Gone, But Not Forgotten
28 Oct 2016
I've never seen any ghouls, goblins, zombies or thank goodness, walking dead! I never expect to see them and I've never been disappointed. I roam historical cemetaries to hear the voices and the stories of those left behind under moss covered memorials. They were wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and children. They lived lives of love, joy, bitterness, and rivalry. They worked. They struggled. They played. They were. Just as I am.
Some burial sites are neglected, weeds and vines creep over marble stones erected over 100 years ago. Larger figures, angels, Christ, and replica's of children, are blackened by mold and grime. There are many crosses, some littered with rose petals, small pebbles or coins indicating someone visited and the one buried was remembered. An old Jewish cemetery beside Laurel Grove in Georgia has small lithograph photographs embedded in the granite headstones. The faces are dulled from age but still, if one looks closely, faces of the departed can be seen. They were real. They lived.
The monuments command reverence and respect and one roaming around does so with care to avoid the scattered chips of weathered stone or fallen branches. But the one left behind beckons to be heard and doesn't mind a random visitor with a camera. I've never had anyone complain.
Lighting is one of the most unique challenges, offering a variety of options including black and white, color or sepia. The landscape, often filled with older trees that drape over the plots. Slivers of sunlight dance oddly off the dirty white stone, creating shadows on the memorials. Despite the age, the detailsin the sculptures is oddly well preserved. My favorite, "For I Know He Hears Me" was so beautifully crafted, the vines up the cross delicately carved into the stone. The mold that covered the cross and the man kneeling enhanced the intricate carving and highlighted the fine craftsmanship. Color did little to accent the blend of whites, grays and blacks. The experience of walking among the departed is serene and lovely yet profound and intriguing.
I confess, the writer in me takes license and adds to the life of the departed. Louise Parker for example, encased in an elaborate marble box with a larger than life size angel standing over her, in my mind, was a mother, struck down in the late 1800's by influenza. She was a wealthy Southern woman, active in her church and devoted to her husband and children. Her grieving husband erected the marble tribute so that his beloved was not alone and not covered in dirt. Louise hated dirt and her husband buried her above ground and set the angel to keep her company till he joined her.
Those are the stories. But not all are in my imagination.
Gracie, the small child who died after an illness, had her own story and needed no embellishment of my creative imagination. Her father, the manager of the hotel in Savanah, hired a sculptor to carve an exact likeness of his treasured daughter from a photograph. Her memorial is life size and Gracie sits, poised in white, as a reminder that she lived and was loved. A photograph making her memorial everlasting.
That is probably the reason I am obsessed with historical cemeteries. It reminds us that these people lived and they have stories.
I have visited Bonaventure and Laurel Grove cemeteries in Savanah. I have spent countless hours roaming the historic Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts. I have found many smaller, overgrown and forgotten burial sites tucked away in rural South Carolina towns. These weathered headstones have dates as old as the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. These stones send my imagination into overdrive. Few have large memorials or statues of angels. Many are simple crosses but I did find one that was a set of marble praying hands. Simpler lives perhaps but no less loved or worthy of being remembered.
This winter I hope to return to Massachusetts and King's Chapel and Mount Auburn. The change in seasons should bring a change in lighting and shadows and if New England weather cooperates, I may get a snow covered path on which to tread. I am not intrigued by historical cemeteries for the macabre for to me, there is none. There are stories beneath those beautiful stones and a picture is often worth a thousand words.