Thursday, August 30, 2012

Did you know that...

... scientists can actually come to conclusions about environmental pollutants, weather patterns, acid rain, etc. in an area based on the wear patterns/deterioration levels of old tombstones? It really is a fascinating science. 
I've noticed in my community, even at cemeteries that are only 15-20 minutes away from each other, some tombstones of the same age are worn differently because of the cemetery's proximity to a facility that pollutes, or because the lay of the land allows for greater weathering. There are even lesson plans out there for teachers to use to teach kids of all ages the significance of certain wear patterns and what they mean about the pollution and weather in the area. These lessons allow for educators to take their students to cemeteries so they can learn first hand. So cool, from an educators stand point. Here are some links about the science of gravestones and teaching others about the science:

I know more articles are out there, but this is a good start!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Spoon River

What isn't to love about Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters? When I found out this book existed, I couldn't put it down. I had always thought about the stories the dead could tell, if only they could speak. As a little girl, I would go to graveyards with my family and wonder what these people were like, who had lived so long before me. The cemetery was never a scary place to me for this reason; there was so much  to think about and learn. I just wanted to learn all about the history of things, and ghosties were secondary.

This particular poem is one of my favorites out of all of the great ones in the book. I love thinking about what Mrs. Sibley was alluding to. Did she commit murder? Bury an unwanted child? Have some sort of secret treasure? The importance isn't in knowing what she did, but in finding personal meaning in her words (that can be said of most of the poems in the book).

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cemetery Deterioration/Preservation

An important part of respecting, recording, and celebrating the history of graveyards and tombstones is by preserving them for future generations. Environmental pollutants, storm damage, vandalism, and the passage of time are just some of the reasons why our cemeteries fall into disrepair. Please don't just march into a cemetery with a jug of bleach and a sponge; there is a delicate process to restoration. Doing research before you even attempt to do any restoration is critical. These two books document how to get started on building a preservation team, if you're interested and such a group doesn't exist in your community:

Natural damage and deterioration is one thing, but vandalism is quite another. Vandals make me sick because they completely disregard respect towards their fellow human beings and history. Go read a book next time you feel the need to kick over a tombstone, okay?? This little write-up is pretty interesting because it suggests that people commit vandalism just because they can get away with it (cemeteries don't really have locked gates or security systems, for the most part), or because they are bored, not because they are cruel:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser

Graveyard art doesn't usually perplex me, but this particular example does. I can't figure out if this is supposed to be Jesus crawling towards the cross, but the figure looks distinctly female to me. Perhaps it is the Virgin Mary? Or Mary Magdalene? Who knows, either way, it's interesting to look at.

Edit: I finally found out the meaning behind this statue! It represents how we are lost in a sinful world, and our only option is to cling to Christ and the goodness that the cross stands for.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Death of a Beloved Child

Lambs (sleeping lambs/ones that are laying down tend to be the norm) have been used on the headstones of children for many, many years. I know they are prevalent in the U.S., but I'm not sure about other countries. They symbolize the innocence and youth of the sweet little one that has been lost.

I'm not a parent, but I hope to be someday, and I can't imagine losing a child. Headstones like this always choke me up because I can imagine the parents' grief; the thoughts of what could have been/who this child could have been also come to mind. I know that losing a child was more common a hundred or so years ago, but that couldn't have made it any easier. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Weeping willows...

The weeping willow was a popular piece of iconography during the 19th century. When you come across a weeping willows on a headstone, they aren’t intended to be a depressing or sad piece of imagery.  It was usually a symbol of immortality, since in Christianity it can be be a reference to the gospel of Christ. The tree flourishes no matter how many branches are cut off or damaged, and so does the church of Christ and the immortal human soul (Information paraphrased from Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister). Personally, I can't help but think of Grandmother Willow in Disney's Pocahontas whenever I see a stone with one of these trees on it. 

The Siege of Vicksburg and 42nd Ohio Infantry

The 42nd Ohio Infantry served in many military campaigns during the Civil War, including the Battle/Siege of Vicksburg from May 18th to July 4th of 1863. To make a long story short, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant knew he had to defeat the Confederate army in Mississippi for a few reasons. The most important of these reasons was so the Mississippi River would be under Union control, and so the Confederate army would be split and weakened. Grant did indeed defeat the Confederates under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton. The Confederates had no choice but to surrender, since they were cut off, without reinforcements, and starving. Paired with Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg in July of 1863, this was the turning point of the war, in favor of the Union. It’s pretty amazing that you can find connections to important events in American history by just taking a walk through the cemetery and doing a little homework afterwards.* :)
*This gentleman left the 42nd Ohio Infantry in 1862, so he was not personally at Vicksburg, although his former regiment was. Here is more information about the 42nd Ohio:

Broken Angel

I’m always drawn to the broken, crumbly angels and statues in cemeteries. If you've ever read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, you might recall that the ghouls in the book used broken angel statues as a marker for their "Ghoul Gates" or entrances to Hell. I'm sure that's not true, but it's still spooky!

Allow me to be frank at the commencement...

I love cemeteries and history. The lives of the people who lived before me are fascinating, and speak to me through the ages. Ever since I was a little girl, cemeteries have been places for exploring and learning, so I'd like to share that with others. Watch for more to come! If you do see a headstone of a family member or friend and want it removed, please leave a comment or send me a message.