Who Will Visit When We’re Gone?

Graveyards have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why. But even as a child I loved strolling through graveyards, reading tombstones, imagining the stories behind them. Where I grew up there was a small graveyard, up on a hill, that was fairly hidden from the road. It overlooked a river. Over time, erosion caused some of the caskets to become visible on the side of the hill. I loved to visit that particular cemetery because it was very small and the last person to be buried there was in the 1940’s because frankly, it was full. There were graves of early settlers and notable residents of our area. On one visit I noticed that many people, of various ages, all died within a year of each other. I raced to the library to see what I could find. A horrible flu caused many people to perish. This investigation took place almost 30 years ago so I can’t remember if it was the infamous 1918 Spanish Flu – but it wouldn’t surprise me. 2009_1030SeptOct20090078

And so everywhere I go I love to visit a graveyard there. Bien sur, while in Paris I had to visit Père Lachaise Cemetery. Among the inhabitants: Moliere, Frederic Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Jim Morrison, Honore de Balzac,  Oscar Wilde. This cemetery contains some of the most interesting headstones I have ever seen.

Rodenbach

Headstone for Georges Rodenbach

 I lived in an old brownstone in downtown Savannah, Georgia for a few years and would walk my dog to Colonial Park Cemetery. The Union troops during the Civil War kept horses and livestock in the graveyard. Bored, they tampered with headstones, making the oldest inhabitant 1700 years old when he died. Ten thousand bodies are buried there but due to disrepair and Union soldier mischief only 600 headstones remain.

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Colonial Park Cemetary - Savannah, GA

 Bonaventure Cemetery is one of the most beautiful, also located in Savannah. It overlooks the marsh and is nestled under a canopy of live oak trees and Spanish moss. Certainly one of the most compelling headstones for me was Gracie. Little Gracie Watson was born in 1883 and an only child. She died, at age 6, from pneumonia and her parents were devastated. It is said that Mr. Watson suffered a deep depression after she died and was no longer able to stay in Savannah. Before he left, he commissioned John Walz to create the sculpture for her tombstone. When I lived there, people would leave little toys or flowers in her lap.

graciefull

American poet, Conrad Aiken is also buried there. His marker, a stone bench with inscription, is one of my favorites. A friend of mine teases me because I want to be cremated when I die, scattered in the wind of places I loved.  I don’t want my body to clutter the earth, yet I love to visit cemeteries. I’ve told her I want a bench, just like Conrad Aiken’s, so people have a place to rest when they visit the people who didn’t mind staying in one place.

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aiken bench

 Death scares me. Cemeteries don’t. To me, they are fascinating places of history and legacy. Wandering the graves I want to know the stories of the people who have died.

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I create stories based on their age, epitaph, if family surrounds them. I wonder if anyone still visits them here. I imagine the life they lived and the imprint they left. Cemeteries make us pause and evaluate our own lives.  Will we make an impression that is lasting? Who will visit when we’re gone? 2009_1030SeptOct20090081

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Who Will Visit When We’re Gone?

  1. Yup, that’s me. I’m not afraid of death (tho I don’t intend on doing it for a VERY long time), but I am fascinated by the old cemeteries. My kids tease me because I also want to be cremated and not take up space. I love the old names. We have a stone for a 3 year old out here who died in the 1800’s. It’s huge and ornate and says “Mother’s Trudy,” and I always think how devastated they must have been to commission that big stone. We also have one from a 5 year old boy in 1995 that still always has toys and stuff left there. That breaks my heart.

  2. angelcel

    Wow, this provoked so many thoughts. I agree with you cemeteries are very interesting and thought provoking places. Since I started doing family history research a few years back, I also know that they can provide valuable clues, and therefore links, to our past – the personal touch on headstones, whether other family members are nearby, how ornate the stone is and whether there are many others who died at the same time (epidemic illness).

    I was always sure that I wanted to be cremated and in fact I haven’t told my family otherwise but now I’m not quite so sure because of all of the above. Both my parents were cremated and I’m aware that in many ways it is almost as though they have entirely vanished, never existed. Conversely I have found my great grandmother’s grave and can visit her. (Of course one can always visit the crematorium gardens but I don’t know if I’m making any sense here, it’s not quite the *same* as seeing a grave stone and in generations to come won’t provide quite the same family history clues).

