Temple Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida

Temple Cemetery was cold the first time I visited, but that’s always my favorite time to go to a a new cemetery, when the weather is chilly. It was clear that day and the sun was shining brightly so it was a good day to read tombstones. Temple is a Jewish Reform cemetery and it mingles with Old Jewish Center cemetery, which is a conservative cemetery. There is no line or obvious kind of separation, but the space is set apart from the rest of Evergreen and has it’s own gate.

Temple Cemetery attracted me because of the mausoleums, of which there are many varied types. It’s a small Jewish cemetery inside the massive Evergreen Cemetery complex, and it looks to be old and not visited very often. Both times that I went there there was no one else around. Despite this, it’s perfectly maintained except for some vandalism to one of the mausoleums. It will probably never be repaired since most of them are very old with the families probably long gone by now. This particular one has the glass window shot out with what looks like a BB gun, as some of the glass still has holes in it where it didn’t shatter all the way and fall out. Because of this, you can look right into this mausoleum and on that day when I did this I realized that it was freezing in there. My face felt like it touched ice the minute I stuck my head through the window to peek in. I felt sad about the window though, it was done in delicate shades of gold and green and were just panes of colored glass, not the usual ornate stained glass windows that I usually see in mausoleums.

My favorite one here is the Burkheim mausoleum because of it’s very solid and incredibly creepy looking ventilated iron door. Whether it was placed to keep things in or keep them out I can only imagine, but it must have been effective because nobody has messed with this structure at all. Jacob Burkheim has lived in 2 of the places I’ve lived in during my 43 years, including Tallahassee, where I grew up, and Jacksonville, where I was born and lived again briefly in my 20’s. He also lived in Savannah, which I love visiting. He worked as a merchant, a tailor, and he also fought in the Civil War (confederate). He had 7 children, but his name is the only one found outside of his mausoleum, so I wonder if the rest of his family is buried elsewhere. He was born in Germany in 1831, and he died in 1914.

If your back is to the gates and you look to the far left and start walking you will see a small headstone for Hazel, E. Waterman, who died in 1904 at a few months old. Her headstone is a type that I had heard about but had never actually seen in all of my cemetery visits. Usually a child’s stone will feature a lamb or sometimes a small bird. A few times I’ve seen deer. Hazel’s stone has two small baby shoes on the top and two small socks draped down the front of the stone. I was thrilled to see an example of something I’d only ever heard about. Hazel’s small gravestone did not have a record in Find A Grave which made me wonder more about her and her family. I couldn’t find anything on Ancestry, which happens a lot when you’re looking for a child. There is a child’s headstone in St. Augustine that has haunted me since I first saw it and I can’t find out anything about the child or the family, which has bothered me for 2 years. If you’re awesome with genealogy and like a challenge- send me a message.

Temple Cemetery is one of my favorite sites to date in Jacksonville. If you get over there please let me know what you thought! And bring snacks, you’ll need them if you go to Evergreen because you could spend the day in there and never see it all.

Camp Captain Mooney Cemetery in Duval County

Sounds like something from a storybook, right? When I was a kid I loved a book called The Magical Drawings of Mooney B. Finch, and I read it until it fell apart. That was the first thing I thought of when my mom drove me up to the gates of this historic cemetery. She loves cemeteries too and will scout out new locations for me to see when I go visit her, and she almost always goes with me. One time last year I did sneak off to see one that she told me probably wasn’t safe to go to by myself, and I told her about it afterwards.

“Well, how was it? ” she asked.

“I think it was fine. I never saw anyone.”

She just smiled and said she wanted to go with me next time.

The Camp Captain Mooney Cemetery is a surprise. It’s set way back in what’s part neighborhood, part business/warehouse area- which is how Jacksonville is designed anyway. There’s wasn’t a lot of reason applied to the layout. This is a small cemetery and the only hazard I can think to warn you about ahead of time is that the ground can be quite spongy. My mom walks with a cane and was basically doing ground testing while she was walking around because her cane kept sinking.

The cemetery was established on March 1st, 1864 after a short battle (the Battle of Cedar Creek), and the creek is nearby and is actually quite sizeable. There is also a historical marker there and you can get out and take pictures because even though it’s on a busy road, there is a place to pull over and a sidewalk. The death toll for the day included 7 Confederates, 2 Union, with others wounded and some captured. Writing about battles is not my strong suit, so I’m including the Wikipedia article. The cemetery was started on the day of the battle; the dead were buried there, and it was used for some time though it is very small, with only about 114 interments. Captain Mooney is there also- and his veteran’s headstone doesn’t have a birth date or death date on it.

