Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Freddie Krueger

Somewhere in the past , back when wishing was still of some use (possibly 2004), I found a rundown cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia and ventured inside with my camera. Groundskeepers were busily whacking weeds and mowing grass. It was a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon, not at all the conditions under which one might have the wits scared out of one.

I roamed around a bit, photographing the busted up statues, when I came upon a grand old stone building half built into the earth, half out. The outer half said "Receiving Vault 1870," over its long-sealed doorway.

Receiving vaults were used in the olden days to store bodies of people who died in the winter months before motorized hydraulic excavating equipment like the backhoe became available. Sometimes it was just impossible to manually dig a grave in the frozen ground. Come spring, the bodies would be buried.

Infrared Image of Receiving Vault
So there I am setting up my camera on its tripod to shoot the grand entrance to the receiving vault amidst all the noise of the mowing equipment, weed whackers, etc. Bright sunny day, I'm not thinking at all about the corpses fading in the cemetery all around me (as Baudelaire would say). Suddenly, Freddie Krueger is standing next to me dressed in jean overalls, a plaid shirt, and straw hat -- holding a pitchfork! I was rather startled by his size more than his clothes and accoutrements. I'm six-foot-two, so he must have been six-six -- an imposing figure covered in bits of grass and hay. He says something to me, but I can't hear him clearly over the sound of mowing equipment. With all the noise, he could kill me and no one would hear my screams. I ask him, "What did you say?"

He repeats, "Are you with us or against us?" Um, well, hmmm....not much opportunity to run unless I want to leave my camera and tripod behind. So I say, "I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean." He repeats in a steady tone, "Are you with us or against us?" Ok, so now thoughts of Marathon Man are flooding my brain, specifically the part where the Nazi dentist is torturing Dustin Hoffman while repeatedly asking, "Is it safe?" (If you've never seen this movie, and have a strong stomach, feel free to watch the scene here.)

I have a strong urge to reply,  "Oh, I'm totally with you on this," and beat a hasty retreat, but I bite my tongue. He repeats the question a couple more times until Freddie finally drops the intimidation act and realizes that I'm not his enemy. He explains to me that his company just bought the cemetery and is restoring it. As part of the renovation, they're planning to build a crematorium on the grounds and the neighbors are up in arms about it. Hence the question "Are you with us or against us?"

Whew. I make some small talk with him (as much as I comfortably can after peeing my pants), and then say goodbye, good luck, or something ridiculous like that. I left and I've never been back to that cemetery. I wonder if they ever built the crematorium? If anyone reading this knows, please add it as a comment! I can only manufacture so much history, you know.

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