Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I am Dead - Lou Reed (1947-2013)

"I am Dead" - At least that's what I thought this caption said under Lou Reed's portrait on the November 6, 2013 cover of Rolling Stone. I certainly would not have been surprised to find this to be his self-penned epitaph. The magazine was sitting in the display rack last week at my local Whole Foods supermarket (a place I doubt the drug-addled Reed would have ever set foot in, though I did hear rumors that he cleaned himself up in the past few years). When I pulled the magazine out of its holder, I was disappointed to see that what I thought was "I am Dead" were simply the words "Lou Reed" (as you can see in the photo below). That's just the way my mind works, I guess - death everywhere. Also the way Reed worked – he liked to disappoint.

Reed's Transformer album
Reed the rock star died on Oct. 27, 2013. Those unfamiliar with his fifty-years-worth of music (difficult to be unaware of his 1972 hit, Walk on the Wild Side, and his 60s band, the Velvet Underground) may know him best from his song Perfect Day (flip side of the Wild Side single, from his best-known album, Transformer), which has been airing for the past several months on network television as the soundtrack for Sony’s new PlayStation 4. It’s a fabulous pairing of music with video, I must say. Here are some lyrics from the song (and a link to the video):

“Oh, it's such a perfect day
I'm glad I spend it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on”

For most of his career, I hated the music Lou Reed created, but I never stopped giving him a chance. I would buy used copies of his latest CDs and hope for the best - he just kept me hanging on. Sweet Jane, a Velvets song he wrote, has been one of my mainstays on guitar for the past thirty years – just a wonderfully simple chord progression with lyrics about transvestites and oral sex. I went to see Reed once, back in 2003 at the Tower Theatre in Philly. I saw Patti Smith around the same time. They were both popular New York artists in the 70s and both have storied reputations and hit-and-miss musical careers. I had reservations about seeing them – I figured that based on their history and things I’ve read, there was a 50% chance they would suck.

Turned out that Patti Smith was over-the-top brilliant, and Reed, well, he sucked. All I remember is him doing a monotone delivery of Poe’s The Raven while the band stood by or droned on, I don’t remember which. It was less than brilliant. So now he’s gone. But Lou Reed won’t be remembered for anyone else’s lyrics. He‘ll be remembered for his own lyrics, and for the LOOK. Read the following obit and you’ll see what I mean. Of the Velvets and Reed in particular, the Philadelphia Weekly states (in the article, “In Memoriam: Lou Reed”):

They were drop-dead cool, and any indie rock band who’s ever copped the whole skinny black jeans, leather jackets and wrap-around shades look since owes Lou Reed (big time). They remain the absolute template–for better or worse–for a look and sound that’s been assimilated by everyone from David Bowie to Roxy Music, Patti Smith to Sonic Youth, the Jesus and Mary Chain to the Smiths. More recently, the Strokes’ entire shtick was plundered wholesale from Reed’s back catalog.
Ed Snyder's daughter Olivia, striking a Lou Reed pose

My four-year-old daughter even emulates Reed (though not consciously)! That look and that sound flew in the face of Top 40 pop music, which in 1972 was dominated by such mega-dreck as Sammy Davis Jr.’s The Candy Man and Robert John’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight. While the majority of the listening public was grooving to these fine ditties, 10,000 people went out and bought that first Velvets album. The seeds of punk rock were sewn that year. Philadelphia Weekly goes on to say, “To paraphrase the infamous old Brian Eno quote, the Velvet’s first album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.

Back in the 70s, I along with all other Creem magazine readers, bought Reed’s Coney Island Baby, Sally Can’t Dance, and the big downer album, Berlin, expecting the same brilliance that he showed on Transformer (the album with Wild Side and Perfect Day). While his Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal album is arguably one of the best live rock performances ever recorded, he stumbled big time with Metal Machine Music ... In addition to the four albums of music Reed created with the Velvet Underground, he released twenty-two solo albums of new material in his long career.

 "Just a perfect day
problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
it's such fun

Just a perfect day
you made me forget myself
I thought I was
someone else, someone good"

Those lyrics remind me of strolling through an old cemetery, forgetting my cares and woes. Reed wrote about death, and how to get there, a lot. Even when he tried to be uplifting, it still sounded like death. Finally, he reaped what he hath sewn. So you’re probably wondering where Lou Reed is buried. No one’s saying. Here's his entry on

References and Final Thoughts:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let's Paint those Tombstones!

Ok, so I won’t mention the cemetery in which this thought occurred to me, lest people run in there and start painting the tombstones. A few weeks ago I was walking through it and I was drawn to a small swath of blue color on a large, stark white marble headstone. My first though was that someone had splotched it with blue paint! Turned out it was a piece of painter’s tape – you know (or maybe you don’t), the weak masking tape they sell to border moldings when you’re painting the walls in your house. That said, I’m not sure why it was even there, but it got me thinking.