There are some wonderful headstones here and quite a few handmade ones. I’ve been to this cemetery twice, and the first time I noticed four graves, looked at the stones, and must have blanked out because I didn’t notice that all four graves had the same death date. Shawn and my mom called me over to look on this visit, and I took photos to do some research. Emma, Dora, and Mary Silcox all died on June 26, 1927, along with their friend Frances Norton. Mary was 15, Dora was 12, and Emma was 9 years old. Frances was a friend of the family and was only 19. They drowned during a boating accident at Clearwater Lake in Jacksonville, which is now a place to hike and fish. I can’t imagine what that family went through losing three of their children and a close friend in one day.

Private James S. Turknett is also buried here even though the  Turknett Cemetery is right down the road- it’s connected to the Smith Cemetery. The Turknett’s are buried in the back and the gate to that part of the cemetery has a bright blue sign that reads Turknett Cemetery, while on the other side it says Smith Cemetery on a very formal plaque. There is also a third set of gates that are probably for hearse access that are large, fancy wrought iron and do not have any name on them. These two cemeteries are in the back of a neighborhood and there was yet another sign posted on a light pole warning about fees associated with disturbing graves or remains, and that the fine is up to 5,000 dollars, 5 years in jail, or both. It’s a 3rd degree felony and I wish more people would think it through before they decide to do something that stupid.

If you do find yourself in Jacksonville and want to see something a little more unusual before you head off to the Victorian glory of Evergreen or the Old City Cemetery downtown (best to keep your wits about you down there, that one is a little weird), then these three cemeteries are worth a look.

Camp Captain Mooney is now owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and it is always impeccable every time I go. Just be careful with your cane. Also, Shawn and I have a knack for finding bones in cemeteries (animals, thankfully) and this trip had a small surprise as well.

Restlawn Memorial Park in Jacksonville, Florida

This cemetery has been in the news in the last 2 years due to allegations of improper burials, and is under new ownership- which I think is a good thing. The news story is disturbing, and Jacksonville has had it’s fair share of bad press when it comes to cemeteries in the last year alone. But in this situation, it appears that the new owner is doing the right thing and is working hard to that end.

So when I found out that my grandparents were buried there recently, I breathed a sigh of relief because they weren’t in Beaches Memorial Park, part of a long and ongoing investigation for all kinds of horrible things, and I also breathed a sigh of relief because I finally knew where they were. When my grandfather died I was 17. That was the last time I went to that cemetery, and no one who was with me that day could remember where it was or the name of it once I grew up and started this…hobby. I’d looked and looked on Find A Grave to no avail, and then in January of this year the cemetery was recorded and lo and behold, the grandparents showed up as a record. I was thrilled.

Then I saw the news story. So when I drove through the gates by myself that day I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wanted them to be in a pretty place with no problems, and that was exactly what I found when I got there. While this cemetery is not beautiful in a Bonaventure sort of way, it is pretty, with large trees and a well-kept lawn. It was also much larger than my 17 year old self had remembered, and so I pulled up in front of the offices to get some help finding my family members.

I was greeted right away, and I realized right then that I may not have the tact needed to work in the funeral business, even though I would like to.

I explained what I was doing there and that I had been very young the last time I’d been there.

“And what are the names of your loved ones? ” She asked me kindly.

“Charles and Susie Sears,” I said. I gave her the date of my grandfather’s death in 1990. She asked me to wait a moment and indicated a couch where I could sit down.

If it had been me, I don’t know that I would have thought to say “What are the names of your loved ones?” which sounds very nice. I probably would have just asked for their names and been my usual direct self. I appreciated her delicacy while I marveled at it.

She came back and asked me for the date of my grandmother’s death instead, and I showed her my printout from Find A Grave. She vanished again into a back office. The offices were nice and there was a pretty chandelier hanging in the entrance way. I had noticed though that those same offices shared an inside wall with the mausoleum that had been attached to the building. Or maybe the offices had been attached to it instead. Either way, it seemed like odd energy to have behind you while you work all day.

