Thursday, July 2, 2015

Independence Day

So I was wracking my brain for something to write about on this July Fourth, Independence Day. There certainly is no shortage of Revolutionary War-related cemeteries in the Philadelphia area in which I live. However, the term “Independence Day” kind of stuck in my brain as a good descriptor for this Cemetery Traveler blog that I write. Since I write it basically to please myself, I am rather independent when it comes to subject matter. That is, I can write what I want.

Flag representing the 13 original colonies, St. Peter's
Sometimes I write about topical things, but mostly, its about history and the cemeteries that call it to mind. Fortunately, this stuff never gets old, as it says on the banner in the photo below. (This was taken in 2014, by the way, at the churchyard cemetery of old St. Peter's Church at Third and Pine Streets, in Philadelphia. St. Peter's, est. in 1761, has many Revolutionary War-era graves.) The fact that I have 250 followers leads me to believe that my readers do not mind this approach. Of course, I do follow a wide path, in that everything I write is somehow cemetery-related. I do appreciate the fact that so many people read this blog, and it kind of snuck up on me this past spring that I am entering my FIFTH year of writing it!

St. Peter's Church at Third and Pine Streets, in Philadelphia
With independence, then, comes a sort of responsibility. I am responsible to you, my readers, to create something worth reading. I am also responsible to myself, to have created something which am proud to call my own.


So happy Independence Day, 2015. While we are ensconced for the weekend in backyard barbecues, parades, flag-waving, fireworks, and all manner of "rockets' red glare" stuff, think about this photo above. The peace sign. I was surprised to see it the other day in front of a rowhome down the street from where I live in Philadelphia. It brought back memories of the late 1960's when I would see this symbol all over the place because of the Vietnam War. There have been many other wars involving the United States since then. Have we learned anything from them? Our forefathers fought in the Revolutionary War for freedom. So I have the freedom, within limits, to write anything I want in this blog. What do we fight for now?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

No More Flag for the Southland

The other day, June 26, 2015, as I was sitting in an airport, waiting for my plane out of the Southland, I went into a bar for a beer. As I sat down, I saw President Barack Obama’s CNN televised eulogy for murdered Charleston, South Carolina, Reverend Clementa Pinckney. I had just spent two days in Tennessee and never once saw the Confederate Flag flying. I went to two cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are buried, and saw no rebel battle flags. Pinckney was one of nine people murdered by accused white gunman Dylann Storm Roof inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015.

Dylann Storm Roof  with Confederate flag (Ref.)
"Dylann Storm Roof, now charged with nine murders, embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, posing with the rebel battle flag and burning the U.S. flag in photos. Their appearance online prompted this week's stunning political reversals, despite the outsized role such symbols have played in Southern identity."http://news.yahoo.com
The Confederate flag, a symbol of rebellion and pride, is also a symbol of division and racial hatred. According to the Wall Street Journal, on June 22, 2015, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley made an “abrupt about-face in [the] wake of [the] Charleston killings to call for removal of [the] flag that has flown on statehouse grounds for 50 years.” “The flag was an important part of South Carolina’s past, Ms. Haley said in her remarks, but “it does not represent the future of our great state.” More states are likely to follow. A symbol of Southern pride since the American Civil War, the flag will likely be removed from places of honor and stowed in the archives – or possible destroyed.

All this because of the 21-year-old high school dropout who allegedly opened fire in a black church during a bible study meeting, killing nine. The stories and pictures are all over the Internet. The photos that gets the most attention are the ones with Roof (which I've reproduced here) holding the Confederate flag.

President Obama, during his eulogy: "For many — black and white — that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now," he said. (Ref.)


When I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I visited the Confederate Cemetery, near the University of Tennessee. Thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried here, sectioned by the state where they enlisted – Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, etc. All fought in the battles around Chattanooga in 1863. Not one Confederate flag flies on any grave. Were any there prior to the Charleston killings? I don’t know. Certain things can be changed easily; some cannot. Flags can be easily removed, but not so easily the stars and crossed bars wrought in iron across the cemetery’s entry gates.

Photo of alleged killer Dylann Storm Roof, with flag and gun (Ref.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A website with a white supremacist manifesto features dozens of photos of Dylann Storm Roof, the man accused of killing nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, posing with weapons, burning an American flag and visiting Southern historic sites and Confederate soldiers’ graves. - www.toledoblade.com

Chattanooga National Cemetery
Another stop I made was the Chattanooga National Cemetery. A much larger, mini-Arlington type burial ground run by the U.S. Government, with over 50,000 burials. Upon entering the gates, there were only two flags flying at the top of the hill – the cemetery's own flag (background in the image at left) and the United States flag. The U.S. flag was flying at half-mast. There were no rebel flags anywhere, no sign of the stars and bars.


