Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ON HOME ~ It Takes A Graveyard...

When I was a child, my mother used to bring my brother and I to old graveyards and do rubbings of all the old headstones.  Some might think that macabre but I always thought it was cool.  It was like an art project outside.  And a history lesson too.  Back in the day, headstones were carved with pretty designs and carried wonderful commentary about those who left us behind.  They tell stories to anyone wanting to take the time to visit.  Which is why I wandered over to the old cemetery in the historic section of South Natick in my adopted hometown to see what stories it held.

These are the types of rubbings my mom would make.  This particular design was very pretty but also kind of spooky.  And it was quite prevalent throughout this old graveyard.  I am used to seeing religious symbols recreated in graveyards but not this intricate weeping willow design.  I don't know the meaning behind it but I would like to know.

Here is one of the headstones that was adorned by the willow design.  The decorative carvings may have a meaning behind them unknown to me, but the words laid out at the bottom of each headstone speak volumes about what the surviving family wants us to know about the departed.  They tell terrific stories all their own.  This is Ms. Olynda Bird.  She died in 1828 at the age of 28 and was virtuous and amiable.  But I loved the gift of words peeking at me from the base of her headstone:

"She was a daughter lovely a sister dear,
A faithful companion and friend sincere,
She left this world of woe and pain,
Our loss we trust is her eternal gain."

Some people resting here are not as easy to get to.  There are sections overgrown tucked in corners surrounded by weeds that I am hesitant to wade through for fear of poison ivy.  And this marker specifically reminded me of Neil Gaiman's terrific YA book, "The Graveyard Book," where a baby crawls into a cemetery after his family is murdered and is protected and raised by the spirits who live there.  Some areas are more overgrown than others and he meets some very special folk in those particular places.  I wonder who this old soul was?

Sadly, in old graveyards especially, you find more young souls than old.  This plastic statue was placed on a footmarker of a child's grave.  I thought it was a real carving until I went to touch it.  But rather than be disappointed in fake stone I was touched that someone in modern days cared enough to place it at the grave of a child who died so long ago.

Sometimes I will admit, it does get a bit creepy in graveyards.  These markers have been invaded by a grand tree that at some point was planted as a small sapling to bring shade and comfort to these families' mourners.  Now it is pushing the gravestones aside.  It looks like a Halloween set-up and gave me a bit of a shiver in the bright daylight.

This site made me proud.  Many of those left at rest in this graveyard were veterans.  Of the Civil War.  Such a deadly war and tremendous sacrifice of life that our country survived.  That is an important lesson cemeteries teach us.  Every life has a story, and many contributed to important moments of history.  You can learn more about your region's people and their impact at a local graveyard than you can in the history books sometimes.  All you need are a few lasting headstones and a curiosity to delve into their meanings.  I can't wait to visit our town's Historical Society and learn more about the people whose markers tell the tales of my town's past.
Does your town have a cemetery?  Have you ever stopped to read the stories left behind in the engravings and appreciate the art displayed in these final impressions?


soleil said...

You know, I've never really visited my local cemeteries but I find them of great interest when I travel. I have some great shots of the big cemetery by my friend Vanessa's house while she was in graduate school. It was winter and completely snow covered. It was beautiful and somber. I also have some nice pictures from cemeteries I've visited abroad. Perhaps I should follow your example and look up the ones where I live.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I grew up playing in graveyards, as weird as that sounds. (And my mom was totally into doing those rubbings for her geneology stuff.) It is sad when you see all the children, or entire families. But what always fascinated me were the potential stories behind each one. Even now, when I'm home I will stroll through the little graveyard near my house. There are a couple of civil war soldiers in there, and we always have to find them.

Unknown said...

Insightful and thoughtful post. My grandparent's lived on a cemetery road, and they always had a wienie roast around or on Halloween. They would trek all of us grandkids and parent's up the cemetery to see how far we would get until we turned around, and ran! I used to visit there quite often, as it was a beautiful, shaded, with gorgeous trees cemetery. My first love and I used to go there to relax and write poetry :) Thank you for sharing this lovely post.

kayerj said...

I agree with you, cemeteries are great places to visit. I used to do marker rubbings when I was younger too. My dad and mother were really into geneology and would take trips across the country visiting court houses and graveyards. My dad has files of rubbings from old headstones of relatives. Our community has a strong Greek heritage. Our cemeteries are full of headstones with Greek writing on them. I think that is fascinating as well. I loved your shot of the civil war veterans. It's a good reminder of the price those people paid for our country. Great Post today.

Kathleen said...

Studying history in college I am no stranger to the many things we can learn from graveyards. Where I live in California we don't get all the old graves that you have in MA but there is still a lot you can learn by walking around. I've never done rubbings but can understand why someone would. When I was in high school I used to go to a graveyard called Madrona. Just the name was creepy. We used to go there after dark to scare ourselves and it worked!

Unknown said...

The symbol of a weeping willow indicates perpetual grief (

Growing up, there was an historic cemetery across the street from our church, and I used to love to go in there to see the stones, some dating to the 16 and 1700s. I used to go with Sunday School classes to take gravestone rubbings, too.

There were lots of areas that were overgrown, and one that was surrounded by a wildly pitched spiked fence. We imaginative kids convinced ourselves that a vampire was buried there.

We were touched by the words on an infant's grave, "whose parents, with bleeding hearts, returned her to God," and sought out the tiny plot at every visit.

Providence has two large cemeteries, Swan Point and Old North. Because of its history of separation of church and state, there were virtually no common graveyards until the late 1700s, and most people were buried on family plots, so Rhode Island is dotted with tiny cemeteries.

Bear and I love to visit cemeteries to see the art people have erected to honor their loved ones, and how that art has changed over time.

Anonymous said...

What a very cool place. I love old graveyards. I love the history. I almost did a post like this one for the Lakeview Cememtery in Cleveland. President Garfield, John D Rockefeller and and others are buried there. I might have to get that together now! I love these visits around your town :)