In prior blogs, I wrote about painting cemetery statues with light (How to Paint Tombstones), but then I thought, how about with actual paint?! You know, picture tempera paint, something water-based that will wash off in the rain (think sidewalk chalk drawings a la Mary Poppins). Or maybe something permanent like tinted hydrostatic paint (the kind with which you seal basement walls). How cool would those weather-beaten white marble headstones look if artists were to paint them! You know, highlight the worn detail areas so they could be discerned. (I personally would not do this as I am no artist - my effort would end up looking like the work of a third-grader!)

What might the end result look like? Sort of like what I did with these images in Photoshop. I am picturing colorization of the effect one might achieve with tempera paint, since this is what the piece of masking tape brought to mind – simply painting the raised characters e.g. the names, dates, and epitaph one color, with a contrasting background. The sculpted and engraved symbols can be other colors. Another idea would be to use pastel-like shades so the stones take on the look of those hand-tinted old black and white photographs. Maybe a cemetery can offer a contest, get a bunch of artists together for a day to temporarily paint some headstones (like the sculptors who participate in sand castle-building contests on the beach)!

This is all tongue-in-cheek, of course, I’m not seriously suggesting this at all, but sometimes my brain just puts all these ideas together in well, the way an unsupervised child might make a stew. I mean, what would the families of the dearly departed think? Well, it is another way of memorializing the dead, of keeping them in our memory. Permission would need to be given by the family (descendants), of course. But maybe there are none -  we’re talking about grave markers that are a hundred and more years old. You may not know this unless you hang around in graveyards, but the use of marble for headstones became far less popular toward the end of the 1800s. Taphophiles on the other hand, take this fact for granite (pun intended).

Speaking of granite, paint would adhere to it with greater difficulty than it would to marble, I suppose, since marble is much more porous. After painting, we could apply a preservative chemical over the whole thing like they do with bronze statues to keep them from oxidizing.

Perhaps the stones could be painted with surreal designs or camouflaged as green grass so people would walk into them! Families can commission artists to paint the headstones or other monuments (artists can always use the money: What’s the difference between an artist and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four!). They can even leave the design up to the artist, like the way Philadelphians commission artist Izaiah Zagar to create and install mosaics of broken mirrors and ceramic on their homes and businesses. Maybe the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program could have a branch called the Philadelphia Tombstone Arts Program …

Of course all this could possibly lead to only one thing: someone might eventually get carried away and suggest shrink-wrapping the headstones like they do with advertising vehicle wraps. Hey wait a minute - this would not hurt the stone, it would preserve it, and it could be printed with all the same information and designs as the headstone underneath - why not?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans’ Day – Finding Uncle Tommy

All my Mom remembered about her favorite uncle, “Tommy Jacob,” was that he was in the Army and Navy, used to send her pineapples from Hawaii, and lost an eye somewhere along the line. She thought he died around 1988, because a check arrived in the mail back then. It was from his estate lawyer and was for $1500 - $500 for each of my Mom’s children, i.e. my brother, sister, and myself. There was some oddness to it all, something about his wife Millie not wanting him to associate with us or something. 

I never knew the man, but I accepted the money graciously and gratefully. Years later, in 2012, I was talking to my Mom about several genealogists I had met through Facebook. She wondered if we could find out where Uncle Tommy was buried. I tried off and on for over a year, until the search eventually paid off, thanks to
I tried the veterans’ sites first, but to get records, you needed the deceased’s social security number and be a next of kin. We didn’t have the former, and we weren’t the latter. Matter of fact, we weren’t even certain of his NAME! When it came right down to it, we really didn’t know WHEN he was in either branch of the military, or exactly when he was born or died. My Mom’s memory is a bit hazy on such details, she being 79.

I really wanted to do this for my Mom, but I was having no luck cracking the military burial records websites. With all the talk lately about family trees, I really thought this would be easier! Apparently I was barking up the wrong tree. I’m no genealogist, not even an amateur one. I was just futzing around, really, not knowing what I was doing. Which is exactly what many people are like, right? So kudos to for understanding the needs of the layman!

Around May of 2013, I heard an ad for on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio, being “up in age” myself, at 54!). I decided to give it a try – I think it was free for ten days or something. Basically, all I had to input to their search engine were variants of his name and the approximate years he died. Other clues were asked for, like WHERE he died (luckily, my Mom knew this – it was Nanticoke, Pennsylvania) and the names of his siblings. My Mom knew the latter as well – “Thomas D. Jacobs” had five brothers and sisters, my Mom’s mother Anna (my grandmother) being one of them.

