Stuck for a child’s name? How about Lewes Delaware?
Cemeteries throughout Delaware’s Cape Region serve as history parks for those who take the time to wander through the tombstones and pause here and there to read and reflect. Since I’ve reached the stage in my life where I now serve on the board of the Bethel Methodist Cemetery on Savannah Road in Lewes, my longtime interest in burying places has grown even keener.
The mystery and strangeness of death hang over cemeteries, but wandering through rows of graves and tombs cuts through that uncertainty like sunshine through fog. A few months have passed since Lewes historian Hazel Brittingham indulged my curiosity about the Bethel cemetery. We met there one afternoon on a warm, sunny day and she pointed out a few of the notable and curious stones. She pointed out the grave of Bordena Bromley, in a special place at the highest part of the cemetery, across from the front door of Lloyd’s Market.
According to information gathered by former Bethel United Methodist Church historian Virginia Kennedy, Mrs. Bromley lived in Lewes in the middle 1800s and was a pioneering member of the church. She raised money for construction of the church and also was instrumental in starting the cemetery.
Kennedy reported that Bromley came from England as an indentured servant for George Hickman of Lewes. “After she worked out the cost of her passage, she married a shoemaker and operated a candy store in Lewes,” wrote Kennedy. “Trustee minutes of 1893 record the following: ‘A committee appointed to reinter the remains of Mrs. Bordena Bromley and Wilson C. Bromley which are in the St. Peter’s Episcopal Churchyard to the new M.E. Cemetery. Graves are to be in the circle on the hill. Amount of the expense for reinterment - $8.’”
So that dates the cemetery to the 1890s.
The cemetery is the final resting place for the founders of Beebe Medical Center, Drs. James and Richard Beebe, as well as three Lewes mayors, Dr. Ulysses Hocker, Edward Maull and William Walsh. It also holds the remains of a number of people who died during the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918; dozens of veterans, many of whom died in wars dating back to World War I; and the graves of three men whose families loved their town so much they named them accordingly: Lewes D. Maull, Lewes D. Messick and Lewes Delaware Orton. Hazel said she suspects the D. in the first two names also stands for Delaware. Barbara Orton said Lewes Delaware Orton was a cousin of her late husband Capt. Jimmy Orton. “I always heard that when Lewes Delaware’s father moved away to Pennsylvania he was so homesick for his hometown that he named his son for Lewes. You can see the stone from the road, near the drugstore,” she said.
Hazel’s favorite tombstone is a short, unassuming piece of work in the oldest section of the graveyard. It states simply that the spot is the final resting place for a sea captain, “NAME UNKNOWN.”
Finally, to dispel all notions that vanity evaporates when the soul departs, Hazel pointed out the stone of L. Ethel Warrington. “It’s said she would never reveal her age when she was alive,” said Hazel, “and she didn’t after she died either.” The stone notes the date of Warrington’s death, Dec. 17, 1966, but not the date of her birth.