Thursday, May 22, 2014

4th Anniversary of "The Cemetery Traveler" Blog!

As I write this blog posting, I begin my FIFTH YEAR of writing The Cemetery Traveler! Can you believe that?!). I’ve posted 248 blogs in the past four years and I truly thank you for reading them! There will be a quiz at the end. (Actually, a few have been guest-written by friends, at my invitation, and I thank them for sharing their knowledge and experience!)

A few of the blogs had to do with two new Facebook pages I started, based on my experiences with the varied personalities taken on by cemeteries during the different seasons of the year. The first one I did was called Cemeteries in the Snow which was received with wild enthusiasm the world over! This was quite exciting and produced some amazing images, as well as expanding readers' awareness of the beuaty of a graveyard under a blanket of snow.

The next page I started at a friend's request, Cemeteries in the Rain. I thought it would be an interesting experiment. The page has a whole different feel to it, as the general idea of a cemetery in the rain is rather depressing! The page has had limited upload participation because, well, other than me, who would be in a cemetery during a rainstorm?! still, I am intrigued at how a cemetery landscape changes drastically with the seasons.

As a fairly prolific writer, I can’t help but share an ironic experience with you, which has to do with writing, and with me, specifically. A few months ago my wife and I took our four-year-old daughter to a “play date” at a local (Philadelphia) Quaker school to see if we might send her there for kindergarten. While the kids were off playing (and being evaluated), the parents were gathered in a separate room for chatties and snacks (and most likely also being evaluated, though more discretely). As about thirty of us sat there in comfy chairs listening to the speakers extoll the virtues of the school, the dreaded ice breaker was thrust upon us.

Daughter Olivia learning her "ABCs"
We were each given a slip of paper on which were typed different questions. We were to go up to a stranger and ask them our question. After the person answered, that person would ask you their question. You would then trade slips of paper and go find another stranger to accost. It was a way of learning about each other that was effective and sort of eye-opening. I was asked this question:

“If you found yourself on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?”
Now, dear reader, before you continue, I invite you to jot down three things that first come to your mind – what would YOU take? I’ll go off on some little tangent and then come back with my response. Then we will compare and contrast.

So it has been four years of writing The Cemetery Traveler and I am STILL working on my first book of collected blogs. Its not so much procrastination – life gets in the way when you’re busy planning other things. Occasionally I sit in front of my laptop thinking Jack Kerouac thoughts, having “... an awful realization that I have been fooling myself all my life thinking there was a next thing to do to keep the show going ....” (from his book, Big Sur). But the book has to come out. I want it. I think it would be well received.

Occasionally I get writer’s block, but that only lasts a few days at most. Because as you all know, down every road, there’s one more graveyard! And sometimes, beneath a graveyard lies yet another graveyard - I mean, literally. After all, this was how Rome, Paris, London, Seattle, and San Francisco were built – a layer of a new city on top of its buried predecessor. Still, we don’t think of digging further down into a graveyard and expect to find headstones and monuments. Yet this is exactly what is occurring at Mount Moriah Cemetery, in Southwest Philadelphia.

Face-down, fallen headstone in process of being resurrected

It's interesting how the gravestone excavation is proceeding here at Mount Moriah. The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., in their attempts to locate grave stones for plot holders and descendants, realized that many of the apparent "missing" stones are actually buried! For the past century, stones have fallen and been buried during ground subsidence, soil erosion, under layers of fallen leaves, etc. Stones buried a foot below ground are typically found with a steel poker driven into the ground. In this place of over 80,000 graves, the chances of hitting a buried stone are quite good.

Harry Houdini at Heller's grave (ref)
That's how the headstone of noted nineteenth century magician Robert Heller was located. The photo at the beginning of this article is me standing next to it. Directly above (in an early 1900s photo) is Harry Houdini standing next to it! The stone had been lying in the dirt, face down, for may years. Now it is upright, and the grounds around it have been cleared so people can visit. 

So my point (and sometimes I do indeed have one) is, that since there are stories within stories, graves below graves, I may never run out of subject matter! And as long as I can get around and travel to all these interesting graveyards, I am hopeful that I can do my part to keep the memories of the occupants alive. And I well appreciate you following my blog, if only to avoid being reproached by friends for an uncalled for lack in your graveyard education!

Now then, about the three things I would want with me if I found myself on a desert island - I responded, “A guitar, a very long novel, and my wife.” This in itself may be telling in some way. However, what REALLY got me thinking about my answer was the comparative answers of other people who were asked this same question. Some I asked personally, others I overheard in the room. EVERYONE else included in their list of three items some electronic device with which to communicate with the outside world! That never occurred to me! I found this to be ironic and hilarious at the same time, since normally, I cannot shut up. So I guess if I found myself on a desert island, after reading the book and playing the guitar, I might just talk my wife to death about cemeteries.