It’s Not Always So Serious

Most of the time when I walk through a cemetery to take photos and get basic information about the place I’m quiet, just going through and looking for something interesting. The visits aren’t really exciting, but I still enjoy them. Most of the time I get usable photos and am happy with them and will end up writing about the place. Sometimes I get usable photos but don’t find out much about the cemetery when I go to do research, and I won’t write about it. On one or two occasions I didn’t like the way the place looked or felt, or saw something there that I didn’t like, and I wouldn’t write about the cemetery for that reason.

After a year and 2 months of doing this I have ended up with quite a few photos on my phone that were not great for the post at the time, but that I still want to share because they were funny or strange, or just one of those dumb luck photos that turned out to be oddly artistic after the fact. My favorite one from last year is this one (below)- not taken at a cemetery- but at a plantation in Volusia County. This was a bad day for me. Hurricane Matthew had been visiting Florida the week before and we had been stuck indoors for too long and decided to get out of the house. Because we don’t watch the news and we both tend to get our news from online sources we were not entirely aware of the amount of damage that had been done to Volusia County. We had a list of 3 cemeteries, one grave site, and one plantation ruin to visit.

The grave site was an easy find, it’s the Ormond Tomb and literally in the middle of a state park where Mister Ormond rests all by his lonesome. The cemeteries were okay, but we had a lot of trouble finding one of them and we were passing people who were cleaning up their yards, sawing trees into pieces to be carted away, and checking their roofs. The debris on the roadside was in big piles and it was not a good day for us to be doing this. I had a headache and was cranky by the time we got to the plantation ruin, and when I got out of the car the first thing I wondered was where the cemetery would have been. I started marching through debris and mud (I was in sandals, btw) and that was when the mosquitoes descended on us with a clear mission to kill. Shawn, who doesn’t really sweat much or have a smell that attracts bugs, and has consequently never been bothered by them kept going. I turned and ran as best I could back to the Jeep while slapping myself all over trying to kill the hordes that kept landing on me. Shawn took this photo right before that happened. I got home that night and sat in a tub full of Aveeno counting bug bites and worrying about encephalitis. My bites- over 30. Shawn- maybe 3.

Next is a photo of me in a receiving vault in Magnolia Cemetery. Shawn was trying to get a photo of the sign and mostly failed. My face however, showed up out of the gloom from inside the vault and I look weird and elongated for some reason. I blame the Android phone. He said he was just trying to get the sign. The picture is horrible, but weird.

This one is of my Mom, who walks with a cane. In this photo she is standing on an old picnic table in Midway, Georgia in order to see over the fence at an historic cemetery there that she had visited once. When we got there it was 8 a.m. and the gates were locked. She shook her cane at me, held out her hand, and indicated that I was to help her up onto the table, which she manged to climb onto with relative grace. I love this picture, even though I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to get her back down.

My mom has a phone that is sensitive when it comes to photos and she tends to take a lot of accidental ones, including this gem from Bonaventure Cemetery. When she saw it on her phone later she started laughing and sent it to me anyway.

The legs in this photo belong to Hannah, and this was the first day that we met in person and the first time we went to a cemetery together. This photo inexplicably showed up on my phone when I was reviewing the photos. She’s standing in Centro Asturiano in Tampa, I can tell by the tiled gave behind her.

The last one is of Shawn in Mascotte Cemetery, one that I’ve yet to write about. The visit that day was odd- it was on a Sunday and the whole time that we were in the small cemetery there were two men in a black truck watching us, and there was also the loudest Spanish voice screeching from someplace nearby. We had no clue what they were saying but it became so intense and rapid that we left- but not before I got this capture of Shawn looking down the cemetery drive, completely bewildered. We did find the voice on the way out. There was a very excited preacher outside with two huge speakers next to him giving his sermon to an empty parking lot. He was almost a block away and he was blaring his message to all of Mascotte. I thought of Jim Jones for some reason and shivered.

Next up, Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami. Happy haunting until then…



John Mongin in Bonaventure Cemetery

I loved all of the cemeteries in Savannah that I was fortunate enough to visit, and I had expected Bonaventure to be my favorite.
But it wasn’t.
However, it is absolutely gorgeous and deserves every bit of touristy hype that it gets because as a cemetery, it just doesn’t get much better than Bonaventure in terms of beauty and ambiance. (My favorite was Laurel Grove for it’s spookiness and crumbling decay- which will get it’s own post.)

