Monday, September 27, 2010
Some links to peruse:
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Website
Video tour of the cemetery
Ramones annual memorial concert
Johnny Ramone Monument on YouTube
Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss
Saturday, September 18, 2010
"On the Road," Kerouac epitomized wanderlust for an entire generation. He continues to do so now, years after his death. You simply cannot read "On the Road" without wanting to just drive recklessly off into the sunset in search of Meaning. I read it, and bought a convertible.
So why would I want to visit his grave? Why would anyone want to visit a celebrity's grave? Some of us do this because it enables us to get closer to the person than we could possibly have gotten in real life. For me, I think it was to get closer to the spirit of Kerouac's writing (which was a maddening stream of consciousness style further popularized a decade later by Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Kerouac isn't exactly a role model for me, its just that his writing touched a nerve: "Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me."
I think I was driving back from a ski trip in New Hampshire, when I decided to stop in Lowell. Lowell is a mill town, the nation's textile epicenter during the American Industrial Revolution. A workingman's town, and Kerouac's hometown. He was born there in 1922--Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac. He was French-Canadian, his parents had immigrated from Quebec, Canada. You'll notice the stone says "Jean," not Jack.
Edson City Cemetery is a relatively large, yet flat and plain looking cemetery. The woman at the gatehouse is happily prepared to give you a map showing how to get to the grave (it is arguably Lowell's most popular tourist attraction). Otherwise it would be rather difficult to find as the grave marker is flush with the ground. Let me rephrase that - its actually easy to find if you just take note of the several cars lined up waiting near the grave. This was the oddest thing! No one would bother you as you paid your respects, lit your candle, or left your token offering. As you drove away, the next car would drive up almost religiously, people would get out, walk to the grave, and spend some quiet moments. What were they reflecting on, I wondered? And why such reverence?
Read about Hollywood's bizarre Grave Line Tours
Visit Lowell, Massachusetts
Purchase On the Road and change your life for a mere ten bucks!
Monday, September 13, 2010
Saturday, September 4, 2010
Whenever I photograph in a cemetery, I pay attention to an important sign at the entrance--the one that tells me when "Closing Time" is. Minor detail, but neglecting this has gotten me into some tough scrapes. Not that I'm scared of being locked in a cemetery--walking by a dialysis clinic should be more frightening, you know? All those people on the other side of that wall will probably be dead in a month.
Ignoring the possibility of being attacked by the living dead, getting yourself locked in a cemetery poses a certain inconvenience--especially if you're locked in with your car. At least as a pedestrian, you can climb over the wall...before they release the dogs, that is. Who am I kidding? I don't want to be locked in a cemetery under any circumstances!
Back around 2005, I was photographing in the Woodlands Cemetery in West Philadelphia. This is an oasis of 250 wooded acres surrounded by city, The University of Pennsylvania, mostly. Its a quietly creepy kind of place, with the sculpted hills blocking out most of the city noise. In his book, "Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries," author Tom Keels quotes an early advertisement for the Woodlands:
"...the decaying bodies of the dead may securely moulder into kindred dust, with an abundant vegetation and free winds to absorb and dissipate all noxious effluvia."
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Frank had heard stories about the cemetery being wild and untamed. He asked me if he should bring a weapon. A weapon? Well maybe boots and long pants (even in this heat) because of the deer ticks. Truth be told, Mt. Moriah is in a run down, burned-out section of town (where all the best cemeteries usually are), and I agreed we should at least bring baseball bats. However, he was referring to the “family of wild pit bulls” he heard lived in the cemetery! I had my doubts.
I figured if there was a family of pit bulls, they’d be living in some shelter, e.g. the crumbling brownstone gatehouse. So we decided that should be our first stop! Upon arriving, we explored but only found sordid bedding littered with condom wrappers, and … piles of tombstones. Tombstones? Some from the late 1800s, some from 2006. Why? In looking at Mt. Moriah’s website (listed below), it appears that stones get moved and disappear. A genealogist’s nightmare. They also say if you’re planning to visit the cemetery, “It may be worth a trip, but be prepared for confusion, frustration and disappointment.” Hmmm. Now that’s enticing.
Back to the car--driving through this jungle, straddling washed-out craters in the road and avoiding being whipped in the face by tree branches was like being on one of those Disney rides or Universal Studios—you half expect a velociraptor to poke its head out of the thicket! Which is about when we saw the pit bulls…!
|My car in middle of the cemetery!|
At one point on a side road, or path, really, we dead-ended at a pile of lumber and other rubbish (Here’s my car at that point). As I backed the car out for about ten minutes to get to a different side-road so we could turn around without getting lost, it became apparent to me that Saabs are just not good off-road vehicles. Well, their website did say to be prepared for confusion and frustration.... With a sigh of relief, we found our way out of the woods into a clearing, and then back to familiar territory-- the pile of unused concrete crypts near the gatehouse. We were certainly not disappointed that the mama pit bull decided to keep a low profile that day.
Is Mt. Moriah a sad commentary on our city or a wondrous attraction for the urban explorer of abandoned places? I can’t be judgmental as to the former and am sorry that the cemetery has been allowed to devolve to this sad state. However, it allows one to contemplate the detritus of human endeavor. We erect monuments to the deceased (often ourselves) for a purpose, but attempts to preserve memories can sometimes be undermined. Vandals, time, and weather erode efforts at immortality and the corruption of the cemetery seems to affirm, rather than deny the decay down below. Seeing it in this condition, you feel you are witnessing the final disappearance of the spirits of the interred.
Mount Moriah Website