Monday, February 1, 2021

A Grave Interest Celebrates 10 Years

It's amazing how quickly the time passes.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of A Grave Interest. 

I started the blog in 2011 because of my love for cemeteries. And because my husband and I had recently closed our winery after ten years. I thought it would give me something fun to do. Brian thought it would keep me busy for a few months …

Needless to say, after a decade of wandering and researching and writing, I’m more hooked on cemeteries than ever!

Thanks to all of you for reading the posts, telling me your stories, cluing me in on some great cemeteries, sharing photos, and inviting me to your genealogy conferences, libraries and societies. I love giving presentations about cemetery research, sharing interesting photos, and telling the occasional story about spooky cemetery occurrences.


I’ve got some major changes in the works for the next year including offering webinars, although I really miss getting to meet and talk with all of you. (Hoping we can attend meetings and conferences later in the year.)  There will also be a new A Grave Interest podcast, a new updated webpage and some in-the-field videos. Plus, more of the blog, so stay tuned, keep wandering cemeteries and keep reading.

And thanks for making this such a blast to do!

~ Joy

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Tradition of the Riderless Horse


It has been said that Genghis Khan, one of the most famous conquerors in history, was the first to honor fallen warriors by having the rider’s horse led to the burial site. The bond between the soldier and his horse was expected to last the length of the animal’s life. If a warrior died before the horse, the animal was sacrificed with the belief that the master was waiting for his steed at “the gate in the sky.”


Known as a "caparisoned horse" these riderless horses have been used in funeral rites for centuries. The “Cap Horse” is led by the “Cap Walker” to the cemetery. The riderless horse is used mainly in Presidential, Secretary of Defense, and military funerals for those with the rank of Colonel or above.


What the horse carries on his back during the funeral depends on his color. A black horse carries a saddle blanket, saddle and bridle. Any other color horse carries a folded hood and cape along with the saddle, blanket and bridle.


The boots of the deceased are placed backwards in the stir-ups to symbolize the rider’s one final look back before continuing on in death.


Several presidents have chosen to be honored in this way. According to White House history, George Washington’s personal secretary, Tobias Lear noted that Washington’s “horse, with his saddle, holsters and pistols (was) led by two grooms, Cyrus and Wilson” in his funeral procession. Zackery Taylor, twelfth president of the United States, had his horse, Old Whitey, lead his funeral procession.



Old Bob

Abraham Lincoln was the first president honored with a cap horse in a state funeral. Lincoln’s horse, Old Bob, followed his master’s casket from the White House to the Capitol Rotunda where Lincoln was to lay in state. When his casket was carried to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, again Old Bob followed behind. Both times Lincoln’s boots had been placed backwards in the horse’s stir ups.


Black Jack

The most famous riderless horse was a Morgan-American Quarter horse named Black Jack for General John J. Pershing. Born on January 19, 1947, Black Jack was one of the last horses issued to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. He arrived in Fort Myer, Virginia in late 1952 standing fifteen hands high and weighting 1,050 pounds.



Over the next two decades, Black Jack took part in the funerals for Presidents Herbert Hoover, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson along with 5-star General Douglas MacArthur. He also accompanied more than one-thousand soldiers and retired military to their graves, mostly in ceremonies in Arlington Cemetery.


Black Jack had many fans who went to visit, sent him holiday cards and requested locks of his hair.

Black Jack died on February 6, 1976 after serving 29 years in the military. He was cremated and his remains buried at Fort Myer on Summerall Field. Black Jack is one of only two horses to have been buried with full military honors. (The other was Comanche, a survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.)


Sergeant York

This standard bred gelding was once known as “Allaboard Jules” during his racing days. Sgt. York was accepted into the military in 1997 and renamed in honor of WWI soldier Alvin C. York.

It was Sergeant York that served as Cap Horse for the 40th president, walking behind the caisson bearing President Ronald Reagan’s casket in 2004.


You can lean more at The Caisson Stables, which includes a small museum at Fort Myer in Virginia. There visitors can see the horses that work at Arlington Cemetery and learn more about the unique tradition of the riderless horse. Included is a tour of the stables and tack room, and afterwards you can pay your respects at the grave of Black Jack.

~ Joy

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Role of the Pallbearer


Pallbearers have carried the coffin at funerals for centuries. The term “pallbearer” is derived from the heavy white cloth (the pall) that at one time covered all caskets. The pall may be ornate or very plain. It is part of the religious ceremony in Roman Catholic and Lutheran funeral services representing death and rebirth of the spirit.


For a military funeral, the American flag is used as the pall. It is placed on the casket as soon as it enters the church and removed just before being lowered into the ground.

As the funeral ceremony became more simplified, the term “pallbearer” came to describe someone who carries the casket to its burial location.


Today, pallbearers are selected by the family to oversee the casket at the funeral. It is an honor to be asked and indicates that you were regarded highly by the deceased, and their family for they are trusting you to carry their loved one to the final resting place.

Pallbearers may be close relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, business associates and church members. And yes, women can act as pallbearers. Where it was once frowned upon to select a woman due to concerns about her emotions “getting the better of her,” today women are asked and accept these duties.

