Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Falling into a Sunken Grave

So I fell into my first sunken grave today. Photographers have some great opening lines, don’t they? Here are two of my favorites (uttered by two separate photographer friends of mine at different times): “Well, we got most of the bodies out of the ground” and “I’ve broken into some new places recently.” (I should clarify - the former was uttered by a fellow who works in a cemetery, and the latter by someone who photographs abandoned buildings, and was not referring to cemeteries!)

Anyway, about the sunken grave. I was out at Mount Moriah Cemetery this weekend past (early Saturday in March), walking through the military plots with Sam, a Civil War historian. Sam and I are both on the Board of Directors of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, and we were preparing some tour stops for the April 6, 2013 “Park Day,” which is sponsored by the Civil War Trust. We needed to identify the graves of certain Civil War veterans who died from various battle-induced injuries. This would be part of a tour discussion on Civil War medicine.

Documenting grave locations in Mount Moriah Cemetery's Naval Asylum Plot
On this same day, Drexel University had sent a busload of freshmen students to spend the day cleaning up the cemetery as part of a “Civic Engagement” course. We had two students assisting us in the search for the graves, documenting the GPS coordinates, etc. I was taking pictures. At one point Sam walked away with the students and stopped before the giant iron ship’s anchor mounted to a pedestal in the corner of the Naval Asylum plot. I noticed a giant hawk feeding between the headstones a few rows away so I was trying to get a decent photograph of it. As I turned to walk toward Sam and the students, I snapped the photo of them you see below. Note the hole in the ground at their feet. I fell into this.

Hole in foreground, to right
The hole was about two feet deep and about two feet square. My camera flew out of my hand and I went down on my left ankle. Felt like a total nimrod as I landed at the feet of my companions! The ankle’s starting to smart now, several hours later. It’s so ironic that after years of climbing through the underbrush and forests of this wildly overgrown cemetery in West Philly, that I would hurt myself on a flat grassy surface that is (and always has been) well-maintained by the Veterans’ Administration! Bright sunny day, should’ve been watching where I was going. So as I contemplate my injury as atonement for writing such uncomplimentary things about Mount Moriah in the past, a Reiki attunement may be in order. I wonder if they still shoot horses when they break a leg?

Concrete burial vaults (unused)
In closing, sunken graves are definitely a hazard in old cemeteries.I suppose it was inevitable that I finally fell into one after exploring them for fifteen years. If a stone or concrete burial vault (shown at right) is not used to house the coffin, the ground will collapse around the coffin as it deteriorates. This forms a sunken grave, a miniature sink hole or depression of varying size. A bear trap, if you will, awaiting the unwary.

That said, sinkholes are much more dangerous than mere sunken graves. There are actual sinkhole seasons in some areas of the United States, coinciding with the beginning of the state's rainy season and usually lasts until the end of summer. Currently (March 2013), people and their possessions are falling into sinkholes in Florida and Texas! You’ll notice that the sink hole into which the Florida woman fell (link immediately below) appears to be no larger than the sunken grave with which I became intimately involved! 

New York Daily News article: Fla. woman afraid for her life after backyard sinkholes nearly bury her alive:”

Hers was deeper, however, truly giving her the feeling she would be “buried alive.” My own experience was mainly just embarrassing – you know, that feeling you get when you do something really stupid and other people witness it?

Related Sink Hole News:
NBC News broadcast: When the earth opens up: Why it's'sinkhole season' in Florida (San Antonio, Texas) broadcast:"Texas woman relives her sinkhole nightmare"