Friday, August 28, 2015

Gone to the Summerland

Recently I saw a grave with the inscription, “Gone to the Summerland” and wondered what it meant.

It seems every religion has a place where the soul goes when the body dies. For Wiccans that place is called the Summerland. It’s not like the Christian version of heaven or hell but more of a crossover place for the soul to await its reincarnation and a new life.

Wicca and some pagan religions describe the Summerland as a place with grassy fields and flowing rivers where it is eternally summer. Others have described it as a swirl of energies, which coexist with the God and Goddess.

The name Summerland was coined by the Theosophical Society, which was founded in 1875 in New York City. The organization remains active in more than 50 countries around the globe.

Theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater taught that if you were a good person in life, you would go to the Summerland, a place to rest your soul, review the past and reunite with loved ones, between incarnations. This belief is similar to that held in Buddhism, Hinduism and other Indian religions.

Most Wiccans believe in the Summerland and the spiral of life, death and rebirth, but beliefs vary from group to group just as different denominations of Christianity have different beliefs.

Once the cycles of reincarnation are completed, it is believed that the soul goes on to Nirvana; a divine and blissful existence.

~ Joy

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Burden of Wings by Mauro Marinelli

A new art book for the cemetery enthusiast is out, one that captures the true essence of the graveyard as a gateway between the living and the dead, with inspirational photos.

Mauro Marinelli
Burden of Wings is a well-composed book of cemetery photographs taken with, of all things, a Polaroid camera. Photographer Mauro Marinelli shoots with a well-trained eye, offering the reader what he calls “the instant and the everlasting” all in one shot.

The beauty of this instamatic camera process is that you see exactly what this moment looked like at the time the shutter snapped; there’s no digital manipulation, no Photo-shopping to make the image more dramatic, more enticing, more moody. 
Just life as it existed in a cemetery at a certain moment in time.

Marinelli uses this camera to his advantage, letting the plastic lens soften the focus a bit, making the images become almost real to us. His focus on hands: clasped, reaching, comforting, quieting … allows us to identify with the statue while creating a subconscious wish for movement; a will to release the stilled hand from its pose, allowing it to complete its movement, and to continue the moment …

But as we know, in death, physical movement is gone, no longer feasible, and with these sculptures and photos, no longer necessary to capture our attention, to evoke a deeper sentiment, or to execute a heartrending sadness.

Marinelli provides us with the essence of each stone, managing to coax out our emotions regardless of our wishes.  With cogent intent, he “commits the act of photography” - offering the reader a photo; one which holds the passion of a two lovers forever locked in a kiss, another depicts the weariness of an angel’s shoulders as her wings begin to droop protectively around her.

With Burden of Wings, we are called to interpret each photo with our emotions, and with what we see. As Marinelli explains, we are “looking into the abyss of the unknown from a safe seat in the arena of the living.” How true, and how exquisite the journey!

~Joy Neighbors

Book Details:
Burden of Wings by Mauro Marinelli
Published by Kehrer Verlag (2015)
Available for purchase at
Amazon   Website:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dollhouse Grave Markers

There was a time when every little girl wanted a dollhouse. It didn’t matter if it was a fancy, all-out designer dollhouse, or a cardboard box decorated with odds and end; what was important was that you had a “house” of your very own to decorate as you pleased, and a place to play with those very special dolls.

Here are the stories of six little girls and a boy; all promised a dollhouse at some time, and how each promise was lived up to … even after death.

The Keating Children

One of the oldest dollhouse markers indicates the grave of not one, but three babies from the same family who all coincidentally died on the second day of the month. Built in New St. Joseph Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio by John Keating, a stone mason in the city, the two-story dollhouse was constructed in remembrance of his daughter, Mary Julia (1867 -1868), son Eddie (1874 -1876), and niece Mary Agnes Keating (1875 -1876). 