There are usually six to eight people who act as pallbearers depending on the size and weight of the casket, which is dictated by the number of handles on each side. (For a child’s casket, there may only be four handles.) A typical casket can weight from 200 to 400 pounds.


Each pallbearer should have ability to assist in lifting and carrying the casket over uneven ground in the cemetery. Some funeral homes provide a bier with wheels that pallbearers assist in rolling.


An honorary pallbearer is someone who cannot physically lift the casket; a distinguished colleague in the deceased’s professional field, or a special family member or close friend. The honorary pallbearer may lead or follow the casket.

A pallbearer should dress in conservative and respectful attire, and will be given white gloves to wear during the procession. However, the family may request pallbearers wear their loved one’s favorite color or something that has been designated as a tribute to the deceased.  Pallbearers should be able to keep emotions in check during this time.


Pallbearers should expect to arrive a few minutes early and stay a few minutes after the

Funeral so the director can explain what you will need to know and how to fulfill your

duties before the ceremony begins. Remember, it is an honor to be selected. If you are not sure you can keep your emotions under control, let the family know. They will appreciate your candidness.


~ Joy

Friday, December 11, 2020

A Christmas Carol: An Enduring Holiday Ghost Story

 by Joy Neighbors

Charles Dickens

It is one of the most enduring holiday classics in the world. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was written unintentionally, in 1843. In it, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser with his time, money, and emotions, is visited by his former business partner, Jacob Marley, a kindred spirit who paves the way for visitations from three ghosts: Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. After hearing each ghost’s proclamations, Scrooge is transformed into a man with a heart who makes “mankind” his business.



Originally titled An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child, Dickens set out to write about the brutal conditions of child labor. Children as young as five worked 16 hours a day, six days a week in some of the most horrific and appalling jobs available. Since children worked for next to nothing – sometimes only room and board – this was what was available to them.


Of course, Dickens understood what their lives were like. He had to go to work at the age of twelve when his father was sent to London’s Debtors Prison. To help make ends meet, Dickens worked at a boot-blacking factory. This gave him "deep personal and social outrage,” which influenced his life, and his writing.



Children, and the poor in general, were not treated as human beings but more as a necessary resource utilized to do the work no one else would. Humane treatment was not considered mandatory in order to elicit the work demanded. The poor lived in squalid conditions, half-starved, with no chance to change their circumstances. They were happy to get what they could to keep their  family alive and together.



After several attempts to write the treatise, Dickens realized that instead of lecturing, what he needed was a good story to catch people’s interest. In less than six weeks, he had written a tale that he intended to act as “a Sledge hammer (that) has come down with twenty times the force—twenty thousand times the force” causing readers to consider more modern ideas about industry, and the worker. Dickens wanted employers to acknowledge workers as fellow human beings with the same rights as their employer; food, shelter, an education, and a chance to lift themselves up out of poverty.


But Dickens also wanted to highlight societal changes that were taking place with the holiday and show that even the poor had a right to enjoy the season with family and friends.


The new way to celebrate the old festival was with Christmas carols sung by carolers going from house to house in exchange for a warm drink and food.


The Christmas tree was becoming a new tradition; something for the family to cut, decorate and gather around. The Christmas holiday began to  focus on family companionship, dancing and games along with seasonal food and drink. By the mid-1800's, this was the accepted way to celebrate Christmastide.


Even ghost stories were becoming part of the tradition. Dickens included ghosts in several of his writings due to his interest in the unknown and spiritualism. Since his teenage years, Dickens had read penny magazines about murders and ghosts. He said that he delighted in scaring himself and hoped the three ghosts in A Christmas Carol would succeed in doing the same to the reader, bringing about a transformation that would haunt his readers “pleasantly.”


 Ghost of Christmas Past

From the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past when Scrooge is transported back to his teenage years and first love, the reader begins to identify with the miser in ways not expected.



Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present introduces feelings of generosity, happiness and well-being, showing Scrooge how he has morally failed mankind, and shaming him into grief at what he has said and done.






Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be
But it is The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come with connotations of Death and the Grim Reaper that makes Scrooge willing to change his greedy and malevolent ways. He realizes that he does not wish to end up like his former business partner; alone and forgotten in death.

By suggesting that Scrooge has the power to change the unknown, he is given hope, and the possibility of forgiveness if he is willing to change.


According to British philosopher Gilbert Keith Chesterton, in writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens managed to transform Christmas from a sacred holiday into a family feast. Dickens hoped to influence changes in the lives of the rich and poor by encouraging “practical benevolence” throughout Victorian society.


A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas was first published on December 19, 1843, and all copies had been sold by Christmas Eve. By the end of 1844, thirteen editions of the novella had been printed and sold. Dickens had hit on a topic that Victorians were ready to confront.

It was reported that after Dickens did a reading of his novella (one of 127 performances) on Christmas Eve 1867, a factory owner decided to close his business for Christmas Day so his workers could be at home with their families. And just like Scrooge, each worker’s family received a turkey for their dinner.


Scrooge and Bob Cratchit

A Christmas Carol has never been out of print for the past 177 years. It is the second most read book, next to the Bible. Although, the tale tells of life during the Victorian era, the story continues to touch our hearts with the hope of peace, prosperity and goodwill toward our fellow men and women. And continuing, generation after generation.


~ Joy