Archive for the ‘Cemetery’ Category

No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

Matriarca Rivelato

April 1st, 2012

Bless or blame Google Translate and I hope the heading is not wacky. I had a little thrill this morning to see the matriarch revealed.

For many years, I have seen the grand dame’s statue in shade. This morning the light was finally right and the trees were not at all in leaf. The life-sized representation of Maddalena Caporale, died in 1939 at age 66, was in its glory.

This columned work is in Roslindale’s St. Michael Cemetery. That is across the street from JP’s Forest Hills. As FH is WASPy dignified and largely eschews personal images, at least from the 20th Century on, SM revels in them. As FH is a garden with grand sculpture and splendid runs of grass and plantings, SM is a necropolis. Sure, it has borders of mausolea, where caskets are stacked four high and lovingly furnished with frequently visited internal altars, but SM is in the European mold — close packed graves and many, many busts of the grieved young, the esteemed old, and of course the Catholic ideals of St. Christopher, Jesus, and Mary everywhere.

Yet, Signorina Caporale sits alone. She is imposing.

Assuming the unlisted sculptor worked from a formal portrait, we can’t learn much of her personality from the work. Nor is there an epitaph or mini-bio as so many monuments have. She appears neither grinning or scowling.

We can infer she was worth a lot of trouble and expense. With the light finally on her face, I am left to wonder whether she was feared, loved, or respected.

Block Island’s Markers

September 16th, 2011

This week, we biked and walked around Block Island for three days. As a iconography fan and cemetery tourist, I went to the Island Cemetery and the Indian Cemetery there. They could hardly be more different.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The Narragansett lived on the island from maybe 1300 BC. The smallish Indian Cemetery in the middle of the bottom of BI is only vaguely like our European ideas. While there are a few labeled tombstones, most of those with any stone are very close together (upright, non-casket burials), raw native rock, and no markings. The humor at the moment is that more and more white folk are asking for green burials that just return the bodies to the earth. BIindian1
BIdodgewinged The main cemetery started in the mid-17th century, but had few classic N.E. iconography examples, and no visible, sturdy slate. Here’s one of the winged transitional imagery.
There was iconography artistry though. With different carvers than those in Northern N.E., much style went into such standard images as the willow, indicating life. BIwillow
BImottwillow Several used the 3D version of the willow.
Small details, such as the background placement of the urn indicating the body, show the artist’s interpretation and skill. BIwillow1
BIheavenclose Among similarities with N.E. stones, the heavenward index finger appeared on many stones.
Likewise, the hand clasp of farewell with an implicit promise of greeting later was on numerous stones. BImitchellclose
BInicholasballpen Only a few showed lots of ego. When the King of Block Island, Nicholas Ball (might be a relative) died in 1896, he set himself up with a royal marker. The top had a pen and journal because he wrote self-aggrandizing travel memoirs, an anchor and rope because he was a sea captain, and construction tools because he designed and had built BI’s huge hotel.
As proof of colonial and young nation’s high infant mortality, there are many 17th through 19th century markers. Some were for yet-to-be-named children. BIbabe4
Bibabe1 Many were elaborate, even more so than the parents’ stones. Of these, the marker was often for an only child.
One child’s stone stand up and out for its candor. Here the only offspring, Lora Rose of Ambrose and Laura, died at just under two and one-half. The scold to the Almighty reads simply, “God takes the good” — nuff said. BIbabe2

Niner One One Respite

September 14th, 2011

Through the accident of calenders and school schedules, we headed to Block Island on September 11th. The side effect was a relief from the relentless, if understandably expected, leaping, braying 10th-anniversary commentary.

Leading up to and in that morning’s papers, NYT and Globe definitely included, were all 9/11, from not-news to full-page ads, to editorials. Americanism points were in the tally for everyone. Advertisers see a chance for another few bucks by association. Editors feign insight or wisdom where they had none. No one it seemed wanted to appear less patriotic and involved than the next exploiter.

We had long before found that this year, Sunday, 9/11 would be the very end of the tourist season there. Rooms were more available, enough restaurants were still open to satisfy, and we would not be madras to polyester with other interlopers.

We took cell phones for family contact…if necessary. However, Even though our guest house did not brag about WiFi, I figured that there’d be lots of free wireless around. Hence the decision about whether to go three days without internet, news or social media. I admit to a Jones on all.

We receive multiple newspapers (each of us having been newspaper and magazine writers and editors). We’re on the tubes throughout the day, and blog, tweet and blah blah blah.


Yet when it came time to pack, I looked at laptops and the iPad. I realized I had lots of room and any of them would be light. Upon arriving, I could fire one up or not.

The planned or-not won. I took nothing.

We left early, right after breakfast and the Sunday papers. We didn’t speak of 9/11 and had no reminder until the ferry left Port Judith. There and then a Coast Guard gunship paced us to and beyond the breakwater, well into the open sound.

That’s not usual and almost certainly a date-specific display of caution or precaution or something. It was certainly unnecessary and suited only for those simpleminded who are wont to chant, “Better safe than sorry.”