The intricately carved structure has steps leading up to the front door with hand-carved roof shingles and decorative stonework on the sides. The house has fallen into disrepair, but at one time, carved furniture could be found inside. The marker is carved with the words, “To Our Little Darlings” and bears the children’s names along with this inscription:
“One by one our leaves are falling, fading day by day,
and in silence heaven is calling, one by one our lambs away.”

Vivian May Allison
Vivian was only five years old when she died just before the turn of the century (1894 – 1899). She was buried in the Connersville City Cemetery in Connersville, Indiana and her grave is marked by a distinctive one-story dollhouse; the house her father had been building as a surprise for her before her unexpected death.

Vivian’s father, Horace Allison was a carpenter and did the actual construction of the house, and her mother Carrie sewed the curtains for the windows and a rug for the floor. The building has a tin roof, glass windows and its original woodwork and nails. Some of Vivian’s favorite dolls and toys were placed inside. Today, volunteers in this small community continue to care for the dollhouse, making repairs when needed, and lovingly watching over it.

Lova Cline
Lova Cline (1902 – 1908) was born without neurological or muscular control over her body. Her father, George built her a wooden dollhouse five-feet-tall and filled it with furniture he hand-carved. Her parents would carry her out to see the dollhouse, and Lova spent most of her days gazing out at it. Then, when she was six years old, Lova died. Her parents had the dollhouse moved to her grave in the Arlington East Hill Cemetery in Rushville, Indiana where Lova's toys were tucked lovingly inside.

When Lova's mother died in 1945, her father wanted the dollhouse destroyed, but the cemetery caretaker convinced him to allow the dollhouse to stay. One year later, George died and the dollhouse, along with Lova's remains, were moved to rest beside her parent's grave. Today, a plaque telling the Cline's story is located in front of the house and on it is the only known photo of Lova, in her casket.

Dorothy Marie Harvey
The year was 1931; over 6 million Americans could not find work, so they began moving across the country, hoping that this “Great Depression” would be short-lived. Tennessee was hard-hit and jobs were scarce as Mr. Harvey discovered. But all of that was forgotten when 5 year old Dorothy Marie (1926 – 1931) came down with the measles. There was little to be done. On June 1, Dorothy died and the residents of Medina, Tennessee pulled together to assist the Harvey family in burying her in Hope Hill Cemetery. Devastated, the family had to move on, searching for work. The community put up a stone to mark Dorothy’s grave and built a structure over it.

Many claim this is a dollhouse, but since the gravestone is protected inside the house, (which has no curtains or furniture,) it appears to be a grave house; a building constructed to protect the grave and marker from the elements and nature. Grave houses were a southern tradition for hundreds of years, up until WWII. It would make sense that the community would build one over Dorothy’s grave as a symbolic way to protect her resting place. It may also have been another way to draw visitors over to Dorothy’s grave, getting people to stop and visit her since her family was gone.

Roselind Nadine Earles
The holidays were approaching when four-year-old Roselind Nadine Earles (1929 – 1933) was diagnosed with diphtheria in 1933. For Christmas, she wanted a dollhouse. Her father quickly began building one, but her condition worsened and she told him, “Me want it now.” Just one week short of Christmas, on December 18, Nadine died. She was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Lanette, Alabama, and her parents had the partially completed brick dollhouse moved to her grave and finished with a fireplace, metal awnings over the windows, a front porch and mailbox.

Inside, the parents placed her dolls, a tricycle, teddy bears, toys and a china tea set.  Nadine’s grave stone is also located inside the house with the inscription, “Our Darling Little Girl, Sweetest in the World.” Along with her name, birth and death dates are the words, “Me want it now.” A picture of Nadine’s birthday party, held at the dollhouse the following April after her death, was added later and can be seen from the window. The dollhouse is still decorated for each season by local residents with extra care taken to create a beautiful Christmas.

~ Joy

Friday, July 31, 2015

NOLA Museum of Death – Not For the Faint of Heart

Twenty years ago the Museum of Death opened in Hollywood. Now, another branch has opened in … where else …the Big Easy. What a perfect location for some fairly graphic exhibits that might make you queasy, but intrigued.

