Friday, December 4, 2009

Carved in Stone

Headboards of Stone Grave Yard Rabbit Blog
Carved in Stone
by Angela L Burke
I by no means, claim to be a professional photographer, but, I very much enjoy taking photos in cemeteries. And while I may be a Paranormal Researcher, my main purpose in visiting cemeteries so frequently is not just to try and capture a spirit on film or a voice on my recorder. I have many reasons for visiting cemeteries.
One reason is because I enjoy documenting headstones for my tombstone genealogy projects and another is because I love the beauty, charm and exquisite artwork that are characteristic of the old stones. Many of the new stones are quite bland and boring. Only recently , with the introduction of the etched black marble stones, have any of the newer stones been that interesting.

Some of my favorite Mississippi cemeteries for beautiful stones include , Hillcrest Cemetery in Holly springs, The Natchez City Cemetery and Hernando Memorial Gardens (Old Section). but there are many cemeteries to explore and these are just some of the larger collections of beauty.

The headstones in a cemetery can tell you alot about the person buried there. Not just their times and dates of death , but some of the larger stones, from the 1800 era have personal and family histories, Military and career information, as well as political and social club affiliations and migration information.

In addition to the information that can be gleaned from a headstone, there is beautiful artwork and inscriptions that are sometimes unfamiliar to us, but which hold a wealth of information regarding the personality , religious and social standings of the persons buried there.

Being a poetry lover, I also enjoy reading the beautiful poetry that is left on the markers. There have been some that have brought me to tears, although I didn't know the person.
The wealthy and the poor, even after death, are recognizable, based on the intricacy and size of their headstones. The details and images of the hand carved stones are a lost art to headstone manufacturers of our time. Which is another reason that cemetery documentation and preservation are so important. Not only will the records of ancestors be lost, but the
memorial left behind to commemorate them will tragically be lost as well. Being apart of a preservation effort whether it is documentation, photography or hands on clean-up and restoration of cemeteries and stones is a very rewarding and important effort.

I frequently come across lost and abandoned cemeteries which are over grown, neglected and vandalized. It is a very sad thing when nobody, including the property owners or the descendants of the deceased cares enough or is able to even try to preserve their resting places.

If you photograph the stones and document the names of just one cemetery, you have done something to help in the preservation of our burial grounds. I encourage anyone who has an interest in cemeteries or has access to a paranormal or historical group to utilize your volunteers and give something back to the dead, by organizing at least one cemetery preservation project a year.

The Mississippi Society of Paranormal Investigators, which I am a Co Founder of, has adopted the Old Philadelphia Presbyterian Cemetery in Victoria.
A beautiful private owned cemetery , who's owner is in his elder years and has contributed nearly $10,000 dollars of his own money to remove trees and debris from the cemetery, unfortunately , although the cemetery has been declared an historical site by the State of Mississippi, he has been unable to get funding or resources or even volunteers from local churches to help him in preserving and cleaning up the cemetery.
I think this is a tragedy. Just because a cemetery is privately owned does not necessarily mean that we as a society are not responsible to ensure that it is preserved. Some cemeteries are inherited or owned by elderly descendants of those buried there and are unable to physically or financially keep them up. Many are owned by the state and local townships who have limited, if any funds to maintain them. I believe that it is up to us as a community to be responsible.

Our present day headstones tell us little about the lives of the persons interred and have few features that distinguish them as different. The introduction of the black etched marble stones are a welcome addition to the cemetery in my personal view as many of them depict scenes of interest that give the dead a personality to associate with. They are somewhat harder to
photograph however due to their reflective surfaces, but the stories they tell are most interesting. I also love the stones that have personal portraits of the person, this draws me in and helps me to associate with the fact that these were real human beings and not just a name carved on a stone.
I also love the angel art and statues found in cemeteries.
Some of them come alive with emotions when you look at them.
The trinkets and tiny statues left by grieving loved ones at grave memorials are sometimes odd and sometimes very personal and make you wonder what certain items might have meant to the person who lays to rest there. I recently came across a grave marker that had a small pair of sunglasses and tiny trinkets that would mean nothing to the
average person, and it made me wonder what memories might be associated between both the person interred and the person who left them.

I hope that the next time you drive past a cemetery that you make time to take a walk through it, that you take the time to notice the finer details of the stones you pass. Cemetery stones are not just a place marker, they are not just a plaque to let you know who's buried there. They are story tellers and works of art as well as clues to mysteries about the dead. And if you take the time to pay attention to the details, examine them closely, look and listen,........they just might speak to you.

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