Friday, July 29, 2016

Weird NJ as Catalyst for Cemetery Exploration

So here’s a short blog about my friends at Weird NJ, Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman. Back in the spring of 2016, I had some of my cemetery photography on display at the annual Smithville Art Walk, in historic Smithville, New Jersey. (There’s a link at the end to a blog I posted about that.) Well, Weird NJ was also one of the exhibitors.

During the exhibitor set ups, I strolled over to their table to meet the guys. Extremely gracious and friendly, they knew me, as I’ve had a few items published in their books and magazine. They had all kinds of Weird NJ items to sell spread across two tables – T-shirts, their various books, about a dozen stacks of back issues of Weird NJ magazine, etc. We chatted a bit and then went our separate ways.

Mark Sceurman (L) and Mark Moran in Smithville
That afternoon, being a nerdy superfan, I had to purchase a copy of Weird NJ magazine and get the Marks to autograph it. Hey – everybody else was doing it! They were doing this quite graciously all day long - here's a photo of a young fan getting his photo taken with the Marks behind the Weird NJ table, on the green at the Smithville Art Walk.

As I waited my turn, a woman asked Mark Sceurman if he could direct her to any, um, sites, where she could see .... and he completed her sentence for her - "ghosts?" She nodded her agreement. He laughed and said something like, "We don't have any control over when they appear!" I thought that was pretty funny.

I picked out a back issue of Weird NJ with a cemetery statue on it, paid my five dollars, and asked the Marks if they would sign it. They did and Mark Moran added the speech bubble you see here: "I'm watching you Ed!"


The thought hit me when I was talking with them that Weird NJ magazine might very well have singlehandedly started the trends of cemetery photography and abandoned site exploration. Well, maybe they didn't actually start the trends, but Weird NJ created a forum for people's stories and photographs, so it certainly promoted and helped to broaden peoples' interest in these areas. Their “Cemetery Safari” sections have always intrigued me! The magazine began in 1989 and is published twice yearly. There is also a website for your on-line enjoyment.

References and Further Reading:

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Visitations" - by Comic Book Creator Scott Larson

Comic book creator Scott Larsen has a unique and interesting idea. It is one I would like to share with my Cemetery Traveler readers.

Back in the winter of 2015-16, I saw a few of Scott's posts on Instagram. They involved graphic art drawings of cemeteries, so I became intrigued. Scott’s comic book project, Visitations, was created and drawn by him, the writing shared with Len Strazewski. It is set in crime-ridden Victorian-era Chicago. Gracehill Cemetery, a fictitious Victorian graveyard in that city, plays a central role in Visitations. Scott has drawn his versions of actual monuments in actual Chicago cemeteries. Some of them come to life! It’s a fabulous idea. Other real Chicago locations are drawn into the story.

Issue #1 opens with a crime committed in Gracehill, Chicago’s oldest cemetery.

Scott tells me:
"Gracehill is a fictional cemetery based on Graceland and Rosehill cemeteries in Chicago. Both are resting places for many of the city of Chicago founders. Rosehill is in the neighborhood I grew up in and my Great Grandfather is buried there. I recently learned that my Great Great grandparents, who were immigrants from Sweden are buried in Graceland. Working on a genealogy project for my family I went to see their graves and was astounded by the monuments that were in the cemetery. Around this same time I was looking for a new project to work on. The characters, some of whom are based on the monuments, and the plot for the first issue came to me in a dream after I had visited and the story progressed from there."

Scott was gracious enough to send me some photos of himself with some of the monuments he has drawn for Visitations. Maybe my readers recognize some of them? For a good introduction to Visitations, let me quote from Scott’s Indiegogo fundraiser site:

What is Visitations?
"Visitations is a story of Chicago, as witnessed through the eyes of characters residing in the city's oldest cemetery. It's part historical fact, part fantasy horror, and part adventure. As the narrative unfolds, the history of Chicago unfolds as well. From the Great Fire of 1871 to the election of President Barack Obama, Visitations tells a tale of rebirth and the growth of a modern metropolis.

Meet Clayton Blackwood, magician and adventurer living in Chicago at the turn of the century. Blackwood and his ghostly group of friends believe they have successfully robbed crime boss Diamond Jim Colosimo of a cursed object. Little do they know they have the wrong talisman. When a mysterious stranger from Blackwood's past unleashes the horror they were trying to prevent throughout the city, this group of apparitions must leave the safe confines of the cemetery in which they reside and face their worst nightmares."

