Searching for Laurent Clerc

A few weeks ago I was presenting at a conference in Mystic, Connecticut, so I took the opportunity to drive up to Hartford for the day and follow the Hartford Deaf History trail.  I am an enthusiastic student of Deaf history, so I was excited to see the places I had read about for myself.

(For those who may not know: Hartford, Connecticut is where the first permanent school for the deaf was founded in 1817 and where American Sign Language was born.  Read more at the American School for the Deaf’s website.)

First stop on my tour: Laurent Clerc’s grave.  Laurent Clerc, the brilliant Frenchman who gave up the worldly joys of Paris to come to America with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and establish a school for deaf children.  Laurent Clerc, the first Deaf teacher in the United States.  Laurent Clerc, without whom ASL and Deaf Culture as we know it surely would not have been possible.

I arrived at Hartford’s Spring Grove cemetery on an unseasonably cold and blustery April day, to find the office closed and no clues to point to where the great man’s grave was in the huge cemetery.  No worries, I thought, the internet will help.

Except that every description of Clerc’s burial place lists the cemetery and nothing else.  Fortunately, there was one picture of the gravesite that happened to show the fence beyond – a useful clue!  Armed with that photo and feeling rather like Dan and Amy Cahill in The 39 Clues, I set off to hunt down the spot. Half an hour later, I found it.


Now, being a librarian by training, I have to leave some breadcrumbs for other folks.  So here it is:

How to Find Laurent Clerc’s Grave

1) Enter Spring Grove Cemetery at 8035 Main Street, Hartford, CT.  (It is next to a church and the entrance is set back from the street a bit, so easy to miss!)

2) Go down the center road once you get inside the cemetery.

3) Veer to the right.

4) When you see the “Section 1” sign, pull over and park:


5) Look to your right. You will see a tree and a monument.  The fenced-in area behind the tall monument is the Clerc family plot:


Unfortunately you cannot approach the grave very closely because the Clerc plot is entirely fenced-in.  The graves of Clerc and his wife Eliza have been given new headstones in recent years, but there are other old stones in the plot that are impossible to read from the other side of the fence.

When I finally found it, I stood outside the fence and signed a message of thanks to Laurent Clerc for all he had done and all the lives he had impacted.  I know that ASL has changed a lot since his time, but I like to think that, wherever he is, he understood.


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