ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – Hetty Green rose from her crypt in the cemetery by the stone church in Bellows Falls on Saturday, Aug. 5, to set the record straight on her life. Dubbed “The Witch of Wall Street” she bought low, sold high, made loans, held mortgages and then foreclosed. Born into the Robinson whaling family, she had grown her $6 million inheritance into $100 million when she died in 1916.
In a long black gown and black veil, Susan Kramer, portraying Hetty Green, led a walk in Bellows Falls.
Stopping at buildings that Hetty Green knew when she lived in Bellows Falls, Kramer gave the building’s and Hetty’s story. Of her own story, Kramer, from New Bedford, Mass., said, “At Child and Family Services I was on board of directors. We were on the Christmas house tour. Hetty Green had lived in the house. Someone thought it would be nice to have Hetty give the tour. So I said I’d do it.”
On her reputation as a miser, Hetty proclaimed, “Not true. I was very charitable. I never announced my charity. A gift is not a gift in the eyes of the Lord if it is bragged about.” A Quaker, she lived simply. She converted to Episcopalian late in life in order to be buried in the cemetery. The monument she shares with her husband simply says, “Hetty R H Green his wife born November 21, 1834 OBT July 3,1916.”
Stanley Charkey, a music professor at Marlboro College, hunted gravestones in Vermont, seeking ones that tell more than date of birth and demise. “Vermont Headstones,” his musical composition, uses words from headstones. On Sunday Aug. 6, baritone Donald Wilkinson sang the words, Mary Cicconetti played oboe, and Anya Shemetyeva played violin to perform Charkey’s composition as the highlight of the 111th annual pilgrimage to the Rockingham Meeting House on Meeting House Road.
About “Vermont Headstones,” Charkey said, “I walk my dog in the cemetery in Brattleboro. … [There are] little narratives or ones that make you ask questions or speak straight to you. I found three out of 800 in the Brattleboro cemetery. Each one has a story I couldn’t resist trying to capture.”