WEST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is home to thousands of historic cemeteries, many of which haven’t seen the light of day in years.
That includes an overgrown cemetery on Brian Page’s property in West Greenwich.
Page, who’d recently purchased the land, discovered the cemetery after following an ungated path deep into the woods.
“We had no idea it was there,” he said. “It was a shock. A cemetery on our land … it’s kind of weird.”
Margaret Malcolm, chair of the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission, tells 12 News there are more than 3,200 Historical Cemeteries across the state, ranging from small family burial grounds to fully landscaped gardens.
One of those cemeteries is the one Page uncovered.
Historical Cemetery 96 appears to have been forgotten about for more than century. When he first found it, Page said several of the grave stones were toppled over and the cemetery itself was overgrown with weeds and brush.
Once he realized the importance of the site, Page recruited family and friends to help revitalize the cemetery. The crew spent hours clearing overgrown brush, trees, branches and rocks from the sacred space.
“It is a nice little site we have out here, and we just want to take care of it,” Page said. “My mom wants to start getting flowers to keep it up. We’re trying to do some work to fix this place up.”
But the story doesn’t end there.
While cleaning out the cemetery, Page noticed a familiar last name on several of the gravestones.
The markers belonged to Israel, Seth and Zechariah Gates.
At first, Page said he didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until he reached out to Malcolm that he realized the significance.
“She left a comment in an email that she heard they may be related to Bill Gates from Microsoft,” Page said.
The names on the headstones prompted Page to launch his own investigation. After researching the names on Ancestry.com, Page said he was able to link them all to the billionaire.
“All three of those names pop up on his family tree,” Page said. “A little more than a coincidence, I think. That’s how we found out it was Bill Gates’ family.”
Page said he was taken aback by his findings.
“At first we were kind of surprised,” he said. “What are the odds that we buy a house, have no idea a cemetery is here, and it’s related to Bill Gates – one of the richest men in the world?”
When asked whether he expects to find anything else on his property, Page laughed and said, “I guess we’ll start digging, but not in the cemetery.”
Page said while unlikely, he’d be more than happy to host the billionaire.
“Maybe he’ll see this story and he’ll come visit,” Page said of Bill Gates. “We’ll cook him dinner and we’ll bring him out there if he wants to see it.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the state’s Historical Cemeteries can visit the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission’s website.