Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Old cemeteries

What is it about old cemeteries? Patrick and I have a bit of a fascination. We like to head for them on Saturday mornings, choosing one or two we haven't yet explored from one of the tucked-away crossroads that used to be a town. The older the better. Tumbling stone walls are sweet and endearing, as are towering old cedar trees. Happily we putter down the snaggledy rows of graves, calling out the more interesting names to each other:

"Mehetable Jones!"
"Orange P. Phelps!"
"Content Kingsley, 1803."
"Nehemiah Briggs, hey, Revolutionary War."

Of course, underneath their outright interestingness and gentle creepiness, there's something peaceful and almost romantic about them. So many lives no one remembers, so many husbands resting next to their wives under the hydrangea blossoms. So many little tombstones, all in a row. If I let myself, I can get carried away with the traces of stories in these places, so many of them unspeakably sad. What would it have been like, living back then? Life was a lot riskier then, and death a much bigger part of everyday life.

This past weekend we went exploring in New Berlin, NY. I couldn't resist taking a picture of this very unusual grave marker:

Yes, that's a tree trunk, carved out of marble, complete with ferns, bark, and twining ivy. And a cross, lashed onto the pretend-tree with pretend-rope. This one isn't so much on the gentle side of creepy.
It's on the creepy side of creepy. The family plot is demarcated with matching pretend tree stumps, each bearing a carved O for Oatley, the family surname.

Why a tree? Was this guy a nature-lover? A wood cutter? A gnome enthusiast? Is there symbolism here, and why, in all the old-cemetery-sleuthing we've done, have we never come upon anything similar before?

I guess old J. Clark took these secrets with him to a spot under his very own pretend tree trunk.
Edit: This link explains everything. Woodmen of the World. Who knew?


3 comments:

Mrs. Danby said...

While Mr. Danby and I were hiking at Watkins Glen State Park, we stumbled across a great old cemetery. It was just so quiet, and kind of spooky. I think they are neat. Good post!
~C :}

Gina said...

How nice it is to see other people enjoy walking through cemeteries. My boyfriend and I once organized an entire trip around a book we found in a used bookstore. It was a collection of Russian short stories, in it was an obituary of a woman who died in 1950. We decided to visit her grave and read a story from it while there. Sounds creepy/bizarre now, but it was quite lovely and spontaneous.
We love to look at the names too! Enjoy your walks. =)

Kami said...

Cool! What an interesting and creepy tree. I love exploring old cemetaries, but it seems I never have the chance/never take the time. I should do that more often! Thanks for the inspiration! I love making up romantic stories for all the folks long gone.

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