Sunday, March 27, 2016

Pause at cemeteries



     I pause at cemeteries, then go in. 
     Don't you? It seems the thing to do.
     Though I'm not sure why. It feels like dull curiosity, at the moment, a mild historic interest. Almost something embarrassment, prying in the affairs of others, treading on theri graves.
    But it's something of an obligation too. These people lived, they loved, they died, as shall we all, and left these traces, claimed their little space, a private country, eighteen square feet of territory made sovereign by their headstone forever.
    The least we can do is glance at them as we pass by, at this little garden of eternity.  
    Well, maybe not eternity. Not, in fact, forever. Nature is forever. Humanity is the frost on a pumpkin, the charge on a battery. Headstones melt in the rain it turns out, at least marble and limestone do. Granite lasts a bit longer, but those will crack or be carted off in their turn. It's only the illusion of permanence, to comfort the bereaved among us.
     Me, I find comfort in their ephemerality. Because it reminds us that for all the effort we put into our works, our careers and houses and such, great or small, it adds up to nothing, long term. A bigger monument, a plinth, a pylon, a crypt, which only makes the passerby shake their head at the irony, the futility. "Benjamin F. Barge" and his cap and gown and steepled glory is just as dead as the guy under an unreadable mound of softening stone. Reputation helps him no more than anonymity hurts the other. 
    How many people waste how many years piling up those stones? Stones that most people, truth be told, never contemplate at all.
    Though there is good in doing so. I hiked up a steep hill in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania last October to look over the cemetery. I did it the morning I left, as if it were some duty that had to be performed before I was free to leave the town. Because it was there.
    I pause at cemeteries, then go in, Because, coming out, I'm gladder to be alive. 

21 comments:

  1. MAUSOLEUM, n.: The final and funniest folly of the rich.

    --Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

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    1. Not bad, Bitter Scribe quoting Bitter Bierce, but very appropriate. Mausoleums can be beautiful in their style and form, often with stained glass. Unfortunately they are ripe targets for vandals, which means they end up being sealed away behind barriers of plywood and chains.

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    2. Take the Chicago Architecture Foundation's tour of Graceland Cemetery.
      Bierce was absolutely correct.
      The Potter & Bertha Palmer tomb is unreal. But the best thing I ever heard about Potter Palmer came in a tour of the Palmer House. When Palmer died, he left millions to his widow. he also left a million to any man that might marry her after he was gone, because he knew she would bankrupt him!

      But the worst tomb is that of Roland Burris, former everything in Illinois, especially a corrupt & pompous jerk. Google it for the image, it's an appalling pile of hagiography! And he's not even dead yet!

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  2. This is one of my hobbies, visiting cemeteries and taking pictures. Thanks to the internet the graves of people like Jacob Ginder, will be remembered as long as there is an internet.

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  3. Be sure to visit the Queen of Heaven and Lady of Mt. Carmel cemetaries and mausolesums in Hillside, off Roosevelt Rd and Wolf.

    You can find a touching monument to the fallen children in the horrible Lady of the Angels Fire and some huge headstones of some famed mobsters.

    Of course some people, long dead, still have their names remembered or affected people's lives or nations. So don't agree about "adds up to nothing" statement.

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    1. (mausoleums)

      So true about the historical aspect.

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    2. Happy Easter, to whom it may concern.

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    3. @Private -- Happy Easter to you and all friends of EGD.

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  4. I used to shy away from cemeteries, thinking of dead spirits hanging around, until I took some time to read the large headstones and heartbreaking memorials at a local cemetery after attending a friend's funeral. The children's were the saddest, a 3-month old baby included, but while I paid my respects I realized it wasn't a place to fear at all, and that being alive is a precious gift.

    SandyK

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  5. I wander through old cemeteries a lot. I've always found them interesting. Many people think it's morbid, but to me its a bit of a history lesson. The infant sections are heartbreaking and surprisingly not well tended. I usually try to straighten any headstones that have fallen or broken. In Colon, MI, there's an historic cemetery that is the final resting place of dozens of magicians, including Blackstone. People leave coins and trick cards on the stones there.

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  6. A touch of "Ozymandias."

    More positively, it brings to mind the finest of literary epitaphs, that accorded Dorothea Brooks by George Eliot on the final page of "Middlemarch."

    "The effect if her being on those around her was incalulately
    diffuse, fot the growing good of the world is partly dependant on un-historic acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me that they might have been is half owing to the mumber who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs."

    Finding a grave in a crowded graveyard can be challenging, and the oddest directions I recall being given to that end was in London a few years back after I went for a ramble across Hampstead Heath and ended up at Highgate Cemetary. It is the final resting place of many English literary luminaries who didn't quite make it into Westminister Abbey, but the most dominant memorial is a more than life sized bust of a German Jew who created his most famous work in the reading room of the British library. It sits on a plinth at a central location, where paths converge. I asked a little lady sitting at a table collecting donations for cemetary upkeep where I might find George Eliot's grave, and she said, brightly, "Oh, it's up there on the hill, just to the left of Karl Marx."

    Tom Evans

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    1. Tom is certainly correct; it can be tricky navigating a large cemetery. A few years ago I took my elderly aunt to lunch. She had lost her husband about six months prior and was having a difficult time. After lunch she asked if we could visit her late husband's grave. We entered the very large cemetery (Bohemian National Cemetery on Pulaski) and I was a little concerned, but she assured me she knew exactly where the grave site was. As you can probably guess, we walked for at least an hour searching, but we finally did find it. There were beautiful headstones with other family members' names long buried there, many I'd never even known about. So my aunt gave me a family history lesson while we sat there on the grass by her husband's grave. I'll never forget that day.

      SandyK

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  7. When I was a kid there was a stretch of Harlem Avenue (or maybe it was Des Plaines) with cemeteries on either side. One of the tombstones was topped by an enormous elephant, trunk in the air, easily visible from the road.

    Turns out it was for victims of a circus train that crashed nearby, long ago. A lot of the dead had no known relatives (this was back when "running off to join the circus" was a thing) and so were buried in that collective grave.

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    1. Yes, that's on Des Plaines, north of Cermak, in Forest Park.

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  8. Perhaps the Woodlawn cemetery

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    1. Do recall a Jewish cemetery in that area as well. Perhaps around Roosevelt and lst Ave, also in Forest Park.

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    2. Yes, both Woodlawn and Waldheim are on Des Plaines between Cermak and Roosevelt. Woodlawn is the one with the circus grave.

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    3. The elephant is for all those killed in the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train wreck in Hammond Indiana on June 22, 1918.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammond_Circus_Train_Wreck

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