Like the gates of the Confederate Cemetery, there is something here in the National Cemetery, however, that belies our notion of equality. There may be no Confederate flags on the graves, but the government-issued “U.S.C.T.” headstones marking black graves are segregated from the white graves. “U.S.C.T.” stands for United States Colored Troops, a designation bestowed by the United States Government in 1863 on the black soldiers who fought in the Union Army. There were 175 USCT regiments, by the way, which constituted almost a tenth the manpower of the Union Army.

USCT Section in Chattanooga National Cemetery
And discrimination is alive and well in America, a hundred and fifty years later. From alleged killer Dylann Storm Roof’s white supremacist manifesto, "The Last Rhodesian," (which, if you have a strong stomach, you can read at this link):
“I have no choice,” it reads. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” - (Ref.)

During his eulogy to Reverend Pinckney, President Obama praised South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for asking lawmakers to bring down the Confederate flag that flew outside South Carolina's Statehouse. A number of politicians stated that historic but divisive symbols no longer deserve places of honor.

Confederate Cemetery, Chattanooga, TN
"It's true a flag did not cause these murders," Obama said. "But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including, Gov. Haley whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. Removing the flag from this state's capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong." (Ref.)



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Delaware's "Distressed Cemetery Fund"

Delaware is known as “First State,” because it was the first of the thirteen original states to ratify the United States Constitution. This it did on December 7, 1787. In 2009, it became the first state to pass a law to help distressed cemeteries - actually an amendment to an existing law (Titles 16 and 29 of the Delaware Code relating to Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services, Death Certificates, and Cemeteries) that established "The Distressed Cemetery Fund." 

Unless you’re in the cemetery business, you’re probably thinking, “Who cares?” However, as you will see, distressed cemeteries affect us all, in some way, shape, or form. (The photos I've included here are from cemeteries in other states, not Delaware.)


The most common fix an old cemetery can find itself in is that it is full, and can no longer accept burials. Therefore revenue comes to an end, as does the cemetery’s business. Except for one thing – the graves of those already interred need continual care. Even if the people who purchased the graves and PAID for continued upkeep, a cemetery may be hard-pressed to provide this long-term.

Forward-thinking cemeteries developed trust funds in which the interest may provide enough money to pay for “perpetual care” of the grave. Then again, it may not. If the annual cost of upkeep of a grave in 1866 cost $6.00 per year and the perpetual care fee was $50, would you expect the interest to continue to support the cost of upkeep through the year 2015? Hardly. Which is one reason so many historic cemeteries find themselves in difficult times.

Pennsylvania, for instance, has about 8500 cemeteries of various sizes. Only about 1000 of them are active, meaning they still accept burials. The other 7500 have to find other ways of paying for upkeep. With no income, a cemetery can fall on hard times. Maybe it gets overgrown and nasty-looking. Maybe it becomes a public nuisance, an eyesore, depressing nearby property values. Maybe it invites crime and eventually the city demolishes it. Perhaps the graves are moved to a larger, active cemetery, perhaps not.

The state of Delaware is the only state that I am aware of that has something called a Distressed Cemetery Fund. It’s purpose? Provide money to keep up the appearance and care of cemeteries in need. This is every bit as progressive as you would expect the “First State” to be. The fund  is generally used for making needed repairs and improvements, not for lawn maintenance expenses. (Click link to see application.)



So long as the cemetery is registered in the State of Delaware with the Division of Public Health of the Department of Health and Social Services, it can apply every two years for a grant of up to $10, 000. The Distressed Cemetery Fund is funded by adding $2.00 to the state fee for each copy of a certificate of death. Now get this for being progressive - A volunteer may register an abandoned cemetery! I know of two Friends groups that are associated with formerly abandoned Delaware cemeteries that have received the grant.

Unfortunately, most states do not have such a fund. Pennsylvania, where many of the photos in this article were taken, does not have such a fund. Why does Delaware bother? Why not just let the old cemeteries fall to pieces like just about every other state? In answer to that, let me quote from the State of Delaware’s official website:

"Cemeteries are essential elements of societies' collective history, providing fascinating insight into past burial customs, religious beliefs, cultural and ethnic influences, community origins and development, and landscape design principles. Although virtually every remnant from the beginnings of a town or city may be lost, cemeteries often remain as some of the last tangible links to the past.

