Elizabeth died in 1776. Her Little Compton, Rhode Island, headstone reads: Should have been the wife of Simeon Palmer.
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In Episode 182, for Valentine’s Day, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger visit a Little Compton, Rhode Island, cemetery in search of the grave of Elizabeth, whose epitaph reads: Should have been the wife of Simeon Palmer. Elizabeth died in 1776. Was her epitaph an indication that she’s still pining for Simeon, the guy who got away? Or is there something else behind the strange message?
Read the episode transcript.
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The grave of Elizabeth, who SHOULD have been the wife of Simeon Palmer. Photo by Frank Grace.
The graves of Elizabeth and Lydia Palmer in Little Compton, Rhode Island. Photo by Frank Grace.
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
JEFF: Happy Valentine’s Day, Ray!
RAY: Happy Valentine’s Day to you too, Jeff. But… uhhh… isn’t it a little weird to be celebrating a holiday about love in a Rhode Island cemetery?
JEFF: Maybe not so much for us, but yeah, I get your point. Hallmark doesn’t sell Valentine cards with gravestones on them. But maybe they should!
RAY: Sure! What says eternal love more than a husband and wife buried next to each other for all eternity.
JEFF: Maybe a headstone that reminds us sometimes our true love gets away? We’re in this Little Compton, Rhode Island, cemetery searching for the grave of Elizabeth, the woman who SHOULD have been the wife of Simeon Palmer.
RAY: What makes you say that?
JEFF: It’s not my opinion. There’s her stone right over there.
JEFF: Check it out. It says so right here on her headstone: In Memory of Elizabeth who SHOULD have been the wife of Mr. Simeon Palmer.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 182, our Valentine’s Day Special episode of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: We’re coming straight outta Little Compton, Rhode Island, to bring you the next installment of our quest to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. For 182 weeks in a row we’ve been bringing you tales of ghosts, monsters, and odd history from all over the northeastern United States. So many of our story leads come from you legendary listeners, like this one that came from our photographer friends, the great Frank Grace! So please keep them coming.
RAY: We’d also appreciate it when you tell a friend or two about us, and post a review on Apple podcasts. It’s a great way to help grow our community, and it only takes a minute.
JEFF: Before we start digging into the back story behind this unique Little Compton grave, we want to take a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
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RAY: Okay, Jeff, Elizabeth’s headstone has me curious. Is this a woman who pined away for Simeon Palmer her whole life, and even beyond, so she put this message on her grave? Was Simeon Palmer the guy who got away?
JEFF: That was my first thought too. Well, to figure it out, we’re going to go way back to 1704 to set this up.
[HAMMER ON NAILS]
RAY: It’s the spring of 1704, and the first church of Little Compton, Rhode Island, is now open for business under the direction of a young preacher named Reverend Richard Billings. Billings is a good man. A good preacher. Local folks like him, and enjoy his church and sermons. Rev. Billings is involved with the members of his congregation, and he’s highly influential.
JEFF: I feel like there’s a “but” coming…
RAY: Buuuuut… he does have one curious habit that raises a few eyebrows around Little Compton.
JEFF: What’s that?
RAY: He believes in clean living. Praying daily. And taking care of your body. That includes eating well.
JEFF: Okayyy, no surprises there.
RAY: Sure, but the thing about eating well… for Rev. Billings… that includes a steady diet of… cats.
JEFF: Like feline house cats?
RAY: Yeah, that kind. He raises them, fattens then, and eats them. But he’s so good in every other way that the people of Little Compton shrug and allow him this one eccentricity.
JEFF: Got it. Okay, from here we’re going to move on from the strange diet of Rev. Billings and jump ahead a few decades to 1745 so we can meet the real star of the story… Simeon Palmer. Simeon is 21 years old, and comes from a prominent Little Compton family. He grew up attending the church services of Rev. Billings, and given his wealthy family, he’s one of the most eligible bachelors in town.
RAY: Being a man of 21, Simeon’s on the lookout for a potential Mrs. Palmer… and that’s when a local girl named Lydia Dennis catches his eye. After a proper courtship, the two are married on August 25th, 1745. From there they start their family. Over the next five years, Lydia gives birth to: Susannah, Gideon, and Sarah.
JEFF: It’s now the summer of 1751. And outside, it’s a scorcher.
[SUMMER SOUNDS CICADAS]
JEFF: And there’s Simeon Palmer out toiling away on his farm. It’s way too hot to be working this hard, but there’s no stopping him.
RAY: Wait a minute… he doesn’t look so good.
JEFF: No, he doesn’t.
RAY: He just turned ghostly pale. Oh man, he looks pretty woozy…
RAY: And he’s down.
JEFF: Simeon Palmer has suffered a sunstroke. Sunstroke happens when your body overheats and can’t cool itself down. It can be fatal. Though this sunstroke doesn’t kill Simeon, it does leave him… different.
RAY: Different how?
JEFF: Something seems off. Pretty soon, it’s clear that Simeon has suffered brain damage. He’s just not himself. A little disheveled. A little wild-eyed. And he’s paying closer attention in church these days. Pretty soon, Simeon comes home to announce to his family that there’s going to be a change in the way they eat.
RAY: Oh no….
JEFF: Yup. They’re going to start eating cats, just like Rev. Billings.