While I waited I was greeted nicely by two other people who both asked if I needed anything. When the first lady came back she was smiling and told me if I’d just wait outside, a gentleman would drive me to see my grandparents. I said that I could walk, but she said they’d prefer to take me there. I went outside and waited.

I’d been there maybe a minute when I heard someone call out “Charles Sears?” I turned and there was a man standing next to a golf cart, gesturing for me to get in with him. I slid onto the seat beside him. I expected a sedate and solemn ride through the graves and for this to be a gentle experience. That is not what happened, but what happened makes me laugh every time I think about it.

The second I was on the seat next to him he punched it and the cart took off; one second we were on the paved road and the next second he was speeding across the grass, looking down on his side of the golf cart at the ground as we sped past graves on our bumpy ride. I was hanging on tightly, trying to look casual as I told him the last time I’d been there had been in 1990. Turns out, that was when he started working there. He was talking amiably about his work as we bounced along over grass and pine cones before coming to an abrupt halt. My hair swung forward.

“There they are,” he said. “I can wait.” He folded his hands on the steering wheel.

“No that’s okay, I’m parked right there,” I said, pointing. The offices were actually pretty close by and I could see my car.

“Okay. But just remember for your next visit, the mausoleum is right there, and they line up with that.” He smiled and bid me good day before zipping off again in his cart. I’m not sure of his job title, but when it comes to driving a golf cart through a graveyard very fast, he is a skilled professional.

I turned and looked down at the ground. And yes, there they were. If there had been a vase it had been stolen, but the plaque itself wasn’t in bad condition. I just stood there with the sun shining on my head while breathing in the chilly air, and I thought about them. Random memories. My grandfather’s ability to draw. My grandmother’s scrambled eggs.

I told them I’d be back for Christmas and that I was glad to have found them.

Restlawn was opened in 1929 and is still an active, operating cemetery.

Christmas in the Cemetery

Most people wouldn’t think to head to the cemetery as part of their holiday festivities, but apparently a lot of people do. Everywhere I visited this month there were bright decorations everywhere, everything from trees to candy canes to a little snowman headstone topper. For my own family I’m choosing poinsettias, and will be taking them out to my grandparents on my Dad’s side on Christmas Day. They’ve been long neglected- I just found out where they were buried after quite a bit of searching over the last few months. I was really happy to see their names on the plaque and know that whenever I’m in town I can take them flowers.

I also decorated the graves of a family in this cemetery this year. After writing about them and researching them I felt like I wanted to do something, not really sure why. I just loved their story and thought that their history must have been very similar to so many others here in the Central Florida area, and every one of those families is important. They’re the foundation that this area was built on. So on a bright day Shawn and I went out and brought them each a small decoration and a light to place by each grave. I’ll leave the lights after the holidays.

I never really considered the act of decorating a grave for the holidays until this year, I guess for a lot of reasons. I think that I realized that losing someone doesn’t mean that you lose the habit of caring for them, even in the most basic of ways. Reaching for them in the middle of the night, buying something that catches your eye just because you know they’d like it, or leaving their number in your phone because you’re used to calling them. Habits die hard if they die at all, and they last long after the person is gone. So this year it seemed perfectly normal for me to go out to cemeteries and see entire Christmas trees, little stockings, Christmas cards, sparkly flowers, and velvet bows.

 

My favorite was the full sized tree that I saw on one grave, each little stocking hanging on the tree had a family member’s name on it, and it had been decorated with so much care. I stopped and took photos of it and read the names on each of the stockings, wondering what the family was like.

If you’re visiting loved ones in the cemetery this holiday season I hope they’re not sad visits, but visits filled with good memories and smiles. Happy holidays, everyone!

That Trip To Jacksonville

Last week I went to Jacksonville for a cemetery training put on by The Florida Public Archaeology Network. It was going to be my second one that I’ve attended, and I was really looking forward to it because the first one was so much fun. An hour before I left work, I bent over to get something out of the fridge in the office and felt my back go out. I decided to go anyway. By the time I got to Jacksonville after an almost 3 hour drive I was barely able to walk upright and was in a lot of pain. I’m stubborn, and I decided that the next morning I’d see if I felt well enough to attend the all-day workshop, even though that night I had to climb onto the antique bed at my mom’s kind of like a toddler climbs onto a couch.

