Jaffrey: Willa Cather's Final Page
By Polly Bannister
Home and Garden Editor, Yankee Magazine
I’ve lived in the Monadnock region for 30 years — almost long enough to consider myself local. In my migration around the area over the years, I’ve lived in seven of the 40 or so towns that consider themselves located in the shadow of the mountain that anchors our region. Each town has a special place in my memory. I recall the logging road in Hancock where I saw my first moose, the coffee shop in Peterborough where I set eyes on my husband, and the little Cape in Greenfield where we brought our daughter home after she was born.
There is perhaps one spot to which I return more than any other. It’s the cemetery in Jaffrey Center, with Willa Cather’s grave tucked in the corner. It was 1917 when Willa Cather first came to Jaffrey. She stayed at the Shattuck Inn and wrote from a room on the third floor with a view of Mount Monadnock.
Jaffrey Center, on Route 124, is one of our loveliest villages. The main road is wide, and many of the historic homes are large and impeccably cared for, so the town has a grand feel. The large, steepled 1773 Meeting House presides over the town green. Behind it you’ll find the Old Burying Ground, next to a long, low stable where you can imagine rows of fine carriages for the meeting-goers. You don’t have to nose around to find a specific grave (though I encourage you to), because a map is posted on the horse shed.
Amos Fortune is buried here. He was an African slave who bought his freedom, and at his death left money to the church. A famous summer lecture series held in the Meeting House is named after him. But it’s not his grave I visit first — it’s always Willa Cather’s. In a wooded corner I see her simple stone and read the inscribed quote: “… That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great,” from My Antonia. Her lifelong partner, Edith Lewis, is buried next to Cather. It’s such a wonderful surprise to see that a famous American writer, mentor to Truman Capote and longtime prairie girl, would choose this spot for her final resting place.