Famed founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, was hailed as a great hero by the people. When he died, he was buried on his own property before being moved in the 19th century to the tomb of one of his descendants in the North Burial Ground. Some wondered if the great Roger Williams was beginning to become annoyed at the constant removal of his body from grave to grave. What admirers found when he was to be exhumed and interred the fourth time, however, would mystify observers.
When Mr. Williams’ body was buried beneath a great monument in Prospect Park in Providence Rhode Island, a groundskeeper saw fit to plant an apple tree nearby, as a symbol of the bountiful life the Theologian Mr. Williams had led. Years passed, and those visiting Williams’ grave were encouraged to take the fruit from Mr. Williams’ apple tree as an edible souvenir. Of course over the years many obligingly took a d ate from the tree. It was quickly heralded by many the best apple tree in the area, and its fruits were a coveted special foodstuff for locals.
When in 1936, Williams was exhumed yet again, it was to the shocked amazement of locals that his body was missing. His wife’s body was likewise dug up and no sign of her existed either. Both caskets were filled with roots. But where could such powerful roots be coming from? The grave diggers looked up at the massive healthy looking apple tree from which they had all been eating, and came to a grim conclusion. Over the course of several years the roots had broken into Mr. Williams’ casket, and slipped into his skull. From that point they eventually followed his entire body, enveloping him entirely from head to foot. His skull as well as rib cage, arms, and legs had all been closely woven over by the thick wooden fibers of the trees roots, leaving behind a surrogate wooden skeleton. It seemed as though Mr. Williams, tired of the constant shuffling about at the hands of his admirers had taken root in one spot thanks to the assistance of a helpful apple tree.
A piece of the root was taken from the grave and in itself became a relic of Rhode Island’s history. It was added to the Rhode Island Historical Society’s collection and became preserved and mounted to its final resting place in the John Brown House Museum, the first mansion ever built in Providence. To this day curious onlookers beseech tour guides of the museum for a chance to see the root, and hear its tale once more. One of the tour guides at the society has recalled “Some Baptists came from Texas and I scheduled a tour of the House — but all they wanted to see was the root!” Perhaps there is something to be learned from this about digging up the past. There will always be those who find it fascinating, even if some remain skeptical. Perhaps it’s just the nature of man, but something tells me some day Roger Williams will be moved yet again. If his body cannot find peace in the ground of the Rhode Island he founded so many years ago, perhaps he can find peace in the hearts and imaginations of an adoring public.