Scott Larson with one of the monuments he drew into his story

Earlier I mentioned Scott’s fundraising site on Indiegogo. What’s that all about? Issue #1 of Visitations was, for a limited time, available as a free download. A hard copy was also available (for $6, including shipping). However, Issue #2, due out at Halloween 2016, will be a bit more elusive. It’s creation was dependent upon Scott raising $3500 to cover the cost of publishing.

Crowdfunding websites like GoFundMe and Indiegogo may not be such a novel concept in this day and age, but I have to give Scott Larson credit for making this work. People are typically not willing to give you money to fund a project unless they believe in what you’re doing. Scott successfully funded Issue #2 of Visitations this way. He met his $3500 goal.

Gothic architecture never looked so good!
Scott sent me a copy of Issue #1 and it was great fun reading. Its basically to introduce us to all the characters (check out the links at the end to learn more). Now, how would you cemetery enthusiasts out there like to be drawn into Scott’s next comic?! Scott offered, in his Indiegogo campaign, that for contributions over a certain amount (see link for details), he would draw you in as your choice of a cemetery monument or ghost in Issue #2! I donated some money to fund it, so with any luck, I’ll end up a ghost so that I may forever haunt my enemies (one of my secret desires).

Some of Scott's artwork from his Google+ site

Visitations Comic Book Issue 2 “The Great Balloon Disaster”
BE A CEMETERY RESIDENT THIS GOTHIC STEAMPUNK COMIC BOOK SERIES!

I ran a few questions by Scott for Cemetery Traveler readers:

How can someone purchase or download a copy of Issue #1 at this point?
"Anyone who would like to read a digital copy can contact me by email at visitationscomicbook@gmail.com. I'll send that person a PDF of the issue for FREE.
Print copies are currently SOLD OUT. There will be a second printing coming soon. A first print can still be found in 2 Chicago comic shops:
Graham Crackers Comics ( Chicago Loop location) 312-629-1810
Chicago Comics 773-528-1983
Supplies are limited and once they are gone there are no more."

How do you share the writing with Len Strazewski?
"Len is acting as a creative consultant so far. I'm doing the writing and he's helping with the dialogue. He has really helped with the development of the characters. When I took the story to him to get his opinion and he developed the backgrounds and origins for each on the spot (I had no clue what the histories were since the first story came from my unconsciousness). His favorite character is The Entertainer (the headless man) and Len has a story that he will be writing for him that has ties to present day Chicago."

Visitations comic book creator Scott Larson

I hope you will join Scott Larson in his Visitations adventure! Please follow Scott at these links:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Sons of the Revolution

Prior to finding this grave marker in a cemetery, I had not heard of the "Sons of the Revolution." As we near America’s Independence Day, the Fourth of July, let’s delve a bit deeper into this. I found it as I was roaming through St. Andrew’s Cemetery in Mount Holly, New Jersey, back in the spring of 2016, when I noticed this bronze plaque at a veteran’s grave. I’ve been drawn to these small bronze memorial markers for the past several years – mainly because they seem to be slowly disappearing as people steal them for scrap.

I had heard of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the D.A.R., but oddly, not the Sons. A fraternal organization, the Sons of the Revolution was formed in 1876 to keep the history of the American Revolution alive, through people with direct lineage to those who fought in the war. There are some links at the end where you can investigate the Sons and Daughters further.

The Sons of the Revolution annual board meeting will be held Oct. 7-9, 2016 at Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street (near Battery Park, Lower Manhattan) in NYC. This is an awesome place to grab a beer, by the way - it is where Gen. George Washington took his men for beers! This place is steeped in American history. On the eve of July 4, 2016, the museum at Fraunces would be a wonderful place to spend a few hours, if you happen to be in New York City. The tavern is about a block from the port of the Staten Island Ferry, which itself is a wonderful attraction – you glide by the Statue of Liberty!

I was at Fraunces a few years ago and I must say, the period furniture, flags, signed documents, paintings, and sculpture are amazing to see. Rooms upon rooms were filled with artifacts (some of which you can see at this link to Fraunces Tavern® Museum), and the rooms themselves were filled with Wall Street-types at happy hour! It’s interesting to consider this place has been in continuous operation since 1719, making it the oldest restaurant in New York City; Samuel Fraunces purchased the property in 1762.

Fraunces Tavern, from the website http://forknplate.com/2014/10/21/the-7-oldest-restaurants-in-new-york-city/

Not many people think of New York when they think about the Revolutionary War. However, Fraunces’ was a central meeting place for Loyalists during the war. Samuel Fraunces kept the tavern open during the period of British occupation of New York. Once the British were defeated at the Battle of York Town in 1781, the tavern evolved into an American government “headquarters while negotiations with the British concerning their evacuation from the City were underway” (ref.).
 
George Washington in the Continental Army, by C.W. Peale (Ref.)


