Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me."
- Mississippi John Hurt, 1966
With all this mid-winter rain we’re having, I think from time to time about Captain Babel Irons and his wife, Mary. Mary’s tombstone lies cast down at the waterline of the Delaware River in Philadelphia, under the Betsy Ross Bridge. How it got there is a long story, to which the reader is invited to relive through my past blogs on the subject (i.e. the destruction of Monument Cemetery, listed at the end of this article). No one knows the whereabouts of Captain Irons’ stone, or why Mary had a separate one.
Curiously, Captain Babel H. Irons does not swim with the fishes, even though his namesake schooner broke apart during a storm and sunk in the Delaware Bay. He died in 1872, Mary in 1917, and both were buried at Monument Cemetery. Mary ironically died of pneumonia – a disease that can produce fluid in the lungs – causing a person to effectively drown from the inside.
The tide comes in and goes out twice a day on the shores of the Delaware, like twin slaps in society’s face for having so disrespectfully demolished a consecrated burial ground. This dumping ground is hardly as exotic as the “Neptune Memorial Reef,” the underwater cemetery off the coast of Miami, Florida. Philadelphia’s ragtag industrial Bridesburg section (where the tombstones reside), is a far cry from Miami Beach.
|Tombstones at river's edge, lying against embankment|
On my last visit, I stood above the stone watching as the waves lapped around it, foaming the edges. The water rises surprisingly fast, if you have a marker like this by which to gauge its rise (one vertical foot per hour over a six-hour period). Reminding one of Captain Irons’ ship that sunk during a fierce storm in 1874, Mary’s stone stares at you like the final flare from a shipwreck.
Babel Irons may have been one of those sea captains who spent months at sea, but one thing is certain – he came home at least nine times while his wife was in her child-bearing years. They indeed had nine children! This, and the fact that Babel’s full name was Zorobabel (what a great name!), I learned from reading psychic Valerie Morrison’s website. Morrison and her staff have done considerable research into the lives of those people whose exposed headstones form the beach under the Betsy Ross Bridge. Her point is to show that all these people led actual lives, and should therefore be shown more respect. While Captain Irons fathered his youngest child, Sallie, at age 66, the more amazing thing is that Mary Irons gave birth to Sallie at age 45 – way past 40, considered even today (2013) as being advanced maternal age (meaning that women have difficulty becoming pregnant, and if they do, the pregnancy is more prone to complications).
|Betsy Ross Bridge over Delaware River|
References and further Reading:
Ed Snyder's Monument Cemetery blog postings:
CBS News: Final resting place - Cemeteries lack oversight
Philly.com: It's R.I.P. Tide Along the Delaware River