I knew when I got up and hobbled to my mom’s favorite chair with the heating pad that there would be no 6 hour class for me. I sat on the heating pad for an hour, had breakfast with my mom (with a side of Advil), and limped out of the house after she went to work, intent on at least seeing a cemetery while I was there. I bundled up somewhat because it was surprisingly cold and drove out to Evergreen Cemetery, which is HUGE. It’s 167 acres of pure beauty that also includes an arboretum- and as I had discovered after some research- 2 receiving vaults. These were my main reason for visiting. On my last visit I had wandered through the beautiful mausoleum complex and chapel, but when I heard about the vaults I knew I had to see them.

Receiving vaults in Florida are quite rare because they’re usually found in colder climates where bodies needed to be stored before burial because the ground was frozen. Now they can thaw the ground with lots of fancy equipment, and some cemeteries still have vaults on the grounds but I’ve never seen one in Florida. The ones I’ve seen were in Knoxville and Charleston, and I was thrilled to see them because at that time it had been something that I’d only heard of.

I knew where the office was and heard that I could ask for a map there, so I went in shortly after they opened and asked where the vaults were. The receptionist looked at me for a beat before she placed a rather large map on the counter and stared at it for a few seconds. Then she looked up at me and said apologetically, “I can’t remember how to get to them, I’m going to go ask.”

I waited while hearing a whispered conversation taking place in the next room. She came back smiling and told me they were by gate five. I had no idea that there were more than 2 gates, so when she showed me how to get there on the map I was shocked. I thanked her and got back into the car, noting that the Advil had started working and I felt like I was walking more normally. I drove out of gate 1 and drove slowly around the main road and passed gates 2, 3, 4 and then noticed that the fifth gate was locked. I drove to the next one, only to find that it said Temple Cemetery and not Gate 5. I stopped anyway because there were a lot of mausoleums. I’ll be writing about that section in another blog post.

The next gate was actually labeled Gate 5 and I pulled in and turned to the right. The receiving vaults were directly in front of me. One was smaller and had room for 12, the other was larger, from a different decade (1927) and had room for 30. I’m not sure on the date of the first one. The cemetery was founded in 1880 and the first burial was in 1881. The cemetery actually had a train depot on site (the tracks run right next to it and are active) and the vault was primarily used for people visiting Florida for extended periods during the winter who came for the sunshine and then…died. The families rented space in the vaults to store their loved one until they went back home on the train and took the body with them for burial. In one source that I seem to have misplaced I read that the first vault was often full and they needed to build the second one as Jacksonville grew and more people visited. The cemetery made a little income from renting out the vaults, and the rest of the families could finish their visit without the expense of going back home for a funeral and then returning until spring. Weird, but more than likely true.

One vault is gated and one is not- and of course I went in. The leaves were crunching under my feet, the sunlight was slanting in, and even with it I felt chilly surrounded by all of that heavy marble. The place was fantastic, but had either succumbed to some vandalism or the aging process. Either way it’s incredible. On this trip I took a video of each vault, so take a look! (Part 2 here) I didn’t speak because they were running blowers and a lawnmower next to them, but at least you can see the inside. And yes, my back is feeling better!

 

 

The Portraits at Congregation Ohev Shalom

This cemetery is one of the prettiest ones in Orlando, and in a completely unexpected part of town. It lies along Old Winter Garden Road in Orlo Vista and is next to the Lake Hill Cemetery, which is my favorite little cemetery here. Lake hill has a lot of space between burials and is grassy and has only a few trees, so it’s s surprise to walk next door and see a verdant landscape of trees and shrubs and a crowded cemetery with a small mortuary chapel at the back. Congregation Ohev Shalom was founded in 1918, but the cemetery dates more from 1928. The cemetery regulations also suggest that the wife be buried on the left- something that I have never once paid attention to in any cemetery, to be completely honest. This cemetery serves at least 3 congregations, and while you must be Jewish to be laid to rest here, you do not have to be a member of  Congregation Ohev Shalom.

This cemetery is beautiful to walk through, but it also has something that makes it even more interesting to visit- tons of ceramic portraits on the gravestones. I just love these things!

