Trolling Graveyards

Halloween is approaching so I feel obligated to do a quasi-creepy post. I’m generally a pretty cheerful person, so it may come as a surprise to you that I enjoy visiting graveyards–the older the better. We have a site next to my church that predates the American Revolution by well over 100 years. It’s the Old Granary Burial Ground near Boston Commons, final resting place of such luminaries as Paul Revere (that’s his gravestone in the picture to the left) and the original 5 victims of the Boston Massacre (an incidence of violence that precipitated the events leading up to the British invasion and Paul’s legendary midnight ride).

Samuel Adams (the patriot, not the beer) is buried here. Along with Benjamin Franklin’s parents and signer of the Declaration of Independence John Hancock.

But there are simpler bones resting in this interesting old graveyard as well. Some of the headstones date to the early 1600’s. Some are so weathered, their inscriptions are mere dimples, unreadable shadows of the past.

One of the things I do when I wander old graveyards is collect period names. I found Mrs. Waitstill Trott, a wonderfully evocative name I’m using for my hero’s housekeeper in my current WIP, Touch of a Rogue. Another name from the Old Granary that will appear in that work is Gershom Flagg, who’ll be a blacksmith.

The art on these old markers is interesting. The winged skull is a frequently used device, more common than Christian symbology, which surprised me since there are many Puritan graves in the Old Granary Burial Ground. Some of the stones have admonitory verse on them, a reminder to passersby of their own mortality or a call to improve themselves prior to joining the deceased in their dark silence.

This picture isn’t clear enough to read, but here’s the verse on this stone:

Farewell Vain World I have Enough of the,

and now I’m Careless what thou Say of me

What Fault thou See in me

Take Care to Shun

There worke within thy Self

That Should be Done,

Thy smiles I Court not, nor thy Frowns I fear

My Cares are past my head lies quiet here.

As you can see, the spelling is irregular–“the” instead of “thee,” worke with an added e. This stone is pre-Daniel Webster and his dictionary which began to standardize common spellings. I’m not quite sure what rules of grammar governed the capitalization. It seems pretty random. Several stones in the graveyard use a figure that looks like a lower case “f” for an “s.”

Visiting graveyards does seem a little ghoulish, doesn’t it? So now I’m wondering if my fascination with them is unusual or if any of the rest of you enjoy a quiet stroll among the departed? Have you ever had an unusual experience in one?

21 thoughts on “Trolling Graveyards

  1. Rhiannon Mills says:

    I had a most peculiar experience in a cemetary once. I was probably nine months pregnant with my daughter and going through one of the oldest cemeteries in my county. Most of the stones were broken or gone, and there are no caretakers for that particular site anymore. Anyhoo…I found a tomb stone marked quot;Kelly R. Mills.quot;…that#39;s my name! The odd part is that the date of death was July 16, 1783. I was born on July 16, 1983. I colored over the stone with a piece of paper and a pencil and kept it!

  2. MiaMarlowe says:

    Marcy–I#39;m glad you were able to revisit that pleasant memory. br /br /Ok, is there anyone from Germany out there who can answer Marcy#39;s question? Do folks still place candle lanterns on graves on Nov. 1st? Christmas trees in December?

  3. MiaMarlowe says:

    Barb–There are some funny epitaphs out there. Here#39;s one of my favorites from Larne, Ireland on the grave of a fellow hanged for sheep stealing: br /iHere lies the body of Thomas Kempbr /Who lived by wool and died by hemp./i

  4. MiaMarlowe says:

    Nynke–Ever the linguist! I thought there were a few superscript letters, but couldn#39;t quite make them out on my screen.

  5. MiaMarlowe says:

    Brenna–Graveyards are sobering places. But they can be an affirmation of life too, a way to claim a bit of earth and mark that this person was here and made a difference by passing through.

  6. MiaMarlowe says:

    Sandy–Aren#39;t you the brave one? I#39;d never wander a cemetery by night, especially not near Halloween. I have too good an imagination for that to be a comfortable stroll.

  7. MiaMarlowe says:

    Saranna–Since you like Wild West cemeteries, I#39;ll tell you about the one near our place when we lived in Wyoming. It had been a cemetery since before Wyoming was a state and had a quot;boot hillquot; section for quot;All the cowboys, known and unknown who rest here.quot; br /br /Very peaceful with gorgous views of the Big Horn mountains.

  8. Marcy W says:

    Your comments brought an instant image to my mind, one I haven#39;t thought of in a long time. When I was a kid (11 or 12), we were living in Munich, Germany (dad was in the Army), and next door to our housing area was a very long, high brick wall. On the other side was a graveyard, full of old graves and huge old trees, and nicely kept paths, with benches every so often: as much park as anything else. My grandmother and I took walks there. We loved the traditions, unfamiliar to us, of lighting candle-lanterns on graves on All Saints#39; Day evening, and of putting small decorated trees on graves at Christmas. That was the early 1960#39;s, and I wonder if those traditions are still in use!? br /Thanks, Mia, for prompting this memory … I miss my grandmother, and revisiting those quiet times with her is very sweet. That experience colored my view of graveyards, and I#39;ve always found them, especially old ones, tranquil, quiet, lovely places to visit and spend time.

