Monthly Archives: March 2014

Why is that ndsᴉpǝ poʍu?

Many folk customs arise from the belief that the supernatural world is a mirror image or a reversal of the living world.  Creatures, such as fairies, that belong to this twilight world can often be confounded if the living do things backward, such as wearing clothes inside out.  You can find traces of these customs in cemeteries, too, where symbols are shown upside down to indicate that the person buried here has entered another world.  Upside down torches were particularly popular in Victorian times.


Bury me by the dollar store

When someone sees what they consider “prime” land for a shopping mall, they often let very little stand in their way. But sometimes, developers do not get exactly what they want.  According to the story, the farmer who owned this land specified he’d sell — but the dead in the Tullahassee Creek Indian Cemetery had to remain where they are.

And so they are still there.

Their final resting place was restored in the 1980s and has remained fairly well maintained, though there are some broken stones.  About 42 graves are located in the cemetery; the most recent dates from 1912.

If you visit Atwood Plaza in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, you can go to the Family Dollar and/or the Radio Shack, visit the ATM in the parking lot, and stop by the cemetery.  But if you think you are visiting the only cemetery located in a parking lot, you would be wrong.  Several others have been documented, and you can see some of them on this site.


A tomb of the unknowns

Most of us in the U.S. have probably heard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.  At Westminster in London, you can visit the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.  If you are in Moscow, you can visit the Grave of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall.  No doubt you can find similar memorials elsewhere.

tomb of unknown civilians 03aaHowever, just outside the cathedral in Coventry, in Great Britain, you will find something a little different: a tomb dedicated to the unknown civilians killed in war.  Coventry was bombed during the Blitz, and on the night of November 14, 1940, much of the city, and its cathedral, were destroyed. Many hundreds of people were wounded, and approximately 570 people died — though an exact figure was never able to be determined.

The ruins of the old cathedral were left in place, while the new one stands just a few yards away.



An accidental Virginian

Nid oes a wna brydydd onid Duw a Nattur.

(Nothing makes a poet save God and Nature.)

In 1723 on the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon), a boy was born who would grow up both troubled and greatly talented.  He is still celebrated as one of the great poets of Wales, who revitalized two ancient meters, the awdl and the cywydd. His name was Goronwy Owen and he died, strangely enough, in Virginia.

Like many creative people, he had difficulty holding on to regular employment.  He drank too much. He experienced great losses, not least of which was what amounted to exile from his homeland after 1746, being unable to find work there.  He buried two wives and several children.

Virginia was hardly a place Owen wanted to go.  For years, he had longed to return to his native island and wrote, “Pa bryd y caf weled f’anwylyd Mon doreithiog a’i man draethau?” (When shall I see my beloved fertile Mon and her tiny beaches?) Yet, with a family to support, he had to go wherever work could be found, and in 1756, that meant leaving Britain forever for a job at William & Mary.  He got on the ship with a pregnant wife and two children.  He arrived in Virginia with the children.

Once again, drinking and ‘riotous behavior’ meant he was not long employed.

The final ten years of his life, Owen was the pastor at St. Andrews in Brunswick County. He had a small farm where he grew tobacco.  No doubt he continued to pine for his homeland.

You can find more on Goronwy Owen online, or, you might be able to find a copy of Branwen Jarvis’ 1986 book Writers of Wales: Goronwy Owen.

I leave you with a short poem of Owen’s.

Diwedd sydd i flodeuyn

Ac unwedd fydd diwedd dyn.

Gnawd i ardd, ped fai’r harddaf,

Edwi, ‘n ol dihoeni haf.

(There is an end to a flower/And such is the end of man

The habit of a garden, though it be the loveliest

Is to wither, after the decline of summer.)

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The flowers in this picture are snowdrops, which not only bloom on Owen’s grave, but also bloom every year at his birthplace, Dafarn Goch.

Was ist das?

Sometimes, you’ll find stones that aren’t in English.  The language they’ll be in will differ depending on who settled in the area, but around here, the language that most often shows up is German. Two easy things to learn about German inscriptions are the “Geb.” and “Gest.” abbreviations.  Geb. is short for geboren, and is the birth date.  Gest. is short for gestorben and marks the death date.


Memorials in the 21st century

Sometimes, it seems like we’ve had things like email and Facebook forever.  But the internet got off the ground a bare 25 years ago.  In that time, the importance of online communities has grown exponentially in people’s lives.

And in their deaths as well.

People memorialize their loved ones all the time on websites — either their own, or websites set up specifically to feature memorials.  But you can also memorialize someone inside the online game you played with that person.

Take this guy, for example: Gamer uses Minecraft to pay tribute to his late wife.  Though the article mentions that something similar happened in World of Warcraft, this remains unusual.  But as online communities grow over time, I expect this trend to continue on into the future.

Inscrutable inscriptions

People often have rather nice but ordinary statements like “together forever” or “at rest” inscribed on stones.  Sometimes, they go for a favorite poem or a verse from a religious text.  And then there are the ones that make it clear something dramatic and tragic happened, but most of the story remains an enigma.

This one says, Can’t help but feel the sorrow at such a tragic end. Hope you have reached your peace in death. I pray you live forever free.

I don’t know the details of this person’s life and death, but I second that emotion.


I’ll remember you with a decal

While at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company on the Big Island of Hawaii, I saw my first car window memorial decal.  It struck me as unusual so I took a photo.

Now I see them all the time.

I can’t say I really understand why one would put something like this on their car.  Was it the loved one’s car that you inherited?  Or is this just one more aspect of our culture where revealing everything about oneself in public is the new normal?  I can honestly say that, despite being a taphophile, I’ve never had the slightest interest in memorializing someone in this manner.

I mean, if you want to, great.  But I do find it puzzling.

memorial on car 061411 01aa

Old Jewish Quarter, Prague

While we were in Prague in 2007, my mother, husband, and I hired a tour guide for an afternoon to take us around what used to be the Jewish Quarter.  One of the oddest things our guide said to us (and she said some odd things), was “Oh, so you don’t want to see the interesting parts of Prague, then.”

That aside, she was definitely very knowledgeable and shared far more information with us than we could absorb in three hours.

We visited the Old Jewish Cemetery, several buildings that used to be synagogues (including the one where, according to legend, the infamous golem of Jewish folklore remains as a pile of clay in the attic), and the Jewish Museum.  One of the buildings we visited was the Pinkas Synagogue, where artwork created by the children in the Terezin camp is displayed.  The art was hidden and survived the war.  Most of the children did not.

If you’re ever in Prague, I recommend hiring a guide and touring this area of the city.  It’s fascinating, it’s educational, it’s tragic, and you’ll never forget it.

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