Monday, November 15, 2010

Out of Body in the Cemetery

If I were to guess, this might have happened around 2005. No matter, as Mark Twain said, my memory’s so good I can remember things whether they happened or not.

Anyway, I was photographing in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, which is a mile or so north of that infernal “Inner Harbor” tourist trap area (all the best things are north of there, except maybe Loudon Park Cemetery). My friend John and I spent a summer Saturday in Greenmount, walking the grounds, photographing the monuments (like the one you see here at left), and reminiscing (we went to engineering school together at Penn State).

At one point we noticed a tall thin man dressed in a suit walking around. He may have been in his late 60’s; the suit was a bit ragged and out-of-date. Besides us, he appeared to be the only visitor there. We saw him now and again, and paid him no mind until at one point he strolled over and asked us a question. He said, “You gentlemen seem to be familiar with this place. I’m trying to find this monument--have you seen it?” He held out a small 1940’s-type (crinkle-edged) black and white Instamatic photo of some tombstones and monuments surrounded by small trees.

We both said no, and I added, “You know, those trees must be so large by now that I’m sure the area you’re looking for looks nothing like this photograph.” He nodded and just sort of drifted off. We went about our business and about a half hour later he rejoined us. This time he asked us if we were aware that some famous artists were buried here. He insisted on showing us, so we followed.

Although there are many famous people buried at Greenmount (John Wilkes Booth, Sidney Lanier, Johns Hopkins), the only famous artist I was aware of was William Henry Rinehart. The photograph you see at top is a rendition of Rinehart's sculpture "Sleeping Children," which rests atop a grave in Greenmount. The thin man walked us to a hilly area in the northwest section of the cemetery and showed us two monuments, neither of which was Rinehart's. He told us the artist’s names and what they famously accomplished. Anxious to continue our photographing, John and I thanked him and excused ourselves.To tell the truth, I remember thinking that I never heard of the people he mentioned so his comments made little impact on me. Being a true guy, sometimes my profound inner shallowness just takes over.

The image you see at right is a detail of the bronze cast of Rinehart's sculpture "Endymion," which is mounted on his own tomb near the main entrance of the cemetery. The subject, a shepherd boy holding a flute, was taken from classical mythology. The youth had been so beautiful that Selene, the moon goddess, fell in love with him and bore fifty daughters. Subsequently, the supreme god Zeus granted the shepherd both eternal youth and eternal sleep.

So about an hour later, as we walked through the cemetery toward the gatehouse to leave, we passed a small car parked at the side of the road. There was no one in the driver’s seat, but the thin man was sitting in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead. I though this odd and mentioned it to John. He had no reaction, but then, John sees dead people. Maybe I did too.

Statue and Chapel, Greenmount Cemetery
As I thought back on this experience, I decided to do a bit of research for this article, and attempted to find out who those artists were that the thin man went on about. I really don’t remember any of what he said. Strangely, as I search the Web now for artists buried at Greenmount, I only come up with one, William Henry Rinehart—unless you want to count this entry from Wikipedia: “Johnny Eck (1911–1991), American freak show performer born without legs.”  So who was the thin man? And why did he go on so about the "artists?" Why was he later sitting in the car? Did Zeus just not grant him eternal sleep?

I’ve wondered about John’s perspective on our encounter with the thin man, but never asked him. Maybe I’m afraid of his answer. At the time, John participated in psychic sessions at the Edgar Cayce institute, the “Association for Research and Enlightenment” in Virginia Beach. He said he was able to help stranded souls get to “the next level.” John also had out-of-body experiences. If you’ve never had a paranormal experience yourself and people you trust tell you such things, aren’t you more apt to believe them?  Situations like this make one wonder what’s "real" and what’s not. Or is it all real, and we just label things differently in an effort to make sense of them? ...Or to make ourselves feel more comfortable?

Some Related Links:

"Sleeping Children" sculpture by William Henry Rinehart

Greenmount Cemetery Website (one of those few that have creepy music on them!)

Greenmount monuments

Edgar Cayce Books
Edgar Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment