Tag Archives: graveyard

Graveyard Wildlife

I love all the wildlife that thrives in cemeteries.

Bird songs, bees buzzing, small creatures scuttling among the stones  – life.

Nature going about its business helps set that peaceful mood most cemeteries have.

How could a place with so much wildlife be creepy?


Faces

Antioch Pioneer Cemetery, Overland Park, Kansas

You meet a lot of people in graveyards.  Every face tells a story.

Fairview Cemetery, Liberty, Missouri

Sometimes it’s just a story

Antioch Pioneer Cemetery, Overland Park, Kansas

 of time passed. 

Forest Hill Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri

Sometimes it’s a story of sorrow and loss.

 

Sometimes the sheer beauty of a face tells the sculptor’s story. I love those, don’t you?

Hey, thanks everybody who took my poll last week. Who knew there were so many of us taking our lunches to the grave?


Give me your best shots!

 

 

Highland Cemetery, Overland Park, Kansas

 

I wouldn’t say this is my best shot photographically speaking, but it’s one of my favorite tombstones. I wondered as I looked at it from several angles whether someone had pruned the bush into these massive black wings. There were no clues that I could see.   Maybe in the summer glorious leafy wings sprout from the stone. Or maybe the illusion only works with bare branches. I’ll have to go back and see.

Give me your best shots! 

I’ve seen some great tombstones on blogs out there lately. If you’ve taken a graveyard photo that you’re particularly proud of, post a comment and tell me where it is.  I’ll try out the “reblog” button.

 


Westphalia, Missouri

The discordant mix of highway noise, turtledoves and church bells lent a surreal quality to my visit to this little cemetery.

It was one of those slam on the brakes and make a right, no time for turn signals kind of stops. Ever had one of those? Two-lane, State Highway 63 twists through the eastern edge of the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. About twenty miles south of the capital, Jefferson City, the landscape gets more and more rural. I passed through several tiny towns before the tall, marble crucifix that marked this graveyard called my name.

I parked in a large, gravel lot in front of an auto repair shop right beside the highway. A broken down school bus sat in one corner like it’d been there for years and would be for more. A well used tow truck was parked in front of the boxy, aluminum sided shop.

The Westphalia cemetery sits right next to it on a hillside gently sloping up toward a church with a high, pointed white steeple, the source of the tolling bells.

Twilight added to a sense of being slightly off-center to reality here. My step off the gravel and onto the cemetery’s thick, well-tended lawn was like a step out of time.

I couldn’t translate the language on the markers.

I don’t speak a word of German. Even the street signs in tiny Westphalia are printed in two languages. The flowing script on the porcelain placards was beautiful though.

Iron work crosses spoke to the poverty and austerity of the folks who settled here.

I got the feeling from looking around that not much had changed.


Why I Love ‘Em

 

I love graveyards for all that they tell us, for the lives they hint at and the peace they promise every single denizen.  I suppose part of it’s that prurient fascination we all have with tragedy.  The reason Old Yeller’s a classic; why people love to read Nicolas Sparks or Jodi Piccoult and listen to sad country songs; sometimes you just want to cry.

Stone is a beautiful medium.

 Every tombstone’s a sculpture with a story.  Some speak more artfully than others, but it’s often the most crudely carved that tell the best tales.

I like the colors and patterns of lichen on white marble.  I like pictures of the deceased embedded in the stones.  I like glossy new markers with sharp edges and old ones with quaint, old fashioned names.

What sparks my imagination in new and old are the hints they tell about the relationships left behind.  What happened to the family of a row of children who all died in the same year?  How much must a man have loved his wife when she died three decades before him, but he still chose to be buried beside her?

I ran across one way out in the country the other day.  It was a small cemetery on a hill thrust up from among soybean and corn fields.  There were about a hundred people buried there.  The most recent grave was less than a decade old, a double stone.  A boy, 13 years old, was buried on the right, “beloved son.”  On the left was his “loving father.”  The father’s name was there, his birth date, but no death date.  No mom.  Toy race cars and new silk flowers lay on the boy’s side.  Dad’s side was clean, empty.  Somewhere, here in my world, Dad was waiting for the day he’d see his son again.

Doesn’t that make you wonder? It’s amazing how much a few words, a trinket or two and couple of dates in stone can convey about a life, and a death.


A Threefer in Kearney, Missouri

Kearney Missouri, a town of only 10,000 boasts three nice, old cemeteries.

The notorious outlaw Jessie James is buried (reburied and DNA verified) in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. If you’re into that kind of tombstone tourism, definitely check it out. Kearney’s not shy about claiming its fallen son.  Visit his family farm nearby. There’s a Jesse James festival every summer and a gorgeous park in town named after him.

Highway in the background of Jesse James' resting place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few blocks from Mt. Olivet is, Fairview Cemetery.

Down this road a gate opens up to the rolling hills of a cow pasture.

Nobody famous or infamous buried here as far as I could tell. It’s still in town, but off the main drag. Mature trees and pastures border three sides. Nice spot. 

 

  

Before you head out of town, stop for a great cuppa here at Mojo’s.

Muddy Forks Cemetery my favorite discovery near Kearney, is just 1.7 miles north of town on Hwy 33.

I just love the name! There aren’t any forks in the road here, muddy or otherwise, so I can’t tell you how it came to be called that.

It’s up on a hill, bordered on all sides by wire fences and pasture land, a great, quiet place to sit under a shady tree and watch the world go by. There are over 400 people buried here, one famous resident, Clellend Miller, was a member of the James gang. Otherwise it’s just regular folks.