Some of them are quite old and some are more modern and nicely done in brighter colors. I like both, but I especially love the old ones which tend to be more formal. This cemetery does not have a lot of historical information, but I still wanted to write about it and give a sort of tombstone tour of noticeable portraits. You will see that there are lots of small stones on top of the graves, and in the center of the cemetery there is a small box full of these stones for visitors to choose from. It is tradition to leave a stone on the grave with the left hand, not only to show that someone has visited, but also as a tribute to the deceased. There are other fascinating theories that can be read about here. I love the idea.  I will sometimes leave seashells on the grave in other cemeteries. I left an amethyst crystal on my dad’s grave when I went to see him once, it was the only thing I had in the car and for some reason it felt important that I do something, even though I sat on his grave and talked to him for awhile.

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The last two were father and son- brilliant smiles on both of them!

In the back of the cemetery you will find a grave for Talia Joy Castellano- truly a bright light in this world. Her Youtube channel is still up- she was a young make-up artist and honorary Cover Girl. Her appearance on the Ellen show brought me to tears! Her grave is bright and pretty and seems to reflect her love of color and beauty and her talent for making others look their best. I have visited this cemetery many times and didn’t see her grave until I went on Thanksgiving and my fiancee’s daughter mentioned the colorful grave toward the back of the property. Please take a minute to look her up!

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I’m off to Clay county this week for another CRPT cemetery training. There are a few graves here locally  that I’d like to work on restoring and I’m hoping to learn everything that I need to in order to make that happen in January. Details and pictures next week!

 

 

Grieving for Pets

Last week I lost my beautiful little Cricket, who I’ve shared my life with for 14 years. She made my house a home, and I am still getting used to life without her. For me, the hardest part besides watching her decline was coming home from work each day and not seeing her calico face in my bedroom window, waiting for me. She has always treated my bedroom as her personal apartment at every place I’ve lived and I always accommodated this since like me, she was shy and preferred to have her own space. I truly miss her presence in my room and the house feels emptier without her, even though we have two other cats.

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What I’ve struggled with besides just feeling the lack of her presence has been all of the empty space in my head that was previously filled with worrying about her. Did I give her her fluids Monday or Tuesday? Why isn’t she eating? Do I need to take her back to the vet again? Am I hurting her when I give her fluids? Who can I trust to watch her when we go out of town? (Thank you, Owen!) It was a lot of worry and anxiety over a period of one and a half years from when she was diagnosed with advanced kidney disease. I lost a lot of sleep and had mounting expenses for her health care, but it didn’t matter to me because I loved her.

So now I find all of this space, and I still find myself locked into routines that revolved around her care and making her happy. I open the blinds every morning, still expecting her to jump up on the couch to look out. I close them but leave space at the bottom at night, still thinking she’ll look out during the night. I leave my robe on my bed for her, still used to the fact that she LOVED sleeping on it. I still come home from work thinking it’s time to feed her.

After a week I started wondering if I should stop any of these behaviors, but my answer was no, that I shouldn’t, because for now it makes me feel better. I have sympathy cards in my room from friends and from our outstanding vet, who sat next to me in the room the day she died and put her arm around me, crying with me. I have flowers from a friend who lives in another state who went with me to learn how to give her fluids because I was terrified of fainting. I did clean my room and removed her food dishes, corralled all of her toys into a basket in the corner of the room for now, and tried to make everything look clean and peaceful. For a few days there was a lot of chaos as we took care of her and waited to see if she would take a turn for the better.

I grew a lot in the last year and a half and I realized that I’m a lot more capable than I ever thought I was. I’m pretty good with a needle now. I can manage multiple medications, and I can see warning signs that I couldn’t see before. I was financially capable too, more so than I thought I was.

I have a few suggestions for anyone who loses a pet, because whether it’s a horse or a hamster or anything in between, it’s still painful. But here is what I’ve learned that has helped me cope.