RAY: Lydia Palmer isn’t happy about the change in diet. She protests the new feline fair in their cuisine, but in the end, she goes along with her husband’s wishes.
JEFF: Where do you even FIND recipes for cooked cat?
RAY: I have no idea. But whether it’s the new diet of cat meat, or the stress of dealing with this new version of her husband, we’ll never know, but what we DO know is that Lydia Palmer dies just a couple of years later in December of 1754. She was only 36 years old.
JEFF: Simeon mourns the loss of his wife, and the mother of his three children, but only for so long.
JEFF: It’s the spring of 1755, and Simeon Palmer is looking for a new love. Someone to share his life with. Someone to help care for his children. And soon, he’s knocking on the door of Ms. Elizabeth Mortimer. She’s ten years older than Simeon, and has never been married.
[KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK]
RAY: Elizabeth Mortimer doesn’t come from much money. So when this wealthy, and AVAILABLE widower comes calling, she jumps at the chance. The two are married September 5th, 1755.
JEFF: That’s less than nine months after the death of Lydia for those of you keeping score.
RAY: We’re not sure how much Elizabeth knew about her suitor as far as his dining habits, or that his brain got a little overcooked from sunstroke, but maybe the exciting prospect of FINALLY moving out of her parents’ home clouded her judgement.
JEFF: Or maybe Simeon Palmer is a different man when he’s courting compared to once he’s married and let’s his hair down.
RAY: That could be. It happens.
JEFF: It’s September of 1757 when Simeon and Elizabeth welcome their first child into the world.
[BABY CRYING AND COOING]
JEFF: It’s a girl! Isn’t she sweet?
RAY: So precious. What’s her name?
JEFF: She’s just a little cutie!
RAY: She is! So… what’s her name?
JEFF: So cute!
RAY: Jeff, what’s her name?
JEFF: Well… that… Simeon decides to call the child Lydia.
RAY: Ohhhh… which is the same name as his dead wife for those of you keeping score.
JEFF: It’s not long after the birth of Lydia that Elizabeth can’t take life with Simeon any longer. Maybe it’s the diet of cats, maybe it’s his erratic behavior, either way, she takes their child back to her parents’ home and moves out.
RAY: This is scandalous! Divorce doesn’t happen these days. Not ever.
JEFF: To be fair, Elizabeth and Simeon don’t get divorced. She moves out. Technically they’re still married. And they’re still on speaking terms. In fact, each Saturday, Simeon pays her a visit. He brings any clothes that need mending and she works on them for him. They talk. She offers him advice. And then he leaves only to return the following Saturday.
RAY: It’s a strange arrangement, but I guess it works for them because it continues religiously for years. Twenty years, to be exact.
JEFF: It’s now August 14, 1776, and 64-year-old Elizabeth Palmer has just died.
JEFF: Her heartbroken family is still poor. They hardly have the money to feed themselves, so funeral expenses could break them.
RAY: That’s when Simeon Palmer shows up to assist.
[KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK]
RAY: He offers to cover all of the funeral expenses for Elizabeth, and her family quickly agrees.
[DIG, DIG, DIG]
RAY: Simeon has a grave dug in his family plot, right next to his first wife, Lydia.
[CHISEL ON STONE]
RAY: And he has this headstone erected to mark her grave.
JEFF: It reads: In memory of Elizabeth who should have been the wife of Simeon Palmer. (BEAT) And that brings us back to today.
RAY: And NOW this epitaph makes sense.
JEFF: Over time, as all of the people involved died off, the meaning and story behind this headstone turned into a mystery. Most of what we know about this story comes from the July 6, 1901 Newport Mercury newspaper, where a reader named M.L.T. Alden wrote about the story he picked up in Little Compton back in 1881.
RAY: Alden claims his details came from a local descendent of the Palmers named Mrs. Angelina Palmer Griswold.
JFFF: The epitaph is kind of sweet in a dysfunctional way, if you think about it. Simeon really like Elizabeth, but she couldn’t live with his brand of crazy. We can’t blame her, of course. But still, he visited Elizabeth every week, but what he really wanted was to have her in his life every day.
RAY: So his final word on the story is right there on her headstone. She SHOULD have been the wife of Simeon Palmer.
JEFF: Elizabeth was technically his wife, just not in the traditional sense. That’s love for you, I guess. It comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it burns like a roaring fire, sometimes it’s unrequited and breaks your heart.
RAY: Happy Valentine’s Day.
RAY: And Happy Valentine’s Day to all of our Legendary Listeners! We appreciate you spending some time with us each week. If you want to show us a little love, please consider becoming a patreon patron. For just $3 bucks per month you’ll get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. We love our legendary insiders! Just head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
JEFF: It’s worth noting that Simeon Palmer has no headstone, though he’s buried right near his two wives. If’ you’d like to see a photo of Elizabeth Palmer’s famous headstone by Frank Grace, go to our Web site and click on episode 182. You should also download our free New England Legends app in your app store! You get access to all of our past episodes, plus a wick cool interactive map to every location we’ve covered so you can check out some of these stories for yourself.
RAY: Also, we love when you text or call our legend line at 617-444-9683. You can even leave our show closing on there for us and hear yourself on a future podcast.
JEFF: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, and our theme music is by John Judd.
RAY: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think!