Friday, March 23, 2018
I’ve done a lot of interviews since my book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide came out late last autumn, and the one question everyone asks is, “Why a book on cemeteries?” My answer begins, “Cemeteries are usually viewed with reservation because they deal with the dead. Some people see them as a necessity to endure; others simply avoid them at all costs. And still others hardly give them a thought. But then you have the “Tombstone Tourist.” For those of us who proudly answer to this title, the answer is simple – because there’s so much history and beauty to discover!
For centuries, our ancestors have gone to cemeteries to pay their respects. But since their lives dealt with death regularly, there was nothing eerie about walking through the graveyard. We, however, are far removed from death, and its after effects. The ancient Chinese believed that when a family member died, they became godly beings who retained their individual identities. These ancestors could then offer family members a connection to Tian, or heaven. The thought that your ancestors are watching out for you, like guardian angels, is a comforting thought.
Then during the Nineteenth Century garden cemeteries were developing around the country. These cemeteries were treated like parks – the perfect place to take a stroll or enjoy a quiet carriage ride through the “City of the Dead.” These graveyards were well landscaped with towering trees, beautiful lakes and winding roads where visitors could stroll while admiring ornate sculpture, massive mausoleums and intricate stones - an outdoor art museum available for all to enjoy.
Then somewhere during the 20th century, we Americans became wary of the graveyard thanks to horror movies and urban legends. Because of medical advances, we don’t interact with the dead the way our ancestors did, and this distancing creates fears we're uncomfortable dealing with. There is even a name for those who fear cemeteries - coimetrophobia. Sorry to say but you have more to fear from the living than the dead in a cemetery. I’ve had a few uncomfortable situations in cemeteries that had nothing to do with ghosts or ghouls, and plenty to do with the living. This is why I always remind those heading out to do research, or just enjoy an afternoon, always be aware of your surroundings and the people in your vicinity.
In other countries, going to the cemetery is commonplace. When I was in Edinburgh Scotland last summer, I ventured to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard close to the downtown area in search of the Greyfriar Bobby statue. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked through the gates and saw people enjoying the cemetery like a park. Some used table ledger stones as tables for an impromptu visit, others sat among the mausoleums chatting on cell phones, and some picnicked, and painted. And there was no disrespect intended by anyone. It was actually a wonderful example of how other countries are more comfortable concerning the circle of life and death than we tend to be. Perhaps we would find ourselves more in touch with life, and death if we shook off that fear and took time to walk and admire what cemeteries have to offer.
For Tombstone Tourists, part of the acceptance of cemeteries may come from the way we were raised. I remember going with my grandmother on Decoration Day (the forerunner of Memorial Day) and tending family graves. Grandma would brush the stones clear of leaves and grass, and then plant some flowers or place live stems near the graves. While I was too young to help with the decorating, I always enjoyed looking at the stones, reading the names, and figuring out how old someone had been when he or she died.
Most of us will visit a cemetery to acknowledge the memory of someone buried there, and to honor them. Visiting also offers us a sense of closeness by being at the spot where that person’s earthly remains are interred. I have experienced this when visiting the graves of my ancestors. To realize that this is where my great-great grandparents are buried makes for a meaningful moment that so many genealogists relate to.
Regardless of why you go to the cemetery, next time stop and really experience the moment. Listen to the birdsong, smell the fresh cut grass, feel the breeze brush past your cheek, and look for those fascinating symbols and epitaphs on the stones; those reminders that our stories do go on …
Friday, February 1, 2013
WOW!! Time passes so quickly! I began this blog on February 1st, 2011 as a good reason to ‘haunt’ cemeteries ; ) But it’s grown from something fun to do, to a passion.
can no longer go anywhere without checking to see how many cemeteries there are
along the way and where they are located.
A trip to Cincinnati or St Louis takes twice as long now – there has to
be stops at cemeteries, both coming and going.
now understand when I launch off on a description of the latest stunning
statue, quirky name, or interesting mausoleum I’ve found. Although they may not plan to spend their weekends in the cemetery, many have asked to 'tag along' when I'm heading out to spend the day.
Grave Interest has given me a reason to research and write about subjects I’m
really fascinated with! Within the
past year, I’ve been able to delve into the lives of poets and musicians, to
explore slices of history, to learn more about grave markers, symbols, the cost
of dying, superstitions and legends, even pets in the cemetery.
the most popular post for the
past year - The Day the Music Died http://agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2012/02/day-music-died.html.
This post took a look back at the plane crash that killed three men who have
been called the most promising stars of rock and roll - J.P. Richardson – the Big Bopper,
Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly.
of course, the October haunted cemeteries series are always “frightfully fun”! I love doing these! This past year, I went to Chicago’s
Resurrection Cemetery, the Indianapolis Insane Asylum cemetery, Spring Grove in
Cincinnati, and Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur, searching for special haunts.
