Friday, April 24, 2015

Adopt A Cemetery Plot

Cemetery staff are known for being innovative; putting ideas out there to entice the community to spend time in one of the most historical and cultural places in the area, and one great idea I’ve always appreciated is “adopt-a-plot.”

Cemetery Crew
The concept is brilliant: get the community involved in helping revitalize the cemetery, one plot at a time. Involvement usually requires a one or two year period of time where you agree to care for an assigned plot (or plots) according to cemetery guidelines.

The work usually involves light maintenance such as clearing weeds, raking leaves, picking up sticks, tidying graves, maybe mowing and edging, and letting management know if a stone has been damaged, or gone missing.

Many times, volunteers will take on several plots at once, maybe working on family plots or those that bear a family surname. Some volunteers request plots that have a special significance like the graves of pioneers, or graves from the 1950s. The main criterion is that volunteers be diligent and dependable.

And when someone adopts a plot to care for, this could lead to more community and historical endeavors. Maybe it will spur someone’s interest in tracing their genealogy; learning more about cemetery preservation; researching the community founders and putting together a book, a tour, or a historical webpage on their findings. The possibilities are exciting and endless.

What a great way to help preserve local history, learn more about your community and help ensure that our dead are respected and not forgotten.

~ Joy

Friday, April 17, 2015

Remembering WWII Correspondent Ernie Pyle

War Correspondent Ernie Pyle
He was one of the best-known columnists of WWII and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Ernie Pyle was known as a “fox-hole” war correspondent; one who traveled with the troops. He wrote his columns in a folksy-Hoosier style that endeared him to readers the world over.

Ernest Taylor Pyle was born on August 3, 1900 to tenant farmers William Clyde Pyle and Maria Taylor near Dana, Indiana. Pyle grew up in Indiana and attended Indiana University. He quit school with only one semester remaining to take a job at a Laporte, Indiana newspaper.

Ernie and Jerry Pyle
In 1925 Pyle married Geraldine Siebolds and the next year, quit his desk job to travel America. He and “Jerry” traveled over 9,000 miles before he headed back to The Washington Daily Newspaper. In 1928 he became the first aviation columnist, interviewing Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

Pyle became the managing editor of the Washington paper in 1932 but had to take a leave of absence two years later, due to the flu. It was during this time that he began writing columns. The columns were so successful that the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain offered him a deal to write a national column. Pyle quit his editing job and took to the road again, this time to write columns about the interesting people and unique places he found along the way.

Pyle with Soldiers
With the beginning of WWII, Pyle became a war correspondent in the European Theater, offering a glimpse of the day-to-day life of the American soldier. Pyle was what we now call an “embedded journalist”; he lived and traveled alongside these soldiers, getting to know them and going into battle with them. One of his most read and reprinted columns, “The Death of Captain Waskow,” later inspired the documentary The Battle of San Pietro and a motion picture, The Story of G.I. Joe.

Pyle covered the war from the frontlines in France, Italy, Sicily and North Africa. His columns appeared in over 400 daily newspapers and 300 weekly papers.

It was thanks to Pyle’s column in 1944 in which he urged Congress to give soldiers fighting pay that a bill was passed giving combat soldiers and airmen $10 a month of extra pay. The bill was named “The Ernie Pyle Bill.”

By the spring of 1945, Pyle was covering the Navy in the Pacific Theatre. On April 18 Pyle and several other men were traveling along the beach on Ie Shima Island located northwest of Okinawa Island when Japanese guns began firing at them. The men abandoned the vehicle they were traveling in and jumped into a ditch for shelter. When there was a lull in the shooting, Pyle looked out of the ditch to make sure everyone had made it in, that’s when a bullet struck him in the left temple. He was 44-years-old.

Ernie Pyle was buried with his helmet on in a row of graves among other soldiers killed on the island. Representatives from the Army, Navy and Marines were all present for the 10-minute funeral.  Pyle was remembered by President Harry Truman, and many generals, including Gen. Dwight D Eisenhower and Gen. George C. Marshall, as a rare and dignified correspondent and an enlisted man’s best friend. Pyle’s body was later moved to the Army cemetery on Okinawa and once again relocated to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

~ Joy

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Irreverent Comedian - Sam Kinison

He was a comedian for the times: a man whose sense of humor was considered by some to be out-of-bounds, harsh and politically incorrect.  For others, Sam Kinison was known as the “Wild Thing of Comedy" with a worldwide reputation as a party animal.

A Young Sam Kinison
Kinison with His Brothers and Mother
Samuel Burl Kinison was born on December 8, 1953 to Samuel E. and Marie Kinison and grew up in Peoria, Illinois.  Kinison’s father was a Pentecostal minister who continually moved from church to church. Sam was the youngest of four brothers, all who followed in their father’s footsteps and became Pentecostal preachers.

