Green Space

One thing I’ve heard from people who either don’t like cemeteries or just feel like complaining is that cemeteries are a “waste of space.”  Which, I suppose, means that once you dedicate a cemetery, you won’t be using that land for shopping malls or highways.  You know, the responsible way to use “space.”

I think that point of view is exactly backward.  Cemeteries aren’t wastes of space — just take a look at the photo below.  This photo shows the majority of Bellefontaine Cemetery (314 acres) and the southern portion of Calvary Cemetery (477 acres) from the air.  That’s nearly 800 acres of real estate set aside for over one hundred species of trees, as well as many varieties of shrubs, grasses, and flowers.  The cemeteries have ponds and provide homes for many species of wildlife. The cemeteries may be a place to lay our own to rest, but they also are spaces for the natural world to live and grow and thrive.

When you fly over the area at night, you see a dark pool of blackness in the midst of millions of streetlights, car headlights, residential areas, and parking lots.  When you fly over during the day, you see the welcoming green areas completely hemmed in by industry and residences.

Is it a poor use of land, to have hundreds of acres of green space in our city?  To have wildlife continue to share the world with us?  To foster the growth of trees and host the songs of the birds?

I don’t think so.


For the living

Cemeteries are certainly places for the dead, but I believe, as I think this article makes clear, they are also places for the living.  If you want a cemetery to remain a place that is beautiful, peaceful, and worth placing your loved ones, it should be a part of, and embraced by, the community.  People who value the cemetery will be the ones who cherish it, protect it, and maintain it.  And, in return, the green space, the wildlife, and the peacefulness of the area will help maintain the visitors, too.

Why not an egg hunt?

A small corner of Georgia

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 . . .”

25_51st ohio memorial

The more information on a stone…

…the happier you make your friendly neighborhood genealogist.

For much of the twentieth century, grave markers showed a name and two dates — and the dates may or may not have included month and day.  Chances are, the entirety of the information on the stone was this:



But eventually, the trend ran to giving more information.  People started placing short statements like “Always Missed” or “Forever in our Hearts” on markers.  That trend has taken off these days to include additional information like marriage dates and the names of a couple’s children.

And then there’s this stone, which should make any local historian happy.  It even lists the names of all the grandchildren.  Now that’s thorough.


Remembering with ceramics

Many options for personalized grave markers have become available in the past ten to twenty years.  One of those options is having a portrait of your loved one emblazoned on a ceramic oval and then affixed to the marker.  These can be very nice, but they do have their issues.

For one thing, if water gets behind the ceramic memorial piece, it can freeze and pop the portrait right off the stone. We have seen these memorials lying rather forlornly in the grass near the marker they were previously affixed to.  Also, if not done correctly, the image will fade in only a few years and you will be left with just a blank white oval.

To help compensate for this, some companies inset the memorial photo into the granite of the stone, thus helping avoid the problem with freezing.  And to help avoid both freezing and fading issues, the company can inset the ceramic piece into a metal frame that comes complete with a lid, and then can secure this frame to the stone with screws.  To view the portrait the visitor must move the lid aside.

Putting a portrait on a stone can be a relatively inexpensive way to personalize something that is often very generic and bland, and can be a nice addition to a headstone.  Just keep in mind their limitations!



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.