I was fascinated by the account below, which describes an emotional scene from the end of the war (excerpted from the Memoirs of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge (1830) in the collection of Fraunces Tavern Museum)

"On November 25, 1783, British troops left New York City – the last American city to be occupied. This day would later be referred to as Evacuation Day. George Washington led his Continental Army in a parade from Bull’s Head Tavern in the Bowery to Cape’s Tavern on Broadway and Wall Street. New York Governor George Clinton’s Evacuation Day celebration was held at Fraunces Tavern. During the week of Evacuation Day George Washington was in the City, and he made use of the Tavern by dining in and ordering take-out.

On December 4, 1783, nine days after the last British soldiers left American soil, George Washington invited the officers of the Continental Army to join him in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern so he could say farewell."

Washington then headed to Annapolis where he resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. From there, he went on to bigger and better things. Thanks to the Sons of the Revolution and their bronze grave marker, for giving me the idea to research this piece. Another bit of history as we celebrate the anniversary of our nation's independence.

References and Further Reading:

Monday, June 27, 2016

PPAC 2016 MEMBERS EXHIBITION

JULY 1 – 29, 2016 @ SAVERY GALLERY
ARTIST RECEPTION / July 7, 2016 / 6-8pm
319 N. 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Above you see my entry in the annual “Members Exhibition” of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC). It is a first for me (no, I’ve been photographing cemeteries since the late 1990s, smart aleck) – my first publicly hung smartphone image. Seems a bit like cheating, that I didn’t make this image with some super-expensive, high-quality camera. I made it with an iPhone6, which I’ve only owned for six months. Perhaps it is time to stop telling people that I make all my serious photographs with film cameras!

I felt a bit guilty as I delivered the 12-inch square print (made on watercolor paper), archivally matted and framed in a 20-inch silver metal frame, to the exhibition’s curator. As I saw a dozen other people’s work waiting to be hung, I chatted with her about the fact that mine was made with a camera phone. She said she was fascinated by it on the submission site and was looking forward to seeing it in person. We chatted about the improvements in digital imaging technology, but I had to admit to her the main reason I made this image with my camera phone – I wasn’t about to climb over a wall into a graveyard at sunrise toting my Mamiya 645!

So yes, I did exactly that. Climbed a wall and a fence in the wee hours of the morning, into the closed Woodlawn Cemetery in Tampa, Florida. This was at the beginning of June, 2016. I was in town for a conference and was heading back to the airport that morning. Got up extra early and took Uber to the cemetery. I had never been here, and explored the grounds for over an hour – the hour just after sunrise. Imagine my surprise when I found this Victorian lady perched on her marble chair above her own crypt! The rising sun at her back haloed the outline of her statue in a breathtaking manner. The scene screamed, "Monochrome!"

At eight a.m., I called Uber to get a ride to the airport. About ten minutes later a woman of Spanish descent arrived in a late-model black Mercedes. She tentatively rolled down the passenger window as I said hello. As I opened the door, she laughed nervously and said, “I never picked up at a cemetery before. When I got the call, I thought, ‘Even THEY use Uber!'”

So come see my photograph in person, as well as dozens of others by talented photographers who are PPAC members. There is an opening reception, free and open to the public. I’ve reproduced below their announcement of the show from the PPAC website. I particularly like the last line: “As always, this survey of regional photographers will welcome a diverse array of photographic themes and subject matter.” I’m sure every photograph in the exhibit has a story behind it like mine. Come meet the artists and ask them!

JULY 1 – 29, 2016 @ SAVERY GALLERY
ARTIST RECEPTION / July 7, 2016 / 6-8pm
319 N. 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Balancing a huge pool of talent with close-knit camaraderie, Greater Philadelphia is a welcoming home for any artist. As members of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center will tell you, it’s an even better place to be a photographer. To celebrate the talent within our community, PPAC will host our annual Members Exhibition from July 1 to 29, 2016 at SAVERY Gallery. The Member Show opening reception will be held on Thursday, July 7th from 6-8pm. As always, this survey of regional photographers will welcome a diverse array of photographic themes and subject matter.

Monday, June 20, 2016

God’s Quarter-Acre

Monday, June 20, 2016, is the first day of summer. Just in time for summer vacation, Weccacoe Playground in Philadelphia will be closed. Closed until August, 2016, at least.

