Volunteers clean historic cemetery, restore grave of famed Burrillville strong man

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BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society held its annual cemetery cleanup at the Riverside Cemetery to celebrate Rhode Island’s Cemetery Awareness/Restoration Day on Saturday, April 10.

The Harrisville cemetery has around 40 separate, privately-owned lots, and 15 volunteers worked for about three hours raking, clipping brush, picking up sticks and blowing leaves. The group included members of the Historical Society, Lions Club, Girl Scouts, community service workers and other volunteers.

BH & PS President Betty Mencucci noted that while a few of the lots at Riverside have perpetual care, most of them have become abandoned.

“Without the dedicated work of volunteers, the cemetery would become overgrown,” Mencucci said.

Betty and husband Carlo Mencucci completed gravestone conservation work on two footstones as part of the event, restoring graves belonging to Otis Wood and his wife Celia. According to Mencucci, the footstones had fallen from their bases for over half a century and the bases had sunken below ground at least four inches.

Carlo Mencucci

Otis Wood, who was born in Burrillville on May 5, 1796, was the son of John Wood and Rhoba (Smith) Wood. He died in 1849 at the age of 52.

“Otis was physically a very strong man,” Mencucci said. “He worked at maintaining the roads in Harrisville using a team of three yoke of oxen to pull a scraper along the roads. One time when he was at the Cattle Fair in Worcester he showed off his strength. They had a yoke of oxen attached to a cart heavily weighted with stones. The oxen were detached and men were challenged to lift the tongue of the cart weighted with these heavy stones. No one could it.”

Mencucci said Otis finally stepped forward, put his brawny hands under it, and picked it right up.

“Everyone asked where he was from and he proudly announced ‘Burrillville in Rhode Island,'” she said.

The clean up is hosted each year by the organization.

John Keegan and Chris Toti blow leaves.
Kerry Hopkins and Denice Mitchell rake a plot.
Richard Nolan of the Burrillville Lions Club rakes a plot. The club has adopted three plots, which are maintained throughout the year.
Amanda Hackett Pomeroy rakes a plot.
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