I did a blog a couple of years ago about small churches down at the beach and seeing so many little country cemeteries – just made me want to take photos once again. Just a note: this blog is not meant to go into death or deeply into rituals or how anything should or shouldn’t be done – it’s just an observation.
The National Cemetery in Wilmington has been a favorite place of mine for many years. The long lines of pure white stones remind me of the straight lines these soldiers must have marched years ago. It’s a lovely place to stop and be still and reflect on the service of these brave young men. No matter if I’m shopping or just running errands in this pretty city, a quiet visit to this serene cemetery, always puts me in a better place.
These other cemeteries around the county here at the beach have gotten me interested in the history of burying grounds. We all know about King Tut and the 1922 discovery of his tomb in the Valley of Kings. I hope many of you were fortunate enough to see some of the pieces that were buried with him. Just recently there was news that his mother, Queen Nefertiti, might just be buried through a bricked up door within his tomb. What mysteries will be revealed if that’s true?
I remember a very special trip with my mother and sister. It was my first trip to Europe. Our children were 18 months, 2 ½, and 4. Once I got over wondering and then figuring out how to make that work, off we flew! Somewhere in the attic is a rubbing of a knight’s tombstone (in full armor) that we made in a little churchyard near Hampton Court. And I remember so well, standing in Westminster Abbey, marveling at the tombs of William Shakespeare, Chaucer (1400), Charles Dickens (1870), Rudyard Kipling (1936), Robert Browning (1889), and Laurence Olivier (1989). There are also many monuments in the Abbey and after doing some more research, I discovered that Shakespeare is not buried in Westminster Abbey – that is only a monument. He is buried in Holy Trinity Church and his epitaph has a curse against anyone trying to move it:
Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare, (Good friend, for Jesus sake forbear,)
To digg the dvst encloased heare. (To dig the dust enclosed here.)
Bleste be man spares thes stones, (Blessed be the man that spares these stones,)
And cvrst be he moves my bones. (And cursed be he that moves my bones.)
The curses on King Tut’s tomb brought forth lots of stories and then Hollywood movies began featuring cemeteries as scary places, especially at night. Seeing mist rising over graveyards late at night guaranteed moviegoers shivers and wanting more. And all those mummy movies didn’t help with Lon Chaney dragging his gauze wrappings behind him.
Here in the states, Halloween is cause for lots of costumes and candy eating. I doubt many of the little witches and superheroes know that in ancient times, it was a celebration to the beginning of winter. The ancient Celts believed that those of the other world would soon come and decimate the land, so they would leave food and drink to help pacify the spirits. They also made masks to wear, believing that they could then “melt in” with the spirits that were walking among them. In the 8th century, the Christian church adopted the practice, naming it All Hallows’ Eve.
I didn’t realize that there were different kinds of cemeteries. Well, I knew that there were cemeteries with tombstones and then there were the ones without tombstones. But doing a bit of research showed me that there was much more to learn. And of course, cemeteries have evolved through the ages. Case in point, pyramids are no longer being built nor are the catacombs. There are burial grounds placed in churchyards, in the middle of cities, and down country roads. Depending on the place and customs, crosses are placed on the burial mounds, and flowers or stones or even candles. Death is celebrated in many ways around the world with balloons sent skyward, a bugler playing taps, a choir singing “Amazing Grace”, and lighted lanterns placed in rivers to float down to the sea.
As adults, we know that cemeteries are not the scary places that horror movies would lead us to believe – most are quiet and reserved and respectful spots of remembrance. One of the most visited places in Washington, DC, is not a shopping center or a museum – it’s Arlington Cemetery. And if you haven’t been, or a trip is in your future, please make the time to go. I remember the overwhelming silence broken up only by airplanes flying high overhead. Just silence with rows and rows of those beautiful white headstones stretched out across the rise of the land. And I think seeing the men marching solemnly back and forth, day after day, in every type of weather, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, sends a powerful message of remembrance and honor.
On the drive down to Calabash there are several golf courses and right between two of them is a wooden hand-painted sign pointing to Pleasantview Cemetery. We’ve passed it for years so it was time to take that little dirt road. The tombstones and ledgers are not lined up, they are more scattered around the grounds. But still, there is a sameness about the graves with a dome of concrete sealed with a small circle with a cross in the middle. Enough to make me wonder if this was some sort of tradition. It turns out that there are scores of Gause family members buried here. That is the name of the family that settled this area. So I’m glad to have taken that road.
We are trying to teach our grandchildren at an early age that we must make sure these final resting places stay clean, preserved, and honored. So one of our Easter traditions is to go over to the cemetery where many of my husband’s family is buried. The tombstone ledgers always need sweeping or pressure washing after the winter, and when everyone takes part, it becomes a time of telling stories and keeping family members long gone, alive.
Happy memory making, Anne
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