“Located on the 400 block of Catharine Street [Queen Village neighborhood], Weccacoe Playground is a central spot for recreation, fun, and greenery. Weccacoe Playground is one of the few playgrounds in Philadelphia with a full-size, professional tennis court. Anyone is welcome to play, and each summer there is a youth tennis league.  The playground also houses the recreation center, which serves as QVNA’s [Queen Village Neighbors Association] office and a neighborhood meeting place for community activities, children’s events, and other meetings. The Friends of Weccacoe Playground is QVNA committee of volunteers who help make the playground a clean, green, and safe place for kids and adults.” - http://www.qvna.org/qvna/venue/weccacoe-playground/

Why am I writing about a playground on my Cemetery Traveler blog? Because this playground – or more specifically – it’s tennis courts and recreation center, were built over a graveyard.


Grave excavations in front of Weccacoe Rec Center, 2013 (Ref.)

“Just don't tell the kids..."

 “Just don't tell the kids: Renovations for Weccacoe Playground on the 400 block of Catharine Street will forge ahead, despite the site recently being named to the National Register of Historic Places. Why the nod? It was a 19-century African-American burial ground, and about 5,000 people lie buried beneath it.” - (from the article, Weccacoe Playground Renovations to Continue on Top of Historic Burial Ground.) 

May 2016 photo showing tennis courts at left.

“Under this playground is a burial ground of as many as 5,000 people from the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1800′s. The location has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places." - See more at: http://www.passyunkpost.com/2016/03/29/weccacoe-playground-began-this-week/#sthash.LMk2vu8e.dpuf

The city was called on its attempt to dig up the grounds for a playground renovation project in 2013 (see my prior blog, The Bones Beneath Us). Heated debates arose between various parties, including Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, which originally owned the cemetery. According to the 2013 Philly.com article, Historic African American cemetery in Queen Village larger than thought: “The cemetery, which had languished in obscurity for a century, was put on the city register of historic places in June [2013], and the archaeology study was ordered in advance of renovations to the now-protected site. (All construction related to a protected historic property must be approved by the city historical commission.)" 

Banner currently on the fence of the tennis court on Queen Street

"…construction will be allowed on the portion of the playground that does not touch the bones." - (from the article, Weccacoe Playground Renovations to Continue on Top of Historic Burial Ground.)

I noticed that the playground construction had begun March 28, 2016 (Ref.), with barriers around the tennis courts and Rec center. This apparently is to protect the known borders of the Mother Bethel Burying Ground, which was in existence between 1810 –1864. The fact that a cemetery itself would have a birth and death date is ironic! A very interesting read is the 2013 Archaeological Investigations of the Mother Bethel Burying Ground (available at this link), prepared for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (not the HISTORICAL society as one might expect).

Bethel Burying Ground now joins a handful of city graveyards - Christ Church Burial Ground, Old Swedes' Church Cemetery, Mikveh Israel Cemetery, the Woodlands - on the national register," states the 2016 Philly.com article, Bethel Burying Ground, a National Historic Site, faces neglect, damage.

God’s Quarter-Acre

"The graveyard, beneath about a third of the three-quarters-of-an-acre playground in the 400 block of Queen Street, is owned by the city. More than 5,000 18th- and 19th-century African Americans are buried there, members of the city's and nation's "founding generation," in the words of Richard S. Newman, director of the Library Company of Philadelphia and author of Freedom's Prophet, a highly regarded biography of Richard Allen." - from the article,
Bethel Burying Ground, a National Historic Site, faces neglect, damage

This whole situation has to be somewhat embarrassing for the wealthy whites who occupy most of this neighborhood - their beloved playground and Rec center were built over an abandoned black cemetery. Also, a bit embarrassing to the City of Philadelphia, which owns the land, to have approved of the renovations in the first place. Compromises were reached, however, and the city has stated that “…construction will be allowed on the portion of the playground that does not touch the bones” (Ref.).

What a magnanimous statement THAT is! As you can see in the photo below, the barricades and fencing have been erected to limit the construction to the area of the playground that has no bodies beneath it. The Rec center, it turns out, has bathrooms that drain through the quarter-acre burial ground. There are calls to remove them. After all is said and done, compromise may be reached to have both the burial ground and the playground coexist.

April 2016 photo of Weccacoe - note green-roofed Rec center in rear, beyond barricade

From the Feb. 1, 2016 CBSPhilly article, Burial Ground Beneath Queen Village Playground Named To National Register Of Historic Places:


"Attorney Michael Coard, founder of Avenging Our Ancestors, says he opposes a playground “being on top of or even next to this hallowed ground. Also the toilets above these historic bodies must be removed.”



The Conclusion?
Not at all sure what that will be. You would think after all the renovations, the city would at least erect an historical marker. I noted that the playground map currently on the fence of the Weccacoe Playground makes no mention of the Mother Bethel Burial Ground, which lies beneath it. All-in-all, this is another example of the living trying to find ways to live with their dead.