I often wonder when I find these little cemeteries out in the middle of nowhere, who gets buried there nowadays. It’s a tiny place. They’d have to be kind of selective about newcomers or they’d over-run the pasture in no time.

Maybe there’s not much demand for spots here, but I can’t imagine why not. I think it’d be a great place to rest in peace.


My First Funeral

 

I’ve been obsessed with cemeteries since I organized my first funeral.

When I was a kid, one of several fishes my sisters and I kept in a freshwater aquarium died.  We didn’t care about him much. He didn’t really even have a name.

Pregnant guppy

Fairview Cemetery, Liberty, Missouri

Until we found him belly-up. Then he had to have a name, for the TOMBSTONE.

We named him Flashy and made a sparkly, little casket out of aluminum foil lined with a folded square of soft, pink toilet paper.  I led the way as we carried him slowly, in procession through the living room, the kitchen, out the back door singing swing low, sweet chaaar-ri-ah-aht! Words were said, sad, respectful ones about Flashy’s tragically short life.

We discussed the six-feet-under concept, but our mother convinced us –

I believe her exact words were, “No, you will NOT dig a six foot hole by the back patio!”

 – that six inches would be more than enough for a creature Flashy’s size.

We buried him under the Skunk bush. (Our nickname for a rare and gorgeous species of Azalea.  Its flowers are brilliant orange, but have the unfortunately pungent scent of skunk when in full bloom.)English: Azalea 'Hinodegiri' in full flower in...

We marked Flashy’s final resting place with a Popsicle-stick-cross beautified with crayon.  There may have been tears, but I don’t think so.  The feeling I remember most about the whole affair is glee.


Angel of Grief

The Angel of Grief – my favorite tombstone of all time.

This gorgeous sculpture by William Wetmore Story, weeps atop his wife Emelyn’s grave in Rome, Italy.  William was the hottest American sculptor there from 1819 -1895. When Emelyn died, he poured his grief into this beautiful piece.  It’s been copied all over the world, but none of the flatterers are as elegantly poignant as the original.


The Protestant Cemetery…

…or non-catholic cemetery, as the Italian name translates literally, is one of my favorites. I mean, you have to go to Rome to see it, so duh. A lot of famous people rest there, but it’s the not so famous and totally unknown, the quirky, the tragic the pathetic, the stunningly narcissistic, (see 30-meter-tall Pyramid of Cestius), that blend to give it its distinctive ambiance. Part English church garden, part first-century Roman ruin, this cemetery’s on the top of my MUST GO BACK TO list.

I always love Let’s Go Guides for European travel info. Unlike Frommer’s and Michelin, Let’s Go caters to students and travelers with small budgets. It’ll point you to the best eateries and coffee bars around the cemetery, the ones the locals hang out in.

English poet, John Keats…

This placard was erected for Keats years after his death.

…died of tuberculosis in 1821. He was only 26 years old. Convinced that he and his poetry would be forgotten after his death, he forbid anyone to carve his name on his tombstone. Instead, it reads only “Here lies one who’s name was writ in water.”  I wonder if he knows how wrong he was.

Lord Percy Shelley…

…drowned in a sudden storm off the Riviera in 1822. His body was cremated on the beach were it washed up. Legend has it that his friend Edward Trelawny snatched the heart from the burning pier and gave it to Mary Shelley.  She kept it, or its ashes, in a desk drawer wrapped in a page of her husband’s manuscript. When she died, Shelley’s ashes were finally reunited in the Protestant Cemetery.

On the opposite end of the modesty spectrum…

…the cemetery also holds the Pyramid of Cestius, built around 16 AD. It stands 27 meters tall, less than ¼ the size of the Great Pyramids of Giza that it copied. Back then, most of the big, Roman generals just sailed over to Egypt and swiped themselves an obelisk. Obviously, Cestius couldn’t fit a pyramid in his trunk. He must have been counting on the fact that most of the Roman peasants would never see the originals.

Cestius wasn’t a trend-setter, thank goodness.

Stolen Obelisk

 

There must be thousands of feral cats in Rome.

They mostly hang out in the ruins and parks, but really, you see them absolutely everywhere. To this day the smells of cat urine, cypress trees and bus exhaust mingled on the air take me right back to Italy.


Marco Island, FL Burial at Sea Level

Marco Island’s right off the gulf coast near Naples.

Gorgeous sunset over the ocean

Naples, FL One of my favorite places to watch the sun set.

The island’s first inhabitants, the Calusa people, literally built the place up 5000 years ago by gathering huge mounds of shells that they used for burial sites. At sea level you have to build up to bury your dead.

Now-a-days the island’s built up in a whole different way. Millionaire mansions, fancy hotels, golf courses, and high-end shops just about smother any natural beauty Marco might once have offered. But there’s still one tiny cemetery. And they still lay their dead to rest above ground.

I love these boulder crypts. Ingenious!

They put entire families, cremated I assume, in one stone, then group all the relatives around the base of a tree.

The stone obviously isn’t local. Not a lot of granite on an island made of shells, but there’s still something appealingly organic about it.

There are still folks in this little cemetery buried in the traditional below-ground way. I loved this hand-carved declaration.

To find the cemetery…

Go to the tourist info office and ask for the “Self-Guided Quicktour” map. It’s quick alright, the islands only six miles long. There’s not actually a lot of history, but the map will get you to the cemetery.  Most of the tour consists of driving by mansions, fancy hotels and shops. The notation in the tour guide should read, “This is where there used to be…”


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