It was a Sunday when we went to see this church and cemetery, and the whole world was bright. The sun was bright, the colors were bright, and as we walked down the old streets to the church, people in bright clothes were walking along to go to services. It was a beautiful day. We passed an incredible pink house on the way with peeling paint and a crooked porch that I stopped to photograph. Shawn thought it was a fixer-upper. I thought I’d move right in if I could. I grew up in a pink house and they still appeal to me.
The Unitarian church is a pale yellow color and construction started in 1772 and was nearly completed in 1776, just in time for the war to start. It is rumored that horses and men were stabled in the church together. (Wouldn’t surprise me.) It was repaired after the war and then had a peaceful existence until 1886 when an earthquake did massive damage to the tower and buttresses. It was repaired again and finally became a national historic landmark in the 1970’s, and rightly so.
Because of the services we didn’t get to go inside, but we did get to go through the incredibly small and intimate cemetery on the side of the building, which feels more like a secret garden than a burial place. People were outside sitting on the benches in the sunlight, talking and drinking coffee among the tombstones. A woman dusted off a crypt in a particularly overgrown part of the cemetery and sat down on it ( I cringed) and then she lowered her head and appeared to be praying for quite some time. I passed her three times and on the fourth pass I didn’t see her and wondered if I’d imagined her being there. Eventually, everyone went into the church and Shawn and I had the place to ourselves. We were walking down the paths when the bells started ringing, loud and long in the clear morning, and afterward everything seemed to be very quiet. It was just us and the tiny yellow butterflies; everyone else was inside.
Part of what makes this cemetery so special is that it’s not a cultivated garden space; it’s wild. But unlike some of the other cemeteries I’ve been to that are well and truly overgrown, this one has clear paths through the trees and bushes, and it’s full of color. There are flowering vines everywhere, and they’re taking over. It’s breathtaking in a rambling, riotous way, rather than being interesting in a weedy, uncared for way. There’s nothing sad about this place.
One grave for Ephraim Seabrook Mikell stood out to me because it was in the slow process of being engulfed by a tree trunk. The headstone read “Died after a short illness…A favorite with all who knew him”. He died in 1896, his wife Rebecca was nearby along with their child, Julia, who died the same year she was born. The Seabrook family had a long history in South Carolina, but I wasn’t able to find out much about Mr. Mikell.
There is also a famous grave among the 600 interred here, and that is the grave of poet Caroline Howard Gilman who was the daughter of Samuel Howard, a shipwright who played a part in the Boston Tea Party. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t remember seeing her grave even though I was probably right next to it.
I can’t say that I had a favorite grave in this cemetery because the whole thing was my favorite…all of it. It’s one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, so please go visit if you’re in the area.
And if you see a woman sitting on a crypt praying, go poke her on the arm and let me know if she was real or not.