Kevorkian's Thanatron
Located in the French Quarter of New Orleans, this macabre museum has hundreds of exhibits including crime scene photos, funeral garments, letters written by serial killers, items that belonged to Nicole Brown Simpson, and the Thanatron; the suicide machine constructed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian to assist those who wished to die. The machine was used over 130 times.

Co-founders Cathee Shult and J.D. Healy first started the museum in California in 1995 for the purpose of bringing those fears about death that we Americans have, out in the open. Other cultures see dying as simply part of the cycle of life, but we fear it, and avoid thinking about it, for the most part. This is our wake-up call.

The Museum of Death is an in-your-face reminder that “this too, shall pass” and it offers up many examples of just how death can occur. While there are no age limits at the museum, they strongly recommend that "Mature Audiences" only attend.

Charles Manson
The NOLA Museum of Death has numerous exhibits including Manson Family photos, morgue photos, body bags, coffins, skulls, and execution items along with an exhibit on cannibalism, and the Theatre of Death, where you can watch programs about all kinds of death.

The NOLA museum is much larger than the one in Hollywood, and many exhibits here are in keeping with murders and events that have occurred in the state and southeast region. The Museum of Death in New Orleans had its officialgrand opening on June 1, 2015. It is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 am to 6 pm and closed on Tuesdays; admission is $15 per person.

Many are not prepared for what they’ll see at the museum. Several patrons have given the museum a “Falling Ovation.” (In other words, they passed out.) This action warrants a Museum of Death T-Shirt as a souvenir to remember them by.

Once you step out into the bright daylight, you’ll be glad that you’re alive, and that, according to the owners, is the whole point of the museum.


If You Go:
227 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 593-3968

Other NOLA Attractions to see:
724 Dumaine St
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 680-0128

Basin at St. Louis St.
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 482-5065

Friday, July 24, 2015

Remembering The SS Eastland Tragedy 100 Years Later

It was a cool Saturday morning as employees from the Western Electric Company began boarding the SS Eastland, anchored in the Chicago River, for a company outing. The day’s itinerary included a trip up the river for a refreshing escape to Michigan City, Indiana and a company picnic in Washington Park. Instead, the day is remembered as the worst nautical disaster to occur on any of the Great Lakes. The date was July 24, 1915.

SS Eastland
The Eastland first set sail as a passenger ship in May of 1903, but appears to have been burdened with troubles from the beginning. During a public reception that spring, the ship began to list uncontrollably from side to side. The reason? Too many people had congregated on the upper decks. The steam ship was divested of passengers and the problem corrected, but many felt that the Eastland had a dangerous design flaw, and that things would only get worse.

Eastland Ready To Board
One year later, with 3,000 people on board, the ship again began to tilt port to starboard. Passengers panicked, but the crew regained control of the Eastland with no harm done. The listing problem resurfaced again in 1906 with 2,500 people on board, and again in 1912 with 2,400 passengers aboard.

Court Proceedings
In March 1915, the federal Seaman’s Act was enacted in order to increase the safety and security of US seamen; it included the caveat that a ship must carry enough lifeboats to hold all passengers and crew. The law came about because of the RSS Titanic disaster, which had occurred three years before.

Listing Ship
The Eastland complied with the ruling, but the added weight of the additional lifeboats made the passenger ship even more top heavy. Many feared that because of this additional weight ships would become ungainly and there would be more problems.

Excitement was in the air that July morning as over 5,000 men, women and children, many Polish and Czech immigrants, boarded five boats that had been chartered for their daylong adventure. Among the ships ready to sail was the “Speed Queen of the Great Lakes:” the Eastland. 

On Her Side
Reports indicated that the ship, still tied to the dock, began easing away about 7:10 a.m. with 2,572 passengers on board. It slowly slipped about 40 feet out into the river, listing slightly. Then, at 7:28 it lurched to port (left) and capsized, rolling on it's side and coming to rest in 20 feet of water at 7:30 a.m.

