Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Voices in the Cemetery

Many of the images I've photographed remind me of the experience acquiring the image. Sometimes, however, I was so scared that I never got the image!

I like to think that I'm not superstitious. However, I am susceptible to suggestion. One time I travelled to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (NYC) to shoot with my brother. I found the amazing life-sized statue at left (angels are the same size as us, right?) and photographed it. We ended up getting locked in, much to my brother's chagrin, but that's another story! After arriving home and processing the film, I found that somehow the film was grossly overexposed--useless. So I planned another trip a few months later, by myself, just to make photographs of this statue (one of those you see here)!

Not only that, but I scheduled my trip with the intent of being locked in the cemetery! The reason? The lighting is better at dusk. Photographers typically shoot at the edges of the day, in order for the sun to produce as much shadow as possible. Helps to create the illusion of a 3D image.

So I go to Woodlawn on the appointed day, spend a couple hours shooting around the cemetery, find the statue (which I've since titled, "End of Miles"), then hide and wait until the gates are closed (and locked). Having done this before, I didn't see a problem with scaling the 10-foot wrought iron gate to get out. (Also having done this before, I was prepared for the strange looks from passing motorists. I mean, in the North Bronx, I'm sure they thinking, "He's nuts! It's much safer inside the cemetery than out!").

When the setting sun was in the correct position, I made the photographs of the statue you see here. All that remained was to make my way through the cemetery to the front gate, scale it, then have a nice cold one at the Woodlawn el stop across the street.

On my way I stopped to photograph a statue. As I was looking through the viewfinder of my camera to line up the shot, I distinctly saw a long furry ringed tail disappear behind a bush! I left my camera on the tripod and walked over to, and around, the bush. Nothing! No hole, no animal. I could think of only one thing--The Bronx Zoo! What made this even more disturbing, was the deafening quiet of the cemetery.

Victorian Garden Cemeteries like Woodlawn were landscaped by architects in the 1800s with the purpose of maintaining contemplative serenity through floral beauty and silence. While in such an idyllic paradise, you simply cannot see or hear anything--not trains, planes, or automobiles! The silence is very much with you when you know you're the only person locked in the cemetery...

Already rattled from the tail sighting, I packed up my gear and continued (but this time briskly) walking toward the locked entrance gate. As I walked along, I passed a monument that had a statue of a woman with two children at her knee. I read the inscription as I passed--it was something like, "Dedicated to a mother who loved her children." As I said the word 'children' in my mind, there was a loud audible baby's cry! My blood froze as I ran for the gate! That statue is not the one I've included here--this one is simply for illustrative purposes. I was too scared to stop and photograph that one.

I've since discovered that the ransom money dropoff related to the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932 occurred at this very gate!

More info on Lindbergh kidnapping


  1. I remember when you told me this story and it was like watching a scary movie because I wanted to shout, "Get out of there! NOW!" when you get to the part where the gate gets locked and it's getting dark. Then when you see the animal tail, of course I want to shout, "NOOO! Don't go look for it! Just GET OUT!!!" I can't believe you made it out alive without having to hack the head off a demon or throw holy water on a vampire or something.

    btw, that mother with children is super creepy with the faces gnawed at by the elements.

    But the photo of the defeated angel is pretty great, guess it was worth the risk. Remember at your opening when I said something like, "It's so sad even the angels are crying"?


  2. That is some comment! Thanks Val. Yow. I wasn't at my 'manliest' that day. Maybe this is why a lot of my work seems to tremble like souls in pain...

  3. What a fantastic angel statue! And an excellent photo. My favorite cemetery is Graceland in Chicago. My favorite angle is at the Kimball gravesite.

    I think your story could be turned into an interest read.