For three days and two nights, we did just fine. We spoke to each other, of literature, of the wildlife and other nature we saw or touched or photographed, of our kids a bit, of our current and earlier selves more, and of the comparative textures and tastes of food and drink before us. We biked every paved foot of the island. We marveled in the deep tones of the shingles — round pebbles thumping insistently to beat of the tide — as we walked upper Crescent Beach. We toured Indian and white-settler cemeteries.

Returning Tuesday PM to the newspapers, the net, and the news, we missed nothing. Commenters had nothing original nor insightful nor wise not palliative. They spoke flatulent words only competitively, because everyone else was doing it.

As emergencies and wars and crushing disappointments prove our mental and intellectual mettle, so do eulogies and memorials demonstrate our compassion and understanding. The many efforts we saw on returning failed. If the worst of times brings out the tritest of clichés in us, we had best speak aloud to ourselves what we intend to say…and then keep quiet.

Skulls to Wheat in West Roxbury

August 21st, 2011

If Forest Hills is a palace among cemeteries, Westerly is a studio apartment, one with a terrible view, but well furnished nonetheless. Today I wandered a bit in the wee West Roxbury burying ground. It has treasurers.

In particularly, Westerly’s existence reflects WR’s then and current attitude. As part of Roxbury and founded about the same time as Boston, near 1630, what became West Roxbury had to have their own, as they do now. The locals buried their bodies in Eliot Street ground, at what became Dudley Square. In 1683, the gentry in western Roxbury decided it was too much of a bother and set up their own cemetery, with the first burial in 1691.

hannahFor us cemetery and iconography freaks, the keen feature is that the ground with only a few hundred burials (many currently who knows where and without stones remaining), Westerly has examples of three centuries of New England stones.

While the MFA filched one as an good example of the slate stone, none of the iconography is unique or even spectacular. However, this little ground is a fine place to see a wide range in a single location.

That spot by the bye is now the backyard of the gigantic Walgreen’s on Centre Street. The unlocked entrance is behind a bus stop at LaGrange. It’s right there, but even many locals don’t notice it or stroll through. It’s on the historic register and comes with the standard restrictions, like no dog walking, no booze, and no gravestone rubbing.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Westerly has many examples of the N.E. classic icon of a winged skull. These are symbols of transformation — to the afterlife. Mehetabel Newel (d. 1739) is a fine example of the early 18th Century work, replete with side scrolling. MehetabelNewel
Newelskull The top in slate is finely carved and has survived well.
Robert Seaver’s (died 1770) already shows the personalization. The original Puritans allegedly saw no chance of communication with the Almighty, yet the skull ornamentation continued to evolve from stylized bones to faces. I’d bet that this resembled Seaver. robertseaver
EBacon1 An older stone, Elizabeth Bacon (died 1713) showed what happened when you gave license to the carver, who expanded the acceptable symbolism. These works are unsigned, although some carvers were prolific enough to be known.
Some of the starkest examples of the skull remain the most straightforward. Here the stone of Benjamin Lyon (died 1752) were Puritan in providing just his death and age, although with modest scroll work lyonfull
WillieHunting In some cemeteries, stones of infants and small children have wee lambs and such. Here, Little Willie (Hunting, died 1860), under two years, had no decoration.
More typically for a child, four year old Abby Harper (died 1845) had a stone with simple wording, but flowers in bud and blossom. Of course, those represented a young life. These are among the most poignant in some cemeteries when there are several blossom or lamb stones together for youngsters who fell to an epidemic. childflowers
guildclose Westerly has a common icon that appears in many N.E. cemeteries. The gathered sheaf of wheat represents God harvesting the people in their time.
Wheat often appeared in whole family plots. Here, the (died 1877 and 1878) stones of Abner and Mary Guild show the symbol, clearly done by the same carver. guilds
draperclose A variation in the same period was a sheaf on top of the stone. This might appear on a single grave, or as here in the mid-to-late 18th Century family stone of the Drapers.
Despite the elaborate carving, these wheat bundles survive amazingly well. Here the 1840 stone topping still shows detail. sheaftop
urncherub Westerly has several other common symbols done well, particularly the urn and willow. Here, an early version on the stone of William Lyon (died 1714) shows cherubs bearing a urn. The container symbolizes the soul within the body, with the transformation winged skull above, as the little angels carry the urn off. We presume there were headed upward.
More typically, stones came to include willows. These trees symbolized eternal life. Here a particularly fine specimen appears on an 1877 stone. willow1877
willowurn As in the previous from the same period, the willow appears next to an urn, with its body/soul symbolism.

Resident directory: The 280 known burials have gotten history buffs excited. The Find-a-Grave site lets you search them, many with images and some with transcriptions of the text. No one hugely famous is here, but there are many from pre-Revolutionary through the Civil War.

Where Is Thankful?

July 27th, 2011

preacherwifeSurely I have read and seen too many horror entertainments. A massive double tombstone in Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery stopped me.

