Friday, October 30, 2009

All Hallows

No matter what you believe, in the Autumn, our thoughts go to the cycles of life, the death (harvest) of the plants, and the hope for the renewal in the spring.
On a bright cheery afternoon last week we went to the Mount Bethel cemetery in Columbia PA to look up and visit some relatives. This place was founded in 1720, and although some find graveyards macabre, they are such a commentary on the human condition in times past. Styles have really changed. This cemetery contains no lasered photographs on monuments. All are hand carved.
Many, many of these memorials are for teens or younger children. As I walked, the sense of longing, sadness and love was palpable.
These towers and obelisks are so different from what we'd have today. There is much ornate carving, but many of the stones are sandstone, easily worn away within 100 - 150 years.
only daughter and first-born son...
We forget how lucky we are to have so many deadly childhood diseases irradicated or manageable today. That isn't a statement for OR against innoculations - it is simply an observation. Imagine the terror parents felt the instant a child ran a fever.
I could imagine a loved one running their hand over the flowers on this monument, or sitting upon the front part, which is fashioned like a small bed, or chaise lounge.
Although the families of these people are mostly gone themselves, we can still mourn with them as we pass. Notice the "m's" on the stone below... they resemble the willow tree motif that is often used.
On the base of the pedastal at the foot of this stone, "we love you still".
This gentleman was a poet, writer, and it would seem from the writings on all four sides of his obelisk, much loved by the community as well as his family.

No explanation needed....This celtic cross was about 10 feet tall.

So much of the carving was gone from the stone that it was unreadable.
No age given. No years. Just "our boy".
This one held me for a long time. Mary was 9. Her parents are nearby, and she is the only child with them.
For some reason, this struck me as if to say, "hey! wait a minute, I have something more to say..."

This long row of tablet style graves and those like this used to terrify me as a child, as I assumed that the body was above ground. It was just another style of monument.
An angel watches over.
Again, I chuckled at this tiny obelisk. In the tradition and style of the soaring 10, 12, and 25 foot giants in the nearby background, this perfect little stone was for a child.

A wee lamb nestled in beside a tree stump. One of my favorite styles, but worn almost beyond recognition.
This little lamb will also wear away before too long. It is only from 1922 - relatively new in gravestone years.

So we walked, and we mourned, and we laughed. In some instances, we nearly cried. I suppose that in many cases, the only trace that these people existed is these stones. Now we have photographs, paperwork, and so many "footprints". But for these people, it is just the stone.


Marnie said...

Beautiful pictures Tina. For my master's thesis in anthropology, I did a study on rural nineteenth century gravestones and how they related to 'indexical communication' - basically, a marker of social status. When my husband and I went to Charleston several years ago, the first thing on the list of things to do was to check out the oldest cemeteries. We took lots of pictures (rosemary four fee tall!) that hang in my hallway. I suppose some might think my choice of artwork macabre. :)

Tina Sams said...

They are sort of like a cross between public love-letters and sometimes the one and only chance to let people know who a loved one was. I love graveyards.

Lynelle said...

I'm also passionate about graveyards. People devote so much effort and money to the headstones and markers, and they truly are artworks - methods of creative expression.

Laura said...

This was AWESOME, Tina! What a way to capture the spirit (no pun intended)! Happy Halloween!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the photographs and thought commentary. I enjoyed it very much.

Bridgett said...

Just beautiful.
And sad.
And inspiring.

Thank you for sharing these stones with us. I particularly loved that celtic cross.


Granny Sue said...

This was a lovely post. Like you, I visit graveyards. Once I thought I wanted to be cremated but now, knowing the sense of peace, respect and humility one feels in a cemetery, I would much rather be in the ground with a stone over me so that others might have the same experience. Without the stones these people would be gone and forgotten. You honored them with your visit.