Awkward little cemetery photo.

Bonaventure is rambling and shady, with very little bright sunlight, so there is a melancholy feeling to this 160 acre property which used to be a plantation. My boyfriend and I had just been to Laurel Grove which was our first stop that day, and had planned to visit Bonaventure for a couple of hours before it closed at sundown.
It really does feel like time has stopped there. It was late on a wintry afternoon and we were bundled up, and as we walked the sun slanted sharply down through the trees and I had a feeling of squinting into the shadows to see words on headstones, or to try and make out a carving on the front of a mausoleum. We visited Johnny Mercer, and then walked over to see little Gracie, who is supposedly one of the more popular monuments at the cemetery.
I had heard her described as spooky and scary, but I thought she was adorable with her plump cheeks and sweet collared dress. Her story is sad, it’s always sad when a child dies, but I liked it that she was still so popular and had lots of visitors every year who paid their respects. Part of what makes Gracie stand out are the bushes planted behind her, which are very dark, and she truly is one of the cleanest and whitest statues I’ve ever seen. In the dim light under the oak trees she practically glowed. I loved seeing her.

Little Gracie.
Little Gracie.

We made our way toward the river and felt a fresh breeze blowing against our faces, which seemed to be getting steadily colder the later it got.  We passed the grave site of Corinne Lawton, with her spooky, sightless eyes. She was much smaller than I had imagined her to be, but her true glory wasn’t her face, it was the long curls hanging down her back. Like Gracie she was impeccably clean, and I wondered what the team of individuals were like who were in charge of maintaining this place. I photographed her from the back. Her blank eyes did kind of give me a little shiver so I stayed away from her face, but I did take pictures of her feet. They had the sculptor’s signature curved around her beautiful toes and they were flawless. We wandered around in the gathering dusk, holding hands and pointing things out to each other. There were a few other people walking but no one made eye contact or spoke to us, and there was a couple taking a guided tour nearby which we avoided. The tour operator sounded loud in the near twilight peace, and though she was used to projecting and it wasn’t her fault, her voice seemed like white noise in such a quiet place.

Corrine and her beautiful hair.
Corinne and her beautiful hair.
John Mongin’s Mausoleum.

We rounded a corner and came upon the weirdest mausoleum I’d ever seen anywhere. It reminded me of an upside down mushroom, the design was just so bizarre. It was wider at the bottom than the top and had a squat metal door that seemed to be up higher than it should have been. Judging by the unusual Pyramid shape and the winged ornament at the top of the vault (one newspaper article said it’s the Egyptian God of the Dead) I’m assuming it was Egyptian Revival style of architecture, but I was unable to find out who deigned or built it. The vault listed 11 names on a marble plate at the base of the door and we stood there, transfixed and wondering how in the hell they fit all of those people in there. It just didn’t seem possible unless the floor was dropped down to another level underneath, or everyone had been cremated, which wasn’t really a ‘thing’ when these people were interred. John Mongin died in 1833 at a time where if you died, you got buried. And as quickly as possible. Embalming wasn’t popular in the U.S. until around the time of the Civil War, 1861-1865.  It was also possible that the rest of the family had been left in the original burying place and the mausoleum had been moved with the name plate added to commemorate them.
I came home from the trip and did some research and found out that Mongin mausoleum has a past. Some enterprising woman named Cheryl Hackett wrote a nicely informative paper about the Mongin family and mentions that the whole vault was floated to it’s place near the river at Bonaventure in the early 1900’s. It was originally at their family plot on Daufuskie Island. The island is 14 miles from Savannah and the fact that that vault was moved at all is a miracle.
Sadly, Ms. Hackett did not mention in her paper how the bodies were arranged in the vault, which is what I wanted to know since I always ask the gruesome questions that everyone thinks but doesn’t actually ask. They fly right out of me.
On the way out we saw a beautiful red fox running swiftly through the headstones and tangled ivy, his coat glowing warmly in the last of the sunlight. It was the perfect way to end our visit.