One of my favorite novels of all time is Watership Down. The first time I went to Britain with my husband, I made sure we stopped for a few days in the town nearest the down, which is Kingsclere in Hampshire. While there, we learned about how King John visited the town once, and had a sleepless night because he was tormented by bedbugs. He demanded that the locals banish their bedbugs far away, and the furthest point they could think of was on top of the church. And that’s where a golden bedbug sits to this day. The cemetery around Kingsclere is a charming place, so if you’re ever in the area, take the time to visit the cemetery, the church, and its infamous bedbug.
Memorials can be found almost anywhere these days, from car windows to sidewalk pavers to small signs like this, which we found on a walk. The sign had been placed in one of this neighborhood’s common areas. No word on how the folks who mow the lawn feel about it.
I think, if I lived in this neighborhood, I would be pleased to see signs like this, but maybe I just like to think about people being remembered for nice things. It’s sweet to contemplate that the people of this neighborhood fondly remember Mr. Swift for the pleasant memories and lovely gardens he has left to those who have not yet joined him in the “infinite garden.”
If you’ve ever watched Monty Python, you’ve likely seen at least one sketch where the guys launch into a rendition of Jerusalem.
And did those feet, in ancient times / Walk upon England’s mountains green? (listen here)
Those are the words of William Blake (1757-1827), poet and painter. I had no idea our last trip to London would feature Blake on two consecutive days. On one day, we visited a cemetery and there, near the center, was a marker for Blake and his wife.
Though the marker doesn’t actually denote Blake’s burial spot (the marker having been moved in the 60s), you can still visit the marker in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground and know you’re within a few yards of the poet’s last resting place. Closest Tube stop, Old Street on the Northern Line.
This month, we had a chance to visit Ste. Genevieve, billed as the “Oldest Town in Missouri.” It may well be. The original town was founded ca. 1735, but was washed away by a flood in 1785. At that time, the town was moved to its current location. The oldest structure still standing in town is from 1790.
The French history of Missouri is on display in town, from the artifacts in the small museum, to the use of the fleur de lis everywhere, to the language on the tombstones. Here is just one example.
If you can read French, ponder this stone, and let me know if you can translate it. I have a shaky knowledge of German, but not of French.
Ste. Genevieve offers more than some interesting epitaphs — of the five known examples of French Colonial vertical log construction in the United States, three are in town. The town also boasts many small shops and restaurants. We always make a point to eat at the Anvil because their onion rings are the best.
In fact, here’s me with an onion ring.
If you travel around the area to the town of Kaskaskia, you can also find the Liberty Bell of the West, which was rung on July 4, 1778, to commemorate the capture of the town from the British by George Rogers Clark. Though you might not realize that this area of the United States played a part in the Revolutionary War, it did. The western side of the river was under Spanish control, but everything east of the Mississippi was claimed by Britain, even though most of the residents were French. Today, the river’s course has moved east so that Kaskaskia is accessible by road from Ste. Genevieve without crossing the river. It is, in fact, a tiny of slice of Illinois on the Missouri side of the Mississippi.
But for the taphophile, the cemetery is the main draw. It’s small but well-maintained and offers plenty of shade and intriguing stones. It’s just a little interesting slice of early French-American life and, of course, death.
The National Funeral Directors Association states on their website that baby boomers see funerals as “a valuable part of the grieving process and are seeking ways to make them meaningful.” And unique: everyone these days wants to be an individual in death as much as they were in life.
Personally, I like that. While I can appreciate the regimented order of a military cemetery, the haphazard spread of markers of different materials, fonts, and symbols is much more interesting, and much more inviting. This particular marker, in a cemetery in Arrowtown on the South Island of New Zealand, shows a lovely uniqueness. I’ve never seen a marker of this particular green stone, and the way it has been left rough is quite attractive.
I’m not a baby boomer, but I have a preference for uniqueness as well. What about you? What sort of marker would you prefer (assuming you want one at all)?
Last Friday, we visited Green-Wood Cemetery, a 478-acre cemetery in Brooklyn. It was founded in 1838 and, within thirty years, became a significant tourist attraction. I could spend days there looking at all the various angels and columns and interesting inscriptions. As it was, we had only about 1 1/2 hours, so we couldn’t see much.
Besides tours of the cemetery, other events, such as plays, are offered there. While we were in New York, the weather was rainy enough in the evenings that the productions were canceled. And what play were they offering at Green-Wood last week? If you guessed Our Town, you were right.
Sadly, the rain and clouds meant the morning we were there was hazy and overcast, so our pictures are not that impressive. Tempus fugit, and so does good light and propitious weather for the photographer.
If you have time while you are in New York to visit Green-Wood Cemetery, I would highly recommend it. Spend more than 1 1/2 hours there if you can — it’s beautiful, even on a dreary overcast day. And sweetly, many of the sculptures face northwest so that they, like this little angel, can spend eternity with an unobstructed view of Lower Manhattan, including the Statue of Liberty.
Many of us who like cemeteries are fascinated by the history they contain. This article discusses the “Graveyard Girls” who troop around to New England’s cemeteries, preserving their history and giving presentations. Wish I lived closer, so we could hang out at some cemeteries together!
Arlington National Cemetery turned 150 years old this week. The cemetery holds over 300,000 graves and adds roughly 25 graves per day. It is, of course, the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as being the final resting place of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, and thousands of others, including:
Ruby Bradley, most decorated woman in U.S. military history
Juliet Opie Hopkins, known as the Florence Nightingale of the South
Mark Matthews, last Buffalo Soldier
Francis Gary Powers, U2 pilot shot down over the Soviet Union
Thomas Selfridge, first person to die in the crash of a powered aircraft
Charles Young, first African-American colonel in the U.S. Army
War memorials can be found in many places. One that I went specifically to find was this memorial for the 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Chickamauga, Georgia.
One of my ancestors, Thomas Elliott, was in the 51st Ohio and was wounded at Chickamauga. The following is a transcription of a statement by one of his officers, which was given when Elliott applied for an invalid pension. The end of the statement is missing on my copy. Although the officer here states that Elliott was wounded on the 20th, other documents I have show he was wounded on the 19th, listed as MIA, and discovered on the battlefield on the 20th. One can only try to imagine the horror of lying wounded on the field all night among the dead and dying.“I, William Moore, do hereby certify that I was Captain of Company I of the 51st Regiment of Ohio Volunteers, and am acquainted with Thomas Elliott, who was a member of my Company, and as I am informed is an applicant for an Invalid Pension. That the said Thomas Elliott was mustered into service on or about the 3rd day of October, A.D. 1861, and discharged about the 17th day of October 1864 having become disabled from doing duty as a soldier from on or about the 2nd day of January A.D. 1863 while in the service of the United States, and in the line of duty as a soldier, in the manner and at the place as follows: at Battle of Stone River was shot and wounded by the enemy in the left leg above the knee, the ball passing through thigh it wholly disqualified him from further duty and sending him to the hospital causing an absence from the Co. of about five months. Also at Chickamauga Ga. in battle he was wounded again Sept 20, 1863 the ball entering his right side below the armpit passing around or through and making an exit on right side spinal column wholly disqualifying him from further duty and sending him to hospital causing his absence about seven months, all of which wounds were recd under my command as aforesaid being his comdg officer at the battle of Chickamauga. Was Lieutenant only at battle of Stone River. That the said soldier was in good health at the time he entered the service, and the disability above referred to affected him while in the service, and at his discharge as follows: he was by his wounds wholly unfit for further service and should have been discharged by . . .”