CONCORD, Mass. – It was a Hawthorne family reunion, for the dead and the living.
About 40 descendants of Nathaniel Hawthorne gathered in Concord on Monday to watch as the remains of his wife and daughter, buried for more than a century in England, were interred in the family plot at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery alongside the author.
"It's greatly significant to see the family reunited," said Alison Hawthorne Deming, 59, of Tucson, Ariz., Hawthorne's great-great-grandaughter.
"It's also great to get together different parts of the heritage. It's a beautiful celebration for us," said Deming, a professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona. "It's not something we imagined happening. These people have never all been together."
Hawthorne, author of "The Scarlet Letter" and "The House of the Seven Gables," died in New Hampshire in 1864. His wife, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, moved to England with their three children and died there six years later. She and their daughter Una were buried at Kensal Green cemetery in London.
Hawthorne's daughter, Rose, returned to the United States and started a Catholic order dedicated to caring for cancer patients. The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, based in Hawthorne, N.Y., had paid to maintain the Hawthorne graves in England.
But when cemetery officials told the nuns that the grave site needed costly repairs, the order arranged to have remains reburied in Concord instead.
On Monday, one modern casket containing the remains of mother and daughter was put on a horse-drawn 1860 wooden hearse and carried from a local funeral home through the town center to a church for the memorial service. About 40 family members and a group of nuns from the order followed the hearse in a procession.
A minister offered a brief prayer and recounted the Hawthornes' time living at the Old Manse, located walking distance from the Old North Bridge, where the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired, sparking the American Revolution.
The procession — which traced the path of Nathaniel Hawthorne's funeral procession — then moved back through town to the cemetery, about a quarter-mile away.
Hawthorne historians say the author and his wife shared a passionate relationship. Many see Sophia's independence in Hawthorne's characters, including Hester Prynne, who is shunned by Puritanical villagers in "The Scarlet Letter" for having an affair and an illegitimate child.
"It was a great love story. It was one of the premier marriages in American literature," said Philip McFarland, 76, who wrote a book called "Hawthorne in Concord" and watched the procession with his wife, Patricia, from the Concord common.
McFarland said much of what is known of the Hawthornes' relationship comes from about 1,500 letters written by Sophia.
"It's a misfortune that they were separated in death," he said. "It's very satisfying to anyone who knows the story of the Hawthorne marriage that they're being reunited for eternity."