Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jersey Shore Cemetery

What’s a summer beach vacation without a stop at a cemetery? Even when I take my family to the Jersey shore, I map out a local cemetery to visit. Now, Long Beach Island (South Jersey) has no graveyards to my knowledge, so you must head inland a bit. The town of Manahawkin on Route 9 in Ocean County is right on the mainland just before you hit the causeway out to the island. There are half a dozen small old graveyards between Manahawkin and Tuckerton, five miles south on Route 9. I figured that on Saturday morning, I’d get up before my wife and daughter, drive over and do some shooting.

So on Friday night, I told Jill I’d be heading out early the next morning to do some photography. She said she noticed that I was all shpilkas (Yiddish term for having ants in one’s pants) and looked like I needed to get it out of my system. I got my camera gear ready and set my alarm for six a.m. It feels most insane to wake up that early when you’re on vacation. 

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, Beach Haven, New Jersey

When I awoke, I was surprised to see that the sun hadn’t yet risen! Can’t really make photographs without light, now can we? So I decided to go out to the beach and shoot the sunrise while I was waiting. (Here's a secret: I’ve made far more sunset photographs than sunrise ones.) It was quite a magnificent display that the summer sun presented about ten minutes later, here over the Atlantic Ocean. Took a few shots, sighed with awe at nature's majesty, then jumped into the car. There were tasks at hand. I only had two hours and still had to score coffee and a bun somewhere, creep the eight miles up the island at 25 mph, and tear across the causeway and Barnegat Bay at high speed.

Long Beach Island (LBI) really hasn’t changed much in the twenty-five years since I brought my first brood of children here. Quaint little shops and a family-oriented atmosphere, very few amusements and no boardwalk − totally unlike Wildwood and Atlantic City to its south. In fact, LBI seems to be the cutoff point between the north Jersey shore (with Asbury Park and Point Pleasant) and the south Jersey shore. Architecture changes drastically, vacationers are different. It’s much quieter and cleaner to the north. You begin to notice the change fairly quickly as you head north on Route 9 past Manahawkin.

Odd Fellows "FLT" symbol
Lighthouse engraving
As I hit town, I realized that over the years, I had passed Manahawkin’s Greenwood Cemetery so many times that my memories are worn (as John Prine says in his song Paradise). However, I never stopped there. Always had a carload of kids, or something. Times change. 

The front name fencing of this rural cemetery was bathed in the early rays from the sunrise − quite nice edge-of-the-day light with which to make photographs.  I like those sign fences, or whatever they’re called. I parked my wife’s Toyota RAV4 in the center of the small, football field-sized cemetery, got out and quickly surveyed the place. Only had an hour until I needed to head back to Beach Haven (I swear, that’s really the name of the town where we were staying), pick up Jill and Olivia (our three-year-old daughter), and head out to breakfast. Until then, I’d enjoy the quiet solitude of this Victorian seashore graveyard.

Plot borders at Greenwood Cemetery
The ground throughout the cemetery was sandy, with sparse grass. There were trees and old iron fencing at the front, the land grassier toward the back. There were strange, yet carefully delineated family plots throughout – all well-maintained. The borders were generally just low marble or concrete curbing with white gravel or sand over the graves. I couldn’t really do these justice with a photograph, so click my friend Kimberly Killeri’s video for a better idea of what I’m talking about (the video is interesting in its attention to detail). Greenwood offers just one angel statue at the back, but this lovely graveyard has many other things to offer gravers and taphophiles.

As I munched my glazed donut and set my convenience store coffee cup down on a tombstone, I noticed the odd little zinc medallion you see at left. I shot it and did a bit of research later. Remember the Boston Tea Party (1773)? Well, the "S and D of L" were responsible for that. The name "Sons and Daughters of Liberty" was given to the secret clubs of marauding American patriots that threatened the British ruling authority prior to 1776. Up and down the eastern seaboard, this "private band of societies provided an intercolonial network that would help forge unity" through "extralegal means" (reference:

Another interesting thing I stumbled on (literally) was this set of stones at the front of Greenwood Cemetery. "Friend?" How close a "friend" would you say? This was not the family name, by the way. There was a large monument among these stones with that name one it.

Roaming around, I found several interesting decorative items, offerings, lighthouse carvings on stones, and so on. But, you know how every once in a while you find some REALLY unusual piece of architecture or statue that just produces utter delight? This was the case for me when I found this amazing little cast iron gate! It was swung partly open, and may have been like that for years – or at least since the last coastal storm. It bore the family name and date, along with a splendid harp design below. I don't believe I've ever seen one like it in person, though I'd seen vintage photos of them from cemeteries of the late 1800s.

All too soon, I'm tearing back over the causeway, the morning sun blazing as I drive past the weird Jersey signs, the custard stands, fudge shacks, the “Pottery  Barge.” I'm blasting Izzy Stradlin's G'n'R version of the Stones' Dead Flowers on the car stereo, feeling good about another successful adventure in a new cemetery. But I face another challenge: fighting the breakfast crowd at Uncle Will’s Pancake House.