Historians Study Forgotten Tombs Under Boston's Oldest Church

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From the Bodies of the Heroes of the American Revolution to Common Bostonians, Basement Contains Over 1,100 Bodies.

The Old North Church is best known for the pivotal role it played in the American Revolution. It's the site of the famous "One if by land and two if by sea" warning: On April 18, 1775, after Paul Revere's ride, two lanterns hung in the church steeple signaled the advancement of the British troops to Lexington.

But the church also has a few skeletons in its closet. Deep in the basement of the Old North Church lay the remains of more than 1,100 Bostonians. It's a dark and dusty final resting place that's been mostly forgotten for generations.

Jane Lynden Rousseau has spent hundreds of hours in the old basement studying the crypts -- some dating back to the 1730s.

Now a funerary archaeologist from Harvard's Peabody Museum is working find out who is buried there and to tell their stories.

Today, the public is free to walk through the church, but few are allowed to see what's underneath the sanctuary.

Rousseau has been studying the condition of the tombs as well as old church records to learn more about the people who are buried there. Through her work, she has discovered that the basement is the final resting place to all classes of Bostonians -- from those at society's lowest rungs to leaders of the American Revolution.

One's location in the crypt was mostly determined by social status.

For instance, there's a single crypt marked for "strangers."

While there are no plans to open the vaults, Pignone said a study is underway to look at the possibility of opening the basement to public tours.

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