For those who have not visited A Great Yarn, each month we create a unique “Chatham Yarn,” which is hand-dyed by our great friend Shellee Poulin. Our goal is to recreate an iconic Chatham landmark in yarn. Beginning last August, we decided that for six months we would focus on “Hidden Treasures of Chatham,” which are places that many visitors might have missed in favor of trips to the lighthouse or fish pier.
Stop number four on our “Hidden Treasures of Chatham” is the Training Field Triangle. To most people, the image the word “triangle” usually conjures up is “The Bermuda Triangle.” Chathamites included. It’s unfortunate, since one of New England’s most famous triangles is located right in our midst. The Training Field Triangle is a 39-acre parcel of land bounded on its three sides by Old Queen Anne, Old Comers and Training Field Roads. The area served as the center of Chatham in the 1700’s, and got its name from the fact that Colonial militia trained there prior to participating in the Revolutionary War.
At its peak, the Training Field Triangle included a tavern, a windmill, a meetinghouse and a church. While little is left of those structures, what remains from that period is the Smallpox Cemetery. The cemetery was established during the severe smallpox epidemic that ravaged Chatham from November 1765 until May 1766. Altogether 37 of the town’s 600 residents died from smallpox during that terrible six-month period, including 17 from one family. It was one of the Cape’s worst outbreaks, and was thought to have arrived in Chatham either via a shipment of clothing from the West Indies, or a bale of cotton from the South. Before it was over, the disease claimed a number of notable citizens, including the deacon and the local doctor, Samuel Lord, who cared unstintingly for the sick before falling victim himself and dying on January 12, 1766.
The smallpox cemetery within the Training Field Triangle was established during the epidemic and is separate from Chatham’s other cemeteries. Only eight of the epidemic’s victims were actually buried in the smallpox cemetery, due to fears of spreading the disease during funerals. Most victims were buried quietly without a funeral service on family farms.
The yarn we selected for this month’s offering is a worsted weight yarn. Each skein contains 218 yards, and is composed of 100% superwash merino. We asked our hand-dyer Shellee to replicate the colors of sunlight glinting off of the now-crumbling slate grave markers in the smallpox cemetery. Just our way of paying homage to a sad chapter in Cape Cod’s history, and also celebrating the fact that 250 years after the epidemic hit Chatham, smallpox has finally been eradicated from the planet.