The Young Preacher
Young Comedian
Kinison began his fire and brimstone style of preaching when he was 17 and continued until he was 24. It took a divorce to make him realize that he was not cut out for the ministry, but would be much happier as a stand up comedian. He took to the stage in Houston, Texas and then moved on to L.A. where he developed a cocaine habit that would plague him most of his life.

Sam & Rodney
Kinison On Stage
In the summer of 1985, Kinison got his big break on HBO’s Rodney Dangerfield’s Ninth Annual Young Comedians Special.  His irreverent style and screaming outbursts on religion, relationships and drugs was always punctuated with his primal scream. Kinison’s brand of comedy was more intense and in-your-face than most comedians were willing to go, but Sam didn’t appear to care if the audience liked him or not, which is why audience’s loved him.

Kinison had appeared in several films, television specials, and MTV videos, and had been a guest on “Late Night with David Letterman” and a host for “Saturday Night Live.” He also appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

Kinison was married three times; the third marriage had taken place just six days before his death. Most of his stand up material about relationships came from the ups and downs of his first two marriages. Kinison had just reached the peak of his celebrity when his life was cut short.

Milika and Sam
On April 10, 1992, Kinison and his new wife, Milika Sourir, were headed from California to Laughlin, Nevada where he was scheduled to perform at a sold-out show. Kinison was driving on U.S. Route 95 when his 1989 Trans Am was struck head-on by a pick-up driven by 17-year-old Troy Pierson, who reportedly had been drinking. 

Kinison died within moments of the collision. According to his brother, Bill who was following behind Kinison’s car with a van-load of equipment, Sam didn’t appear to be seriously hurt: he was able to get out of the car and lie down on the pavement. Then in what appeared to bystanders as a conversation with someone, Sam began asking, "Why now? I don't want to die. Why?"  After a few seconds Kinison was heard to reply, “Okay, okay, okay …” He died moments later.

Sam Kinison

Sam Kinison was 38 years old. He is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On his grave marker is the inscription, "In another time and place he would have been called prophet."

~ Joy

Most photos from the web site:

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Library in the Cemetery

Krems Jewish Cemetery
Cemeteries are inspiring places, full of history and culture, but there’s one near Krems, Austria that also offers knowledge, in the form of books.

The Open Public Library
The Jüdischer Friedhof Krems  - the Krems Jewish Cemetery - was founded in 1853 among the local vineyards. During WWII, the cemetery came close to being obliterated by the Nazis. Today, it has been restored and is home to The Open Public Library - a library consisting of three bookshelves, where books may be borrowed or added to for others to read.

Books Ready for Reading
The idea of a library as a memorial came from artists Michael Cleg and Martin Guttmann in 2004. They wanted a way to memorialize over 100 local Jews who were killed or exiled from Krems during the war.  The men said that the library was a way for the community to remember those who were lost and also a way to make the cemetery more inviting to the public.

Metal Ribbon
Ribbon and Bookcases
In 1995, the cemetery was finally restored. Near the three bookshelves stands a 140-foot metal ribbon on which 129 names are inscribed, these are the Jews that were killed or exiled from Krems. 

Knowledge: what a fitting tribute to those who were persecuted by the Third Reich.

~ Joy

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Day Niagara Falls Disappeared

This month marks the 167th anniversary of a 30 to 40 hour period when Niagara Falls ran dry!

It was late on the night of March 29, 1848 when a local farmer on the New York side, Jed Porter, was out for a walk and noticed something was different. The normal sound of the thundering falls was gone!

Dry Niagara Falls
The next morning residents on both sides of the falls had gathered to witness the site; the falls had dried up over night. Factories and mills on both sides of the falls stopped work because the waterwheels used to power them couldn’t operate without water.

River Bed
Once word was out, over 5,000 people gathered to see the dry riverbed, and contemplate the absence of the falls. Stories were told for years afterwards about people walking across the riverbed, discovering guns and tomahawks that had been dropped over the falls, one person even reported finding a skeleton ...

Ice Chunks
Many feared it was the end of the world; others thought the falls had finally run dry. When no one could offer a logical reason why the falls had stopped, impromptu church services sprang up on both sides of the river.

The answer finally came from Buffalo, New York – gale-force winds has forced chunks of ice into the mouth of the Niagara River, between Buffalo and Fort Erie, effectively shutting off the flow of water to the falls.

For all of March 30 and most of March 31, there was no water, but late on that Friday evening, after a day with temperatures in the 60s and a shift in the winds, a low rumble could be heard approaching the falls. People ran from the riverbed as torrents of water tumbled and tore through, to once again cascade over the falls with a deafening roar. The river was running again!