I have found that it
doesn’t matter how you become involved in the cemetery community, whether
you’re a photographer, a tombstone tourist, a genealogist, a
writer, a sexton, or a blogger, you will discover that there are Facebook groups, blogs, and web sites where you can share photos, ideas, and insights. One reason I believe this community is so approachable is an understanding that, “We all have a deep respect for the past, and, let's face it, we all know where it’s gonna end…”
|St Michael & the Devil|
I’ve connected with hundreds of cemetery people doing this. It's amazing to realize what a large community this is! I love the fact that this is such an accepting group of people. Cemetery lovers are very willing to share their knowledge. Or to say, “I don’t know a thing about that. Can anyone tell me more?”
Over the past two years, I’ve written almost 150 blog posts. I am appreciative to the over 10,000 people who read these posts each month. Readers are from as far away as India, Russia, and Slovenia, to those in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.
|The Grave of Mr Accordion|
|Grave of a Pet|
Although it's AGI's 2nd anniversary, my husband is still shocked that I can continually come up with ideas for more blogs. (When I started, he wasn’t sure I would find enough to blog about for a year…. ; ) But the cemeteries offer up so many ideas and opportunities for subjects to explore. And you, the reader, propose ideas with your questions, and offer wonderful suggestions. (I’m already filling the 2014 calendar with ideas….)
One of the most popular posts for the past year dealt with Central State Hospital, better known as the Indiana Insane Asylum and the adjacent cemetery http://agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2012/10/central-state-hosptial-indiana-insane.html. The hospital buildings are now abandoned and the cemetery lay in disrepair, a sad testament to those who passed through those doors.
|Digging a Grave By Hand|
Another well-liked post was about the High Cost of Dying http://agraveinterest.blogspot.com/2012/03/high-cost-of-dying-traditional-funeral.html. An average funeral in the US runs about $8,000, and that does not include the cemetery costs and other 'incidentals'. As my grandfather used to say, "Death is not for the faint-of heart".
|The Big Bopper|
|Skull & Crossbones on Stone|
|Facebook Cemetery Groups|
So, as I begin another year, I'd like to thank you for your kind suggestions, words, and deeds in helping make A Grave Interest so much fun, and so successful! And also for following on Blogger, http://agraveinterest.blogspot.com and Twitter, https://twitter.com/aGraveInterest and “Liking” on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Grave-Interest.
Now, let’s cut that cemetery cake and get ready for A Grave Interest year!!
Friday, March 2, 2012
March is ‘Women’s History Month’ and it seems an apt time to remember those women who were shunned in life and forgotten in death – the prostitutes.
|Jack the Ripper|
|18th Century Prostitutes|
Fallen Women, Soiled Doves, Unfortunates, – prostitutes have carried hundreds of monikers throughout the ages. Always living on the B-side of life, they have been neglected, abused, even murdered for being too accessible, too easy – their trademark. And as in life, prostitutes have not fared any better after death.
|19th Century Society Outcast|
In Singapore, during the close of the 19th century, researchers estimate that close to one-thousand Japanese peasant girls, some as young as 13, were tricked and sold into a life of prostitution, known as karayuki-san. They were taken to Singapore to service immigrant laborers working on plantations and in mines.
|Japanese Cemetery Park|
The girls died, many times at the hands of clients, or committed suicide due to abuse by their handlers, or because of the lose of money due to ageing. These prostitutes were buried at the Japanese Cemetery Park, land that was donated by brothel owner Tagajiro Fukaki for destitute women.
|View of cemetery|
During WWII Japanese soldiers and civilians who were ill were also buried in the Japanese Cemetery Park. Over 900 graves are located there. Though most of the prostitutes’ remain nameless, it is said that all of their graves face the same direction, away from their homeland of Japan.
|Bishop of Winchester|
In England, Cross Bones Graveyard is another such place. During the 1500’s it was established as an unconsecrated graveyard for “single women.” Women working this area were also known as Winchester Geese since they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester to work within this jurisdiction just outside of London.
The age of the graveyard is not known. John Stow first referred it to in 1598 in his Survay of London where he wrote,
“I have heard of ancient men, of good credit, report that these single women were forbidden the rites of the church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground called the Single Woman's churchyard, appointed for them far from the parish church."
By 1769, the Single Woman’s Churchyard had become a pauper’s cemetery.
In 1853 the graveyard was closed because there was no more room for burials. It is believed that over 15,000 people were buried there. In 1883, the cemetery was sold for a building site but after complaints were made, the sale was ruled null and void.
The Cross Bones Graveyard now has a plaque on the gates for “The Outcast Dead.” A local group, known as the Friends of Cross Bones, is currently working on getting a permanent memorial garden in place. Every Halloween, they hold special events and processionals to remember those buried here. The gates of the cemetery are always decorated with messages, flowers and ribbons in remembrance to those unfortunates of the past.
|Tending the Graves|
In some countries, and in some religions, prostitutes would establish their own cemeteries. There, others of the same profession would tend the graves and mourn the dead, since no one else felt them worthy of such attention.
It is not our place to judge them; we do not know how or why they led these lives. Even in the twenty first century, the sex slave trade still exists. Thousands of nameless, faceless women continue to be banished from society, living on the outskirts of humanity, to be exploited, abused; to die and be buried, forgotten, in unmarked graves.