Sarah and I were both feeling stir-crazy after days of being cooped up waiting for a hurricane that mostly (mercifully) passed us by, so we spent the afternoon yesterday looking for Halloween costume pieces and waking through Yale’s residential college courtyards. Downtown was already back in full swing— the trees that came down were in residential neighborhoods, and unlike the rest of the state, almost everyone has power— but the courtyard were particularly, remarkably serene. There was a tiny purple paper lantern on a string of beads caught in the branches of a tree in Branford; these little skeletons were tied to one in Davenport.
The only sign of Sandy’s passing, really, was an enormous tree that had come down in the middle of the New Haven Green, a privately owned but publicly used commons in the middle of the city. It was surrounded by caution tape and cop cars; it turned out that someone had found what everyone kept calling remains in the hollow underneath. Apparently the Green was used throughout the 1700’s as a mass grave site, after which “the stones were moved to the Grove Street Cemetery, and the ground was raised to level off the Green. The bodies remained behind.”
The Green was created with the apocalypse in mind: it is large enough to hold 144,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder, exactly the number the book of Revelations says will be saved in the Rapture. Last year it was the site of New England’s longest-lasting Occupy camp. One of the things I love about living here is the way that the city’s founding impulses continue to shape the way modern life is lived: we cross Temple and Church and Chapel, Crown and George streets; the library and the gym were built to resemble houses of worship. The ground where people assembled to protest for months and months churns up those whose bodies were buried in secret, in night, hundreds of years ago. It’s a place that has seen and survived a lot of tumult, that bears the scars of human anxiety and disaster preparedness now centuries old.
To grow up in California is to be told that you live in a place that has no history, by which we mean white history; to live in New England is to be surrounded by what you’ve learned to recognize as the past. It grounds everything here in story and makes it rich with inherited meaning; if this were a Los Angeles story, it would be an old Indian burial ground under a mall parking lot and a very tired cliche. The assumption there is that we can’t connect to the culture that preceded us; here we are encouraged to. And as always with stories where you think you know the ending and the moral, it makes what might be creepy into something ultimately comforting. Sarah and I edged around the perimeter of the caution tape, trying to catch a glimpse of the skull inside. We agreed that it was morbid and shivery and delicious, to have this happening right before Halloween.