In Delaware, many prominent historical cemeteries such as Dover's John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Cemetery and Wilmington's Riverview Cemetery (maintained respectively by the Dover Air Force Base and the Friends of Historic Riverview Cemetery) have been preserved due to the efforts of governmental agencies, private organizations, and individuals. Other historical cemeteries, unfortunately, are vulnerable to the threats of neglect, vandalism, and development." - Department of State - Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs


In all fairness to the state of New York, that state has a law providing for grants that can be applied for to correct acts of cemetery vandalism. New York enacted this in 1989, “The “Vandalism, Abandonment, and Monument Repair Fund," which is administered by the New York Department of State, Division of Cemeteries. (Click link for application.) The fund is supported by a $5 per-burial fee, paid by the cemetery. It seems as though the fund is more trouble than it is worth, however, as the state has on at least one occasion frozen distribution payments even though it continued to collect the $5 fee!

"CEMETERY RIPOFF IS GRAVE SITUATION - Vandalism funds go to ease state budget (NY Daily News):"

"A bureaucratic form of grave-robbing is dishonoring the dead whose final resting places have been defiled by vandals, say furious cemetery officials across the city."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Great-grandfather - Photos Discovered!

My Mom cried when she saw the photo you see here. My brother showed it to her on line a few weeks ago. The gentleman is her grandfather – my great- grandfather – a man neither of us had ever seen. He died before my Mom was born. This is a blog about how we came to see this photograph - or more accurately, its a blog about a Cemetery Traveler blog I published in 2012 entitled,  Graves of Lost Siblings.”

The blog was about accompanying my Mom to a cemetery near where she lives in northeastern Pennsylvania to visit the graves of her grandparents. She had not visited the place in fifty years. I wondered why. When we arrived, she sprung the news on my brother and I that her parents had lost three children, all younger than her. Its quite an emotional story, and you’re welcome to read it at this link. However, my current point is the fact that a distant relative came upon the blog about our visit, which led to a family reunion of sorts!

In May, 2015, three years after I posted the blog, my Mom received a letter from a cousin whom she had not seen since they were children (perhaps in the late 1940s). The cousin, Cheryl, was doing genealogical research on her family, the Jones-Stealey family, and came across my blog. She was quite surprised to have found this, simply by Googling the names “Jones” and “Stealey.” The information I had provided seemed to have filled in some gaps in her research. My Mom’s ancestors’ names were Jones and Stealey, all of whom were emigrants to the United States from Wales in the early 1900s.

Elizabeth Maria (Stealey) Jones
The 1932 photo here (from Cheryl’s “Jones-Stealey Family” private Facebook Group) is of my Mom’s grandmother, my great-grandmother Elizabeth Maria Jones (Stealey was her maiden name). My Mom knew her – Elizabeth died in 1959, a year after I was born (I wonder if she ever held me?). What brought my Mom to tears, however, was the photo above of the gentleman in the hat. As I mentioned, this is her grandfather – my great grandfather – who neither of us had ever seen.

His name was Daniel Parry Jones, and he was born May 6, 1881, in North Wales. The boy on his knee is one of his four children – Richard, the eldest. Richard was my grandfather’s brother, my Mom’s uncle. This photo may have been taken around 1910. (As a photographer, I am rather intrigued by the props and background in this formal portrait - I can't even tell what they are! I think you'll agree that it is beautifully composed and rendered.)

I had always been told that my Mom's ancestors were from Wales, but that was all I knew. This new information is fascinating to me. Cheryl’s family research shows that my Mom’s grandfather, Daniel Parry Jones and Elizabeth Maria Stealey arrived in the United States on September 6, 1905, aboard the S/S Majestic. They sailed from Liverpool, England. The couple was married on November 17, 1905, near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (where I spent the first twenty years of my life). Daniel was a coal mine worker, as so many Welsh were at the time. He died in 1920 (more than twenty years before my Mom was born) and Elizabeth later remarried. So the only grandfather my Mom ever knew was a step-grandfather, a Robert Berwick.

The Jones family plot, Evergreen Cemetery, Shavertown, PA

Its interesting that the headstones in Evergreen Cemetery (Shavertown, PA) show that Elizabeth is buried with Daniel, her first husband, rather than with Robert Berwick, her second. But maybe not so odd – Robert is buried with HIS first wife, Pearl! I wonder if that’s standard burial etiquette? The grave markers are all in the same area of the cemetery, by the way, not twenty feet away from each other.

The Berwick family plot, Evergreen Cemetery, Shavertown, PA

Here is a photo (below) from the family Facebook page that shows my great-grandparents, Daniel and Elizabeth Jones, with their four children, Daniel, Elizabeth, Richard, and Mildred. The younger Daniel (at left in the photo) was my grandfather, my Mom’s Dad. It really is awesome to see these photos, which had been pulled out of desks and trunks from all over the world. It gives one a sense of connectedness to the larger human family.

My Great-grandparents and their children
Cheryl has been locating and posting these fascinating images by contacting people in the U.S. and Wales who are descendants of the Jones-Stealey families. She started the Facebook site to share photos and information. We greatly appreciate Cheryl posting them, and thank Dilys and all the other family members who have been contributing to this wonderful family history!

