I really enjoy going into cemeteries and photographing them. There’s just something about it that makes me happy. There’s just something about it that energizes the hell out of me. I come back from my forays, grinning and cheerful. While I’m there, I can dance and sing and chatter at all the dead. I don’t hear back, usually, but I know they’re there. And I know that the appreciate it. They appreciate the fact that there is someone paying attention to them after such a long silence.
It was on the way out there that it dawned on me that I would need a grave-tending kit. This is something I plan on doing regularly. I would like to achieve the goal of one cemetery per month in the winter and about one every two weeks (or more!) in summer. It would be exceedingly simple for me to be able to grab a basket, a la Red Riding Hood, instead of shuffling around the house, rushing about as I search for various things to go with. I think the objects in this kit (thus far) should be my camera, back up batteries, a tool to clear back detritus stuck in the engravings, a pair of scissors for grass trimming, a brush to clear back dirt, a jar of change to pay the piper (so to speak), and little hand-crafted items to be left for the Ghede. I think tea lights, jars for graveyard dirt, a trowel to help collect it and travel friendly rum are in order as well. Just the thought of all of this makes me a giddy: a plan!
Now, I had already started grave-tending this place back in mid-December. It ended abruptly since my batteries decided to just, you know, up and die for no reason. So, as a gift to Papa Top Hat, I decided that I would go back and do it up right. The thing with that is, of course, I had to wait until after Christmas to complete this task. It made the whole thing that much more exciting, I think. I knew what I had to do and I knew that I had to do it properly, effectively, and righteously as a “please, I’m sorry I didn’t go back sooner” kind of a thing. But, also, this graveyard is completely ignored about 99.8% of the time. It’s surrounded on one side by a bigger, newer cemetery (the one where my father is buried, actually) and a brand-new cookie cutter neighborhood on the other. I’ve always seen it as I drove by, but never managed to have a reason to stop by and visit… until now, obviously.
This cemetery is very old. I knew that, of course, but what I didn’t realize that it was also used up until about ten or more years ago. There were a bunch of new grave markers, as well as a lot of ones that were redone because of the myriad of storms that blew through here this year. I noticed that the weathering on quite a few of the gravestones was awful. I couldn’t make out anything on them except that, once, someone had carved the information in. Some of it looked smoothed back by time and others looked like they had been vandalized. Still others were quickly being lost to the ground: I found so many of them flat and being eaten up by the earth in some form or another. There were headstones knocked over and being swallowed, there were little foot stone markers that were little more than a peek through the grass, and there were many that were surrounded by bushes and tree roots.
As I go out and take these pictures, I’ve noticed a common theme with each new excursion. Every time I go out and take photographs of some form or another, I find more and more gravestones for children. I should find this to be expected, but more often than not, I am overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of so many dead children all around me. It truly hurts me more than I can convey whenever I see a lovingly carved headstones for the deaths of more than one child. Or, a row of headstones for the myriad of children a single couple tried to have and none of them lived. (One family lost about five children within age ranges of a few days to a few years.) Each one is a testament to the horrors and capriciousness of bearing children before modern medicine. Each one is a testament to the fortitude of a couple to try and try and try again, never knowing what Fate may have in store for them. Every single one of them is a testament to the love and endurance of a family. And each one breaks my damn heart.
With each new adventure, I also find myself more and more intrigued by the medals of the graveyards. There has always been a certain amount of veteran worship on my behalf. These are men who fought in a war that I learned about in school, to some extent or another. These are men who died to help forge the Union, protect the Union, and who fought overseas. In this particular cemetery, most of the veterans stemmed from the Civil War. There was one who had a medal for a Spanish war. There were also medals for local fire fighters, free masons, and one medal that I couldn’t identify for the life of me.
One particular gravestone kept dragging my attention. It was in a large set of gravestones set in front of a large monument for a family known as KEYES. Each gravestone was uniform in size and each one had the name of a family member upon it. There was one in the center (or thereabouts) that was a double-headed stone. Now, the first time I went to Maplewood, I had been struck by it then. On my second trip, I was even more entranced by it. I went all over the KEYES family monument in an effort to find out who Bessie and Jessie were. I knew that they must have been children—twins, if the double-headed stone was any indicator—but their names were not anywhere on the monument. I was horrifically confused by this. I mean, wouldn’t people want to remember these two dead children? It was really, only, by chance that I happened to be passing behind the giant monument when I saw writing across the back of the double stone. It was horrifically faded, as evidenced by the picture. What it says, INFANT DAUGHTERS OF E.S. & L.J. LOVE DIED OCTOBER 5, 1874 Yet another testament to the capriciousness of Fate.
This cemetery has not been well-loved since its inception. I found a gravestone dating to as far back as the 1830s. There were a couple from the ’40s and ’50s. Most of the older gravestones, I found, seemed to come from the later half of the nineteenth century. The newest headstone I found was from the year, 2000. It was an eclectic bunch over there, really. Untold amounts of children, families all ducked up in a row, three different family monuments that used to be carefully tended and gated off, veterans from numerous wars and local unions, as well as those forgotten about within bushes, tree roots, and hiding behind the old fence. One family’s fence had been utterly destroyed by some of the huge trees growing in the middle of the cemetery, even!
I loved it.
There was one particular promise I had to keep, in all of this. The night before last, I promised the Bawon that I would bring him some rum on this particular adventure. I was worried that I wouldn’t quite know where to leave it and that did, indeed, happen. However there was something in particular that I ended up doing to “assist.” I ended up going in a pair of sandals, even though it was quite chilly. As I wandered the cemetery, trying to figure out where to place the Bawon’s offering (I ended up choosing a man buried in the 1840s), I took off my sandals and wandered barefoot. This was because I figured it was a good idea and would assist me in “feeling” the Bawon. I’ll tell you that I wandered one side of that graveyard to the other completely fucking barefoot. It was painfully cold and really did hurt for a bit, but it was important that I do it. And I motherfucking did!
I finish this entry with a cluster of pictures for two fathers: the first is mine. He died when I was seven and I often tend his grave. The other is for the father of the Sister. I hadn’t been aware of him at Adams Cemetery until after the fact. I went back yesterday to give him some attention.
And finally, I leave a link to that cemetery’s photobucket album for anyone interested.