    I think, on balance I’d still like to be cremated but, like you, to maybe have a stone bench made (a la Conrad Aiken) or for my family to plant a tree with a little stone plaque alongside.

  3. Love this post, along with the photos. I like visiting the old cemeteries. The newer ones just dont do it for me.

  4. That one headstone was Zombie like. What is the story with Georges? I have always liked cemeteries too. They are beautiful and peaceful places to be. I believe it gives comfort to the living when they visit the dead. They can still sit and chat with Mom, so to speak. For myself I haven’t decided, but the cost of even a modest funeral is high and cremation is more reasonably priced. Even death comes down to economics I guess.

  5. Cemeteries always have me wondering about the people in them. What joys they had, what sadnesses they’ve had. Who visits them.

    Great pictures~

  6. My grandmother’s hobby is “restoring” of markers and graves in Charleston, SC….she has the most fascinating stories of grave robbers and missing skeletons……I find them intresting and oddly calming.

    ……….and now I am contemplating a flu shot:)

  7. Kristin

    I had no idea you loved cemeteries! Me too. We need to do some exploring together…..

  8. Steven Harris

    “Death scares me. Cemeteries don’t.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. Maybe we’re both maudlin? I once lived in a village and there was a gravestone which told a very sad tale. The husband and wife buried there in the mid 19th century outlived quite a lot of their children it seems. Six of the children buried in the same plot all died within two days of one another so cholera or something similar might have devastated the family. The couple obviously tried to rebuild their lives and had more children – three of them died on the same day about eight years later. Tragic. But there may have been survivors, of course.

  9. We have some very old cemeteries in Philadelphia that amaze me. I find it hard to wrap my head around some of the dates on those markers, they are just sooo long ago. I always found the really old cemeteries to be serene, not spooky or eerie. But I am with you about not being buried. I love the idea of a bench! What a great post for All Soul’s day!

  10. Cemeteries fascinate me too! I have been to Savannah a few times (we don’t live far from Savannah) and I just love the Bonaventure cemetery. Did you know when they built some of roads in Savannah they discovered more bodies
    (grave sites w/no tombstones..Perhaps, caused by union soldier mischief).

    Fascinating that growing-up you had a cemetery close by that you could see the coffins of some graves due to erosion. Yikes!

  11. Wow. I always liked old cemeteries, but I never get to visit them. Something about being raised in the West where the old cemeteries are far from where the towns were started. But at least I can I’ve been to Tombstone’s cemetery. Now that’s something, though not nearly as pretty as your pictures.

  12. Mel

    Oh, I loved your post, and your photos. I love cemetaries too. I was born on the east coast, where some of the headstones are very old. I used to make rubbings when I was a child, and now satisfy myself with digital pictures. New Orleans cemetaries are very haunting, military cemetaries very sobering. Each headstone is a story, most of them lost, which makes me sad. I like those with benches and trees and I like visiting with random resting places, though oddly don’t care if I have one. I love taking pictures of the old churches too, they look so strong and calm, though church in itself never comforted me as much as sitting outside, or visiting with the dead.
    Excellent post, thanks.

  13. Death doesn’t scare me, but dying does. I want to be cremated too. I’m a Christian so I believe once you are dead your soul leaves your body anyway.

    My biggest fear would be being buried alive.

  14. I love cemetaries, their peacefulness, and their silent history.
    My eyes always water up when I see a child’s grave. It always breaks my heart.
    -Jen

  15. cemetaries just make me so sad! Not just children’s graves, all of them. You’d think I’d be at peace with death after working as a hopice nurse for 5 years, but No….it still sucks!

  16. LisaF

    I, too, find old cemeteries fascinating. I can spend hours in a old county church cemetery looking for the oldest stone. I imagine what kind of life they lived. It renews my interest in our own family’s genealogy and preserving the history of it for our kids and grandkids. Your photos are beautiful. But, George’s is rather disturbing! 🙂

  17. ck

    That was fascinating. You write on the most interesting subjects. This really made me want to go out and investigate a cemetery…

  18. I love cemeteries as well. Most of my family on my dad’s side is buried here – http://www.washelli.com/

    So I can visit my grandma Dorothy, my grandpa Edwin (who died when my dad was just 2 years old) my grandma’s brother Vernon and her sister Zelda, and even her parents. It’s quite lovely.

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