  9. Barb H says:

    Yes, I, too, like to wander through these places, although on a bright, sunny day. It makes me sad, sometimes, to see the dates and names and I wonder what their stories were. Sometimes, tho, there are unintended (or perhaps not so unintended) amusing/ironic comments. br /br /Often we#39;d find family plots in the middle of fields or tucked away in now-wooded areas that were heck to get to.

  10. Nynke says:

    I love looking at old gravestones, too! The really old ones where I grew up, a little village in the north of Holland, are in an old form of the local dialect, which makes them even more exotic in a way. br /br /When I grew up, we used to visit relatives#39; graves as well, and I really don#39;t remember where most of them were – a very familiar story! I wonder whether my dad will pass all that knowledge on before he grows too old…br /br /I really liked the verse you quoted, Mia. It#39;s not just a run-of-the-mill admonition, it actually scans and rhymes really nicely, too… I took a look at the large version of the picture, and if you look closely, you can see that there#39;s a couple of verb endings that are added in small superscript: #39;sayst#39; and #39;seest#39;, and there is a small #39;s#39; added to #39;there#39; as well, so it actually reads #39;There#39;s worke within thy Self / That Should be Done#39;.

  11. Brenna Ash says:

    Mia,br /Great post! I love walking through cemetaries and exploring all of the old headstones. So many story ideas. It creeps my daugther out, but I love it!br /Brenna

  12. Sandy says:

    You brought back some great memories, Mia. On Memorial and any season change we go to the cemetary where my mother is buried and all our family. We clean around her stone and put seasonal flowers in the vase on her stone. She loved flowers. br /br /I also remember as a kid going to the cemetary with other kids and telling spooky stories, especially on Halloween. lol

  13. Saranna DeWylde says:

    Oh, lovely! I enjoy taking pictures of headstones. I was going to do a headstone coffee table book with some of the graveyards where I live. br /br /Buffalo Bill Cody#39;s father is buried here and then there#39;s the cemetery at Leavenworth with such notable names as Pretty Boy Floyd and Machine Gun Kelly. br /br /What I found especially fascinating were the carvings on some of the headstones for members of the female masonic order: The Order of the Eastern Star.

  14. MiaMarlowe says:

    Ann–One of the many jobs in my past was answering the phone at a funeral parlor at night when the director wanted to take his wife out for dinner and a movie. My dad, always helpful, admonished me before I went to work, quot;It#39;s not them dead ones you need to worry about, daughter. It#39;s them LIVE ones!quot;

  15. Ann Best says:

    This does take me along many a memory lane of graveyards, some of them filled with old stones and wonderful verses like the one you posted above. Nothing particularly ghoulish, though; only I never strolled through one in the dark!br /a href=”http://ann-jen.blogspot.com/” rel=”nofollow”iAnn/i/a

  16. MiaMarlowe says:

    Christie–Happy Halloween to you too. I have to admit now that I live in Sleep Hollow country, I understand that story better. Massachusetts is heavily wooded once you get outside Boston proper with a surprising number of boggy places. Spooky indeed.

  17. MiaMarlowe says:

    City Chick– Our family reunion was held in VA one year where some of the original family settled back in pre-Revolutionary days. It was interesting, and a little disconcerting, to visit the church in that parish and see the headstones with my maiden name on them so far from where I grew up.

  18. Christie Craig says:

    Mia,br /br /I love graveyards. There are always filled with pockets of emotion. I love the spooky feeling. Happy Halloween.br /br /CC

  19. The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick says:

    I LOVE exploring old cemeteries. They are so interesting and peaceful. It#39;s the newer sections of cemeteries I can linger in because it feels too quot;unsettled.quot; But I have been to the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston. Loved it! I went to several really old cemeteries when I was back east a few years ago in Boston and Salem. And I know exactly what you mean about the quot;Decoration Dayquot; instead of Memorial Day. That#39;s what my grandparents called it, too. We#39;d trek as a family to easter Washington that time every year and did a caravan out to the cemetery where all of our old relatives are buried to clean up, place flowers, and basically have a mini family reunion. My relatives brought with them the European tradition of having a glass encased photograph mounted on their headstones, so it was like they were still present…which they no doubt were. ;-)

  20. MiaMarlowe says:

    When I was a kid, my grandparents called Memorial Day quot;Decoration Dayquot; because we took a day long tour of all the little country graveyards where departed relatives rested. We pulled weeds and left flowers for people I#39;d never met but who somehow shared a genetic connection with me. Sadly, I don#39;t have any idea where most of those graves are now.

  21. Gillian Layne says:

    Fascinating! My dad loves to examine old headstones as well, and he keeps an extensive list of what family member is buried where. It#39;s surprising how quickly that type of information can be lost when families spread out.

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