Monday, May 28, 2012

My Facination With Graveyards


I have what most people would call a strange addiction. I am fascinated with graveyards. The older, the better. There’s just something distinctive about them. When I walk into an old cemetery my skin tingles, my senses seem to move into hyper drive, and I can practically smell the history.

I haven’t always felt this way. While growing up, other than the fun, spooky allure around Halloween time, a cemetery wasn’t top priority on my places to visit. But when I moved to Carbon County I decided to research some of the local history, and with that came some trips to the nearby ghost towns and their cemeteries.

My first experience in a graveyard which made a lasting impression came when I was studying the 1924 Castle Gate Mine disaster. Inadequate watering down of the coal dust and the open flames in the worker’s head lamps sparked an explosion killing everyone (172 men) in the #2 mine owned by the Utah Fuel Company. I was wandering through the old Castle Gate Cemetery, where many of the victims of the mine disaster were laid to rest, when I was drawn to a tall, chalky-white headstone with a commanding presence. A lily was carved into one side with the faith-provoking phrase: “Rock of Ages”. As I looked at the stone pillar I discovered that it was a marker for two graves--a father and son. Both had died in the mine explosion.

 The air around me felt heavy as I thought about the mother who had buried her beloved husband and son there. The somber feeling was compounded as I moved to the other side of the headstone and read this heartfelt inscription:
 “I little thought when they left home, that they would never return. That they in death so soon would sleep, and leave me all alone.” 
 The statement from a bereaved women almost a century ago had reached through time and touched me. Since then, I've been visiting old cemeteries to "feel" the stories left behind.
Castle Gate Cemetery


For me an old cemetery is a quiet place to think about the world. I’m drawn to the rickety fences that enclose the sacred ground, the art and architecture of the tombs and old headstones, and the inscriptions that hint about fascinating stories untold. But most of all I love the feeling—the history and memories that are there, and the sympathy and compassion that I am able to feel for strangers I have never met.      

My most recent graveyard exploration was at the abandoned Woodside Cemetery. 

Woodside Cemetery


A small marker in a bed of rocks signifies the final resting place of "Henry".

Old, rusted barbed wire surrounds these wooden headstones.
 
Antiquated fence encompassing a small family plot.

The hand-carved names in these weather-beaten wood headstones have long since worn away.



 I hope there are a few other people out there that share my appreciation for old graveyards. I plan on visiting several this year, and I'll be posting pictures on my blog, along with any interesting stories I learn along the way.

7 comments:

  1. Well, you have good literary company. Anne Shirley loved graveyards, too. I think they're sad and fascinating.

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  2. I love them too! I've gotten character names from headstones (especially when I was writing historicals). I spent a long time wandering the relatively small Manti cemetery. Found several graves in one area of little children who all died within a short span (a few weeks). One or two of the headstones mentioned cholera. A small thing, but it told a story--it was very likely that all the children's graves there were from a cholera outbreak. So sad, yet so compelling at the same time.

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    1. Great idea--getting names from headstones. I've never thought of that before. And that is sad when you find something unusual like the cluster of children's graves. I found a small group of headstones where a young child had died and then within the same year, a baby died in that same family and then the mother only 2 months later. I wonder about their story. 3 family members in one year, but at different times. I wonder if the mother died of heartbreak from losing her 2 children. Sad.

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  3. I love cemeteries! One year, my hubby took me on a tour of a bunch of old cemeteries in Utah County for my birthday. Our babysitter thought it was nuts, but I had the best time walking through and reading the old and new stones. I need to get out and discover the old cemeteries in Kansas. =)

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    1. Cemetery tour--I'm totally doing that!

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  4. I like to run through the cemetery in my town. It's neat to think about all those stories...

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