  1. Don’t give yourself a time limit for when you’re supposed to be done grieving, and ignore anyone who tells you to get over it. It takes as long as it takes, and some people have a harder time with grief than others. I remember when I lost my first cat, Sam, I was in a restaurant with my mom 3 months later and when she mentioned him I started crying. I’d had him for 16 years! If an animal spends a significant part of your life with you, you’ll probably spend a significant amount of time missing them. Be gentle with yourself and cry when you need to, you’ll feel so much better if you don’t hold it in.
  2. The flip side is also knowing when to get help. If you feel like you can’t function in your normal life, are losing sleep, or are feeling so sad that you don’t want to get up, please see a counselor. Also you might try supporting yourself with homeopathic remedies for grief or stress (these helped me, especially Rescue Remedy), using aromatherapy, and just generally taking really good care of yourself. If you’re not sleeping and having trouble eating you’re going to be more emotional, whether you realize it or not.
  3. Say thank you to the people that helped you with your pet, whether it was your vet, friends, or family members that were there for you. Writing thank you notes to those special people that made a difference for me in the last few days helped me to have closure.
  4. You can have your pet’s ashes returned to you, which is something I chose to do. No it’s not weird and no it’s not scary. She’s in a beautiful cedar box with her name on it, and it’s smaller than a box of Kleenex. I’m glad I did this, it made me feel better somehow. You can also purchase custom urns on Etsy and they also have memorial jewelry for your pet’s ashes or fur, and most are reasonably priced.
  5. You can also create a ritual for your pet or do something meaningful to create a sort of memorial. My mom had a friend that passed away and she decided to knit a scarf in her friend’s favorite colors to wear when she was missing her. I light a candle at home every night next to all of the cards that I got for Cricket, which makes me feel better. You can say a prayer for your pet or even talk to your pet, whatever helps you process. Frame your favorite picture of them, or if you feel like you need to, take their pictures down for awhile. It doesn’t have to be forever. Finally, if like me you’re still embedded in the daily rituals of having your pet, like opening blinds or leaving their favorite blanket out, keep doing it if it helps you cope. For the time being keeping those routines is helping me and I know that one day I won’t need them anymore.

 

Special thanks to the East Orlando Animal Hospital staff and Dr. Yaicha Peters, Shawn, Keila, Owen, Terri, and Robert, and Greenbrier Memory Gardens and Crematory, who specialize in afterlife care for animals.

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Children’s Burials

Some of you might wince at this and stop reading, if you even got this far, and I get it. I don’t have children but like a lot of women I still turn into a lioness when I see or hear of them being mistreated, and I feel so much sadness for anyone who loses a child. I don’t know what that’s like, but I imagine a pain that is completely soul crushing. I have a friend who told me once about losing her child before it was even 2 weeks old and I sat and cried with her, and then cried on the plane after our visit, still under the spell of pain and anguish. I do know that it’s not something you ever get over and that some people never move past it.

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It’s this particular kind of pain that makes children’s burials so poignant and also so very personal. It is usually on these graves where we see the most creativity, the sweetest pictures, and the most gifts left on the grave. A concentrated space for children in a cemetery is usually called Babyland, and it’s usually marked with a sign as if you couldn’t tell already by the style of the headstones and the feel of the place. If the family already has a plot purchased, the child will usually go with the rest of the family. If not, the plot is purchased in the section for babies instead. At Greenwood Cemetery here in Orlando there are three Babyland sections, and one of them is a newer space and is always fluttering with balloons, pinwheels, and wind chimes. It’s an active space within the cemetery, and I love that. When we went the week after Halloween to take some pictures we found that someone had gone through the entire section and left 3 pieces of candy on each grave, as though the babies had been trick-or-treating.

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Headstones for children range from the more sedate stones to ones that are in the shape of cartoon characters or small animals. A Pac-Man in South Carolina comes to mind that was designed for an eight year old boy. The traditional stone for children usually has a lamb on the top, though I have seen them with small birds that appear the be lying down. A lot of children’s stones have some type of picture on them, which can be heartbreaking to see. I particularly like the photos that aren’t studio pictures, but ones where the child is playing and happy. I have a favorite one of these that I featured in a previous post. It was during my last visit to Greenwood that I saw my first post-mortem portrait of a child on a headstone, and it startled me as the date was from the 1990’s. I had always believed this to be a much older custom (also more European) and had never seen a post-mortem on any headstone before. It startled me a bit because it was unexpected given the dates in this plot- which ranged from 1975 to present day, essentially my own lifespan.

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My favorite type of child’s markers are the ones with the child lying down, usually on some type of draped bed. They’re beautiful and peaceful but not something that I get to see that often. I saw two of them recently, one in Magnolia Cemetery and one in Bethany Cemetery, both in Charleston. There is also a good example of a child reclining on a bed at St. Roch’s Cemetery in New Orleans, right when you enter the cemetery gates. However, that’s not what makes that cemetery so spooky. If you’ve never been, it’s what’s inside the chapel that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. (Google it.) In Savannah one of the most famous child’s graves is that of Gracie Watson in Bonaventure. She had so many visitors and gifts that the cemetery erected a fence around her to keep her safe. Even with the fence, there are gifts left everywhere for her, and of course there are always rumors that she walks around the cemetery at night.