Mayhem ensued as passengers above deck were thrown into the river. Those below were struck by heavy, careening furniture - a piano, bookcases and tables, which slammed into passengers, crushing them amid the rushing waters. Others suffocated when people were thrown on top of one another and they could not regain their footing. (Those desperately fought for life vests and boats were of no use here - there had not been enough warning for passengers and crew to use them.)

A Victim
The river was teaming with people trying to escape. Eyewitnesses said that the screams were what they remembered the most vividly. A total of 844 passengers died, including 22 families that were wiped out; four crew members were also killed in the disaster. Many died from their injuries; many more because they couldn’t swim.

The Morgue
The bodies were taken to several temporary morgues set up around the river. Hundreds of bodies were laid out in the Second Regiment Armory where families lined up to identify their loved ones. Some bodies were never identified; officials said that these may have been more families that all died together with no one was left to claim their remains.

New Memorial
Bohemian National Cemetery
The largest number of the dead; 134 were buried in Bohemian National Cemetery, on Chicago’s northwest side. The stones can be identified by the date: July 24, 1915 and/or the words “obet Eastland” or “Victim of the Eastland.” A granite memorial dedicated to the victims was unveiled here two weeks ago and can be found in section 16. Details concerning the disaster, and information about the gravesites are included on a plaque located next to the memorial

Grand Jury
A grand jury ruled the cause of the disaster to be “conditions of instability” due to “an overloading of passengers, mishandling of water ballasts or construction of the ship.” The ship’s captain and engineer were charged with criminal carelessness, and the ship’s company president and three officers were indicted for manslaughter. The presiding judge then changed the charges to “conspiracy to operate an unsafe ship.

USS Wilmette
In Memory
The ship was raised later that year. It was recommissioned in 1918 and named the USS Wilmette; it served in both world wars. In 1945, the Wilmette was decommissioned, and scrapped out in 1947. The ship's largest loss of life: July 24, 1915 when 844 people lost their lives in the Chicago River ...

~ Joy

Friday, July 10, 2015

Funeral Webcasts: Virtual Funerals Allow Closure

Today, it seems that our lives are so scheduled there is little leeway for an abrupt need for time away. That’s why online funerals are becoming more popular, and more accepted.

While we might desire to attend a service in person, many times that isn’t an option, but attending virtually permits others a chance to participate and mourn.

Attending a service via a private webcast allows family and friends from far away the ability to see and hear the service in the privacy of their own homes. An online funeral also lets the elderly, those in hospitals, or serving in the military, an opportunity to still be a part of the remembrance service.

So how does it work? A tiny unobtrusive camera mounted at the rear of the chapel films the funeral service. The camera is linked to a computer with software that allows the video to be streamed live. Those attending virtually sign in with a password to attend the services. Memorial programs are available online, and a printed version can be made later. When mourners arrive at the cemetery, GPS can locate the gravesite, and others who wish to visit can use these coordinates later.

One caveat to a virtual funeral is that the service can be viewed at the attendee’s convenience, not necessarily when it is actually being held. In fact, research indicates that family and friends who physically attended the service also view it online, many watching numerous times. Death is a distracting and numbing event, but by recording the service, family members can revisit it, giving them a chance to remember happenings they might have missed. Funeral homes may archive the service and make it accessible for viewing for up to six months.

Most people who have utilized webcast funerals expressed satisfaction at being able to have those far away join the family at the funerals - making it a true family experience. 

But does this sound the death keel for funeral homes and traditional services? Most funeral directors think not. After all, a funeral service is for remembering and sharing. It is about the human experience, remembering the deceased and supporting the loved ones left behind.

A virtual funeral just opens up another way for those who could not have attended in person to also have closure, allowing “the sorrows of one to become the sorrows of many.”

~ Joy