It was the only known time that Mother Nature stopped the falls.

~ Joy

Friday, March 6, 2015

Not Your Grandfather’s Funeral

Funerals followed a set pattern during the 20th century. First, there was the visitation or viewing, then the funeral service with remembrances, scripture readings, songs and the obligatory memorial cards. And finally, the drive to the cemetery for those final words as the body was returned to the earth.

But with the approach of a new century, a modern, more contemporary funeral service began to appear. Now, 15 years into the 21st century, funeral services have become as individual, as elaborate and as themed as the deceased and the family could want.
Instead of following tradition, today it’s more about a service that reflects who the deceased was; their likes, interests, even their keen sense of humor might be featured.

Contemporary funeral services are much more casual than the traditional services of old. Just about anything goes from a dove release (to signify the flight of the spirit) to a Burning Man memorial service; the parameters are only as limited as your imagination. (And certain state laws.)

Funeral services can also take on themes. Whatever your loved one’s passion was in life, you can replicate it at the funeral service. Some state laws may limit where the deceased’s body can be taken, making cremation much more versatile. A memorial service can be held almost any where from a public garden or lake, to a restaurant or favorite pub, to a setting that harkens back to another century – the funeral at home. After the services, the deceased can be taken to the cemetery in anything from a motorcycle-driven hearse to a big rig semi.

There are also those funeral services where the deceased becomes the “star” of the show, posed in a tableau of his or her life.  The trend began back in 2008 at the Marin Funeral Home in Puerto Rico when a mother requested that her 24-year-old son be posed standing in her living room during his three-day wake.

Last month, a 50-year-old man was dressed as the comic book superhero, the Green Lantern, and posed standing in his sister’s apartment in San Juan.

And the popularity of these "muerto parao" ("dead man standing") funerals is growing, both in Puerto Rico and the U.S

Several of these services have been held in the U.S. during past two years; most taking place in New Orleans. The Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home made news last year when a local woman was posed at a table, surrounded by several favorite items including a can of beer with a cigarette between her fingers.

We have become such a mobile society that the funeral industry has adapted a service for that. Drive-through viewing is offered in several states throughout the U.S. including Illinois, Michigan, California, Georgia and Florida.

Even the name is changing. Where we have used funeral service or memorial service to describe a remembrance ceremony for the deceased. Today, the more modern terms include Celebration of Life Service, Service of Remembrance, or Contemporary Memorial Service: all should clue you in that this is not your grandfather’s funeral.

In the end, the goal is to honor the deceased with a remembrance that is as unique and special as they were – something they’d have been proud of, and we seem to be doing that quite well.

~ Joy

Friday, February 27, 2015

Seeking Relatives of Unclaimed Persons

A person dies. No one knows how to reach the family. The coroner’s investigators have exhausted their resources. That’s when Unclaimed Persons starts to work.”

It sounds like opening line from a forensic program on TV, but Unclaimed Persons is a real group made up of volunteers who combine their love and understanding of genealogy research with investigative research techniques to try and locate the next of kin for those who have died without any one to claim them.

These aren’t necessarily people who have not been identified; rather it’s their family – their next of kin that are unknown. Although there are also those who have used a false identity, or several, and died without their actual identity known.

So how does Unclaimed Persons (UP) work?
1) A coroner’s office will send information to Unclaimed Persons. A submission  form can be filled out on line, or the coroner’s office can provide specifics in their standard format.
2) A case manager with the UP group will assign a case number to the submission.
3) The case manager then forwards the information to a case administrator, labeling it as an “active case.”
4) A conversational thread between volunteers and readers begins. (It is these conversations that usually bring about the discovery of those elusive next of kin.)
5) Information is investigated by UP volunteers using their genealogy research techniques. A social security application may be ordered to assist with difficult cases.

6) Findings are submitted to a UP case administrator who reviews the information.
7) That administrator will then submit the findings to the case manager.
8) The case manager will prepare a report that goes to the submitting coroner’s office.
9) And hopefully, the coroner’s office will share the outcome of the case (without violating anyone’s privacy) with the Unclaimed Persons group.

If the deceased has already been interred, the next of kin will be given the option of having the remains disinterred and moved. If the body was cremated and the ashes scattered, the next of kin will be given that information.

There is no set period of time for a case to be solved. A case can be returned to the group for a second attempt if the information did not produce the necessary resolution or if the relatives express no interest in getting involved.

In the past six years, since Unclaimed Persons began, volunteers have solved hundreds of cases.

If you would like to volunteer your time and expertise in assisting to help locate "missing" family members, contact Unclaimed Persons on their Facebook page. "Every life is worth remembering."

~ Joy