The baby section in the Geneva Cemetery here in Florida is fenced off completely with a wooden picket fence, as though they wanted people to stay out of the section. When you lean over the fence with your hands on the top to look in, you get the same sensation of looking into a crib and I wondered if that was part of the planning since the plot is so small and only holds a few children.

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I think for me one of the most interesting aspects of the Babyland sections is the type of sculpture chosen for the space. In Greenwood there is an angel looking down at her empty hands, as if she had been cradling a child and looked down to find that it was suddenly gone. I suppose it’s also a way for grieving parents to imagine their own children held in those heavenly arms and perhaps find some comfort in that.

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Rosalie Raymond White in Magnolia Cemetery

I’ve been reading recently about the prevalence of finding a likeness on a tombstone ever since I saw this grave last month. It’s quite rare to see a death mask on a tombstone, and the rumor is that the tiny face on this unusual marker is in fact a death mask, or a likeness taken after death.

Today there are various ways of including the person’s face on their tombstone- ceramic portraits are still popular, and now I’m starting to see more and more laser etching actually on the headstone, creating what is basically a black and white portrait of the person. While these are extraordinarily detailed and large, they don’t thrill me the same way that ceramics do. I think they’re beautiful in an old-fashioned sort of way, and they can be quite varied. One friend of mine actually saw one that had a couple captured while sleeping on the couch, both wearing horrible Christmas sweaters.

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However, a death mask is in a completely different class. I’ve seen pictures of headstones in Alabama created by artist/inventor Isaac Nettles. While they’re still called death masks, Mr. Nettles created these likenesses while the person was alive, and then incorporated the masks into headstones. They’re arresting, to say the least. The Mt. Nebo Cemetery is on my list of places to visit just to see these.

I’d heard about the baby grave in Magnolia Cemetery before we went to Charleston, and it was high on my list of headstones to find when we got there. But as it turns out so many times when we’re on these visits, we found it by chance. We were driving through just to get an idea of the massive cemetery layout when Shawn stopped the car and said, “Look at that!”

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We were parked right by it.

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Rosalie Raymond White’s  (d. 1882) headstone is actually a detailed bassinet, and her likeness is peering out of it with a green patina to her little face. I touched it but was unable to determine what the face was made of, but it had eyes that seemed to follow me uncannily as I walked around the plot. The bassinet was actually a planter and had flowers blooming in it that someone had kept up with, and small toys left by admirers littered the space. The plot itself was fascinating, and also sad. All of the stones were extremely detailed, including one for a child called Rosebud that was a sleeping baby ensconced in a kind of shell or shrine. Her marker does not have any dates and I assumed that she was stillborn (though I prefer the term born sleeping). The sad part was that out of all of Rosalie and Blake White’s six children, four died before they’d even survived a year. This plot backs up to the water that wanders through the cemetery, some parts back up to a pond and much of the property (including the beautiful mausoleum row) faces the marsh and unfortunately has the smell of the marsh, especially around the receiving tomb built in 1850. (Go inside it, it’s amazing and seats 4.)

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Magnolia Cemetery was opened in 1850 and is sprawling. We went three times, once to get a peek before they closed, then the same night for the Confederate Ghost Walk, and then the next day to see the mausoleums, which are outstanding and varied. Many of them were open, so you can wander inside and check out the architecture. I went in all of them that were open. Shawn did not, but to his credit he did go in the receiving vault which had cobwebs hanging like stalactites and smelled funny. The property is still an active cemetery serving the Charleston community and also has a gorgeous new mausoleum space on the premises. The Ghost Walk started from there so we got to spend some time walking around it under the full moon.

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The walk itself was really amazing, it was an hour and a half long moonlight tour with costumed reenactments of the highlights of Charleston history. It was 18 bucks and I would have done it again the next night if it was taking place again, but it’s only once a year so GO! I was having a great time until we got to the last stop. In the middle of the speech made by the uniformed actor the woman next to me took two steps back from the group and fainted, dropping to her knees as her husband tried to catch her fall.

That stirred things up a bit, as I’m sure you can imagine. Thankfully, she was okay and was sitting quietly on the steps of a family plot when we left, drinking water and surrounded by women in hoopskirts.

Unitarian Churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.