September 19, 2008
Local filmmaker shoots documentary

NASHUA - Making sure to stay in the shade of a giant oak as long as possible, John Campanello took one last sip of water, tolerated a few cosmetic pats to his cheeks and forehead, then cleared his throat and started walking across a nicely manicured lawn dotted with small sculptures in granite and marble.

Several people toting electronics, one with a poster-size sign, began to fan out across the rolling hills and dales, some following Campanello, others taking up positions under trees and such comfortable vantage points.

The day was classic New Hampshire summer, warm, bright and breezy, ideal conditions indeed for most any outdoor activity – including, for instance, filming a history-themed documentary in one of Nashua's most fascinating 6 acres, the Proctor Animal Cemetery.

The unique project is the creation of writer and producer Ken Lawrence, a Goffstown resident who is producing the documentary with filmmakers Scott R. Caseley and Michael and Elena Abbene for Bedford-based Miken Entertainment. Titled "Unconditional Love," the film also features Hillside Acre Animal Cemetery in Methuen, Mass., where Lawrence buried three of his pets.

Since filming began in the spring, the crew has interviewed more than a dozen people, from cemetery caretakers to pet grief counselors to pet owners whose four-footed – and sometimes two-winged – loved ones are memorialized in the cemeteries, Lawrence and Caseley said.

The anecdotes have run the gamut. "We've heard stories that are funny, sad and sometimes emotional," Lawrence said. "But they're all very interesting."

"A lot of people don't even know this place exists," added Caseley.

Now that the scene work and filming have wrapped up, the editing and production process is well under way. By early October, Lawrence hopes to have the documentary ready for an agent to promote to entities such as public access television, Animal Planet, Discovery and similar specialized cable channels.

In addition to Lawrence, Caseley and Campanello, the entourage included photography and film production students from Keene State College, makeup artist Maureen Lalime, who's son, Robert, is assistant director, and several observers. With their various tools of the trade in tow, they stepped past tiny rectangular and curved-top slabs engraved with a combination of initials, names and dates. 

There's Buddie and Buddy, and Doctor and Skippy and Tiger. Next come Blinkie and Winkie. They may be cats or dogs; the markers don't say.

The team ascended a knoll and paused at a rather elaborate stone reading "Elke, 1978-91, M.T.W." "That's one of the Wight dogs," said Joan Maonie, the cemetery's caretaker and researcher, referencing the well-known Nashua family that has a number of pets in the cemetery and is a longtime benefactor.

As the crew takes a brief break under a tree on the Ferry Road side of the cemetery, Caseley thinks back to when he first heard about the project and how it piqued his interest. "It got my attention because it seems there's so much despair out there these days. . . . I feel this can give people a different perspective, a new meaning on (life)," he said. 

"On our first visit, Ken and I walked every row, reading the stones, and we realized how many different stories are buried – literally – in this place," Caseley added.

Indeed, only the steeliest of souls could walk the cemetery and come away emotionally unfazed, or at the least, fascinated by some of the tales that the stones and markers tell.

For instance, "Somebody's Pal Lives Here" marks the grave of the Unknown Dog, buried with funds raised by schoolchildren who held penny drives. Nearby lies Daisy, the dog, loved in life by a indigent Milford gentleman who walked her daily through town. When she met her demise in 1993, his heartbreak was compounded by his inability to pay for her burial.

The story made the paper. Townfolk rallied. Donations poured in. And Daisy got a heartfelt, proper Proctor burial.

One segment of the film will focus on war dogs and feature one from each cemetery. Patrick James, a four-footed first lieutenant in the K-9 Corps in World War II – and an American Legion member – was buried at Proctor when he died at age 16, and Corporal Derek, a battlefield canine who rests in Hillside Acres.

Proctor isn't without its share of animal-world celebrities, as well. Not far from the entrance sits the bronze plaque and monument that honors Paugus, a Siberian husky sled dog whose grandfather, Chinook, led Admiral Byrd on his first expedition to the South Pole in the late 1920s. 

Paugus, himself a veteran of three expeditions, was featured with his owner, Army Private Laurence Orne, as "The Typical American Boy and Dog" in 1931, an honor that included "appearing" on the radio and meeting President Hoover. 

Then there's Bessie, a Morgan horse owned by the Wells family of Wilton, who, at 43, was the state's oldest horse when she died in December 1942 and taken to Proctor for burial. Legend has it that a neighbor who looked out her window to see Bessie's unusually large casket was convinced she was witnessing Proctor's first human burial.Not far from Bessie lies Moy Chum, a high-priced blueblood Chow that was 11 when struck by a car in 1942. His (or her) neighbors include Charlie and Sheba, and My Precious Kingie and Princie, who died in 1982.

Down the line are Toby and Tabby – most likely cats – interred together in 1967. Queenie, "Our Pet Dog," and Cowzy, "Our Pet Cat," are next door.

Along the front fence, the posse stops at the cemetery's most historical spot, a monument to founder M. Jennie Kendall. A close friend of well-known city businessman Roscoe Proctor, Kendall convinced him to donate a piece of his land to the Humane Society for the state's first pet cemetery.

Fittingly, the first pet buried at Proctor was one of Kendall's. Creampot the cat died in one of Nashua's most significant historical incidents, the great Crown Hill Fire, when Kendall's Allds Street home was one of hundreds consumed by flames on May 4, 1930.

Later, Creampot's brothers and sisters, Tootsie, Tommy and Tippens among them, joined her in eternal rest at the base of Kendall's memorial. 



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