, an engineer and former stonecutter, will discuss the history of gravestones and point out the earliest crudely cut granite markers as well as elaborate Victorian memorials. “He is eager to share with people about the art of stonecutting and talk about how they were able to cut the different types of stones,’’ said Cooke.

Thanks to RCTV, the local access cable television station, Cooke is a familiar face in Randolph. He and resident Ken Simmons hosted the station’s popular “Beneath the Elms’’ show. But the program, which showcased a curious and awed Simmons learning about Randolph history from Cooke, is on hiatus until a new producer can be found.

“When Ken and I developed ‘Beneath the Elms,’ we figured the older people would enjoy it,’’ said Cooke. “To our amazement, it has appealed to longtime residents, newcomers who want to learn more about their community, and schoolchildren. I was asked to speak to a group of children, and when I came through the door, it was like I was a rock star.’’

The show “has succeeded with a wide variety of age groups, maybe because Ken and I are just two overaged little kids, running around through grandma’s attic, having a great old time, and the audience can tag along in part of the fun.’’

To join the cemetery tour, participants may park along the cemetery access road at North Street. The tour is scheduled to run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., but walkers who aren’t up for the full two hours may leave when they wish. The tour is pet friendly, said Cooke. The rain date is June 20.

The second tour in the series will be of the town center on July 13, starting and ending at Stetson Hall. The final tour will be to view the grand houses on North Main Street on Aug. 11, departing from the Sudbury Farms parking lot.

For more information about the summer tour series, contact Cooke at 781-963-9645.

Wendy Chow can be reached at

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