I intend to scan some of my Mom's old photos, and post them on the family page. People do like tangible links to their past. This is a wonderful example of how such things can bring people closer together. Every once in a while one of my blogs leads to something like this and it gives me a great feeling to know I’ve helped in some way!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Vicarious Cemetery Travel

Bianca, by Mike Spak
At the beginning of June, 2015, I took a trip to Denver, Colorado, with my family. I had to teach all weekend at a medical conference, and had no opportunity to do any cemetery travel. One evening we had dinner with my friend Mike Spak, who lives in Boulder, Colorado. During dinner, he began showing me the photos on his smart phone. Oddly, several were cemetery photos that he had taken in various places.


I had forgotten that he did this sort of thing. So during dinner, I enjoyed some cemetery travel vicariously through him! The photos you see here are all Mike's.

The angel with the guitar belongs to Bianca Halstead (1965 – 2001), a.k.a Bianca Butthole. She was the bassist and lead singer of the Hollywood-based hard rock band Betty Blowtorch. Bianca was killed in an auto accident in New Orleans. She is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, CA.  Hollywood Forever is a “must see” for any Cemetery Traveler. I’ve been there twice. (Read more about Bianca here http://foodchainrecords.com/bianca/)

Photo by Mike Spak

William S. Burroughs (1914 – 1997), is the American beat writer famous for his 1959 counterculture novel Naked Lunch. He is interred in the Burroughs family plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri. I have always felt guilty for not reading Burroughs, though I am a big fan of Jack Kerouac, another beat writer. Quite a bit of Kerouac’s novel On the Road is based in Denver, and I did feel a bit of that vibe walking down Larimer Street, which is where Kerouac hit town in 1947 when this area was the town’s skid row.

The “Black Angel of Council Bluffs;" photo by Mike Spak

Now for the “Black Angel” of Council Bluffs. Okay, so I thought I knew my cemetery lore. I also thought Mike made up this moniker because this Victorian-era bronze patina angel had taken on a dark hue. Turns out it is locally known as the “Black Angel of Council Bluffs,” Council Bluffs being a town in Iowa across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska.

The angel resides in Fairview Cemetery, marking the grave of Ruth Ann Dodge. The bronze sculpture holds a bronze basin of running water and appears to be standing in a granite boat. After Dodge died in 1916, her two daughters commissioned the memorial to be made by Daniel Chester French, who is best known for creating the white marble statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. According to the website, www.prairieghosts.com, the young women “had strict criteria for French as to how the angel was supposed to look. They wanted it to be a likeness of an angel that had appeared to their mother during a series of visions that she had before her death.”

Interesting. Many such sculptures are created either from a mold or from a live model. This one appeared to be created in the likeness of an actual angel. According to www.prairieghosts.com, Dodge’s dreams were realistic and overwhelming visions about which her daughter Anne stated: “We realized this was no dream, no ordinary occurrence, but an apparition such as appeared to those saints of olden times, who were spiritual seers, holy enough to penetrate the fleshly veil and view spiritual things hidden from the worldly minded.”

Photo by Mike Spak
In these visions, Ruth Dodge described to her daughters that she was on the rocks of a seashore. Out of the mist, “she saw an ancient boat appear that was covered with roses and rare and fragrant flowers. As it approached, she saw that a beautiful young woman was standing in the bow of the ship. As soon as Ruth saw her, she knew that she was a spiritual being and “not of this earth.” (ref.)

The young woman was clad in a glistening white garment that fell in long folds from her shoulders to her feet. Her hair, which reached to her shoulders, looked like spun gold, forming a halo around her head. Her eyes were bright and seemed to look at Ruth, and yet through her, and were filled with an expression that was beyond description.”

The being came toward Ruth carrying a vessel under her arm. The vessel was filled with water that Ruth said “glistened, glittered and sparkled like millions of diamonds.” The woman offered it to her and urged her to drink from it, telling her that it contained a blessing. But as much as Ruth craved the water, she told her daughters, she was not ready to drink it just yet. A few moments later, she “awoke” and the vision was gone. (ref.)

"Ruth had the same vision three times and on the third time, she drank from the water that the angel offered her. A few days later, she died. On her deathbed, she told her daughters that the angel offered her the “wonderful water of life. I drank from it and it gave me immortality.” (ref.)

To the best of their abilities, and based on Ruth’s physical description of the supernatural being in her visions, her daughters had the “black angel” sculpted and placed over their mother’s grave. They must have assumed it was an angel, since their mother never mentioned wings. The angel is standing in a granite boat and is carrying a vessel with water that continually runs. I never really thought about fountains in cemeteries. The angel may symbolize immortality, but then so might running water. The water of life ....

So thanks to my friend Mike for the virtual cemetery tour!