By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – As friends go, Dot Goldman is good as gold. Three years ago she befriended Derry's town cemetery, Forest Hill, currently creeping up on its tricentennial celebration in another dozen years.
Almost daily, Goldman has been overseeing a heroic volunteer spruce-up effort, with a particular focus on recording and restoring faded historic markers. Her most recent endeavor was adding four gate markers to remind visitors of the buried treasure and community pride perpetuated beyond the wrought iron gates.
She organized a Friends of Forest Hill Cemetery, which has become a consistent pool of volunteer caretakers who've learned how to clean headstones, or contribute in other ways by planting flowers, painting fences – whatever's needed.
The four plaques installed Monday were long overdue, said longtime historian Rick Holmes, who is better equipped to handle town trivia questions than the fastest computerized search engine.
“Now that they're here, it's hard to imagine why we didn't do this sooner,” said Holmes, who works closely with the town's Heritage Commission, which funded the plaques.
One is a simple “Forest Hills” founders marker, with the date 1722. There is also a plaque crediting the Derry DAR and Derry Garden Club for landscaping. The other two plaques provide something to ponder on the way through the entrance gates – a historical paragraph that pays tribute to the town Fathers, and the other a quote by William Gladstone that Holmes took to heart the first time he saw it at another cemetery.
The plaque is dedicated to Gen. George Thom, a cemetery benefactor who is buried within. It reads: Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideas.”
On Monday, as Ben Falcey of Arthur's Memorials used a grinder to recess plaque-shaped rectangles into the granite posts, Holmes and Goldman strolled the cemetery paths together, considering the many mysteries yet to be solved, of faded headstones and unmarked graves.
Goldman's goal is to resolve as many of those mysteries while chronicling the names and locations of more than 10,000 people already buried there. It has become more than a hobby for Goldman, who helps others locate their loved ones in the town cemetery through Find-A-Grave, an international network of cemeteries to which Derry is now connected, thanks to Goldman.
Her tender mercy has gone a long way toward preserving one of the town's most historic sites, a labor of love that will continue for as long as Goldman, 68, has the strength to maneuver her way around the expansive cemetery, oxygen tanks for her chronic emphysema in tow.
After that, she is counting on a little help from her Forest Hill “friends.”
''I noticed more and more people are coming in and leaving flowers on grave sites. With the landscaping, and now the plaques, it's starting to feel like it's coming back to its original glory,” said Goldman.
To link to Goldman's virtual collection of grave sites at Forest Hill, go to www.tinyurl.com/e4wfe. Volunteers are always needed; donations are greatly appreciated. Annual cemetery membership dues are $10
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