On the left side of the marble book, Rev. Elisha B. Bradford was noted to live from 1811 to 1895. On the right, his wife, Thankful T. Faunce, was born in 1818…

He was a Methodist minister known for his powerful preaching on the circuit. However, we have no reason to believe there was an on-the-third-day miracle here. We can be sure we would have gotten the word if she were still walking around at nearly 200.

Where is Thankful?

If you pardon, I am thankful for the internet and its trove of obscure data. We can learn:

  • There is a biography in an old Methodist Conference book that Google digitized.
  • Elisha was a seventh-generation direct descendant of MA Gov. William Bradford.
  • Smart and ambitious, he started in manufacturing with the aim of wealth.
  • He heard his God ask him, “Are you willing to become poor for Jesus sake?” and he resolved that he was. He chose the demanding life of a Methodist, riding among churches.
  • On May 30, 1838, he and Thankful wed and remained so until his death.
  • They had a happy life, with one major exception. Their first-born and only son died at six months. That was “Brother Bradfords great grief, and on that really shadowed his whole life.” Two daughters grew to adulthood and outlived the parents.
  • Thankful lived with one daughter after Elisha’s death. She died at 93 in 1912 (date from the Mormon genealogy site).

That daughter remained local. I found no record of Thankful’s interment. Yet, I surmise that she almost certainly is there by her page of the marble book. Discarding the notion that she walks among us, I wonder then did New England frugality win out and no carver was contracted to fill in the right side of the hyphen?

Two Neighborhoods, Two Soldiers

July 25th, 2011

In Boston, Dorchester has a personalized Civil War memorial and Hyde Park a more generic one. A clean shaven, stalwart, strong chinned bronze soldier in HP’s Fairview cemetery stands for all. Benjamin Stone is the personification of local hero in Dot’s Cedar Grove. He appears with ragged hair and drooping mustache.

bstonechumIn fact, the late Capt. Stone’s name appears on the town’s Soldiers Memorial and a Grand Army of the Republic post. He was a bit of a pied piper though, recruiting and leading the men of the town South to their death in support of the Union. Looking at the long rows of headstones behind his statue, I am not sure I would have been so fond of him had I been a parent, sibling, fiancee or spouse who lost a man.

In his early 40s, Stone earned a living engraving (printing) music. Married, with kids, he was highly patriotic. At the start of the war, he apparently had no doubt that someone had to organize the local effort. He did, recruiting many of his peers, highly disproportionate to other towns.

DotStone3That became the Massachusetts 11th Regiment, Company K. As was OK at the time, it elected him as leader, suddenly Capt. Stone. They trained at Fort Warren and headed to where the bulk of the war was fought, Virginia.

There at Manassas (a.k.a. Bull Run for the local creek), he was one of 113 of the company to be fatally wounded. He died a couple of weeks later in a hospital after a leg amputation. In the end, only 12 of the company returned to Dorchester.

Incongruously it seems, Stone’s remains are in Dorchester North cemetery, in his mother’s plot and not where the townsfolk erected  his statue. It makes sense in that many of his fellow soldiers from Company K are in Cedar Grove.

Plus, Cedar Grove did not organize until 1867. Boston annexed Dorchester three years later, that cemetery became a government one, until it returned to a private one in 1887.

An opposite process happened at Fairview in Hyde Park. Formerly part of Dedham, HP became its own town with its own cemetery. Fairview opened in 1893 on the banks of Mother Brook. After HP agreed to become the last neighborhood of Boston in 1912, the city took over the grounds.

fairviewsoldier1Previously, the HP prominent families had large, open plots. Those parts still have the bucolic appearance of a garden cemetery, like Forest Hills’ older parts. Like that one too, economics rule now and much of Fairview is also a necropolis of close stones in neat rows.

Not far from the entrance there is a very different Civil War monument to local soldiers. Idealized in the classic tradition, this soldier has a recognizable US belt buckle of the Union troops, but no rank or personality and of course, no name attached. He is soldier.

It’s probably silly to make to much of the differences. The Fairview soldier has a semicircle of a few local corpses representing both army and navy members. He stands in for them all.

Fairview is a city cemetery and as such more egalitarian and impersonal. The Stone statue in Dorchester was privately funded and used a known local figure to represent all the town’s soldiers in that war.

On the statues and in articles, I don’t see mentions of the sculptors. That’s not terribly unusual for works for hire, except with famous funereal ones, like Daniel Chester French’s at Forest Hills. I’ll update this if I run across the artists.

Holy Zombie, Mother of God!

July 21st, 2011

zmaryScary Mary appears in an old section of Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery. The life-(bwah ha ha)-size statue truly looks like a prop in a horror movie. The darkened stone couples horrifically with lichen and fungal growth to suggest the bad side of an afterlife.

While I joined numerous Boston Tours de Graves cemetery rides, I had not spent time in either Fairview or Dorchester’s Cedar Grove. I changed that yesterday and today.

Expect statuary and stones images.