Burial record from websearch

Detail from 1930 Census record (
So with the information above, not only did I get a copy of the 1930 U.S. census with the entire Jacobs (not “Jacob,” but “Jacobs”) family information on it, but I got Tommy’s Veterans’ Administration burial record, which indicates where he is buried. All within fifteen minutes! My mother was absolutely thrilled. Having her hear me read the names of her aunts and uncles, their ages in 1930, her grandparents’ names, was astounding to her. Her Mom, Anna (who I wrote about in a separate blog, "My Grandmother's Grave"), was 17 at the time; Tommy was 5. Tommy was actually the youngest of Michael and Mary’s five children. Besides Anna (my grandmother) and Tommy, there were Elizabeth, Helen, and Andrew. I myself have vague recollections of people mentioning “Aunt Helen” and “Uncle Andrew,” from back when I was very young. Andrew was the oldest child, 22 in 1930. The handwritten census record also indicated that my Mom’s grandparents were born in Czechoslovakia.

Full page of hand-written 1930 Census record provided by
Tom Jacob's burial record showed the name of the cemetery in which he is buried, which happens to be just a few miles from where my Mom lives in northeast Pennsylvania. It also indicated he was a United States Army veteran, having been retired as a Staff Sergeant. Makes you wonder what kind of man would serve in three wars. He may have been drafted I suppose, but WWII, Korea, AND Vietnam? He and his wife Millie had no children.

I phoned Chapel Lawn Memorial Park in Dallas, PA, to see if I could get specific location information on Tommy Jacobs’ grave for my Mom. The woman who answered the phone was extremely helpful. She looked up the name and told me that it was a bronze government-issued grave marker in the veterans’ section. I was rather surprised when she told me that his wife Mildred was buried next to him, with her own plaque. I didn’t realize the government did this. 

The cemetery representative told me she could send me a map with the grave location marked, and that whenever we visited, someone from the office would gladly help us find the grave. I thanked her and received the map about a week later. I sent the map to my Mom.
Thomas and Mildred Jacob, Chapel Lawn Memorial Park, Dallas, PA
After several botched attempts to head north to the Wilkes-Barre area (from where I live in Philadelphia) to visit the grave with my Mom and my brother Tim, I finally had to just let them do it on their own. So on July 28, 2013, Tim took her to see her favorite Uncle’s grave. It was quite an emotional experience for her, an experience which I, unfortunately, missed. Luckily, Tim took all these photos with his smartphone and sent them to me.
My Mom, Beverly Snyder, at her Uncle Tommy's grave
My Mom called me after they returned from Chapel Lawn. She said, “That was such a good thing that you did, thank you!” She said they had asked for help from the office, and a man guided them to the grave. My Mom said, “It was heartbreaking when I saw it. He used to call my mother ‘Annie’.” As my Mom stood over her Uncle Tommy’s grave, she told me she said, “Annie’s daughter is here to see you.” 

The man who showed my mother and brother to the grave apologized that there was no American flag at his marker. He went back to the office and got one, returning to place it on his grave. We all need tangible links to our past. I will at some point physically visit my Great Uncle’s grave. With his Social Security Number (199-12-1756), we might now be able to access some of his military records, as my Mom may be the only next of kin. I’d like to find out where he was stationed throughout his twenty-year military career and if those pineapples really came from Hawaii! His army serial number was 13-335-094 if any kind soul out there might want to save me the trouble of searching; I’d really like a photo, to see what he looked like.

Rest in Peace:
Thomas D. Jacobs (a.k.a. Tommy Jacob)
Born July 30, 1924
Died January 22, 1993

Notes and References:
All photos of the Jacobs' graves were made by my brother, Tim Snyder.
The images of the various grave medallions were made in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Adamstown, PA.
Chapel Lawn Cemetery, Dallas, PA website website

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fall Festival at Mount Moriah Cemetery

On a crisp, clear, and cool Saturday (Oct. 26, 2013), The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.  (FOMMCI) held its 2013 Fall Festival/Family and Friends Day. There was frost on the grass across the cemetery when the Friends’ Board members  arrived. Our Second Annual “Family and Friends Day” is a way to thank and acknowledge the hundreds of volunteers who worked so hard this past year to help us keep the grass cut, clear the trash, whack the weeds, cut the trees. Our president wanted us not to work, but celebrate. Well, you can’t keep good people down. Sixty or so volunteers wanted to work, so we provided them with hand tools and let them work.

Early morning setup by (L to R) Ken, Bill, and Peggy
Dawn at Mount Moriah Cemetery
Various Board members showed up at dawn (sunrise pic) to set up the central gathering site (Section 200), so hot coffee would be waiting for the first busload of volunteers when they arrived. Treasurer Ken Smith and his wife Peggy, along with Vice President Bill Warwick took care of this as well as running lines to a generator to provide power.

Treasurer Ken Smith leading the charge of Drexel student volunteers
Contrary to peoples’ perception of a VP and Treasurer being starched-shirt types, Bill and Ken are the guys with the pickup trucks and the chainsaws – people who can always be counted on to haul things around while providing folks with outlet strips, weed-whackers, or anything else that may be needed! Being the Communications and Technology Board member, my day would entail (in addition to helping with setup) running around documenting the activities with my camera and interviewing people.

Temple U. documentarians
As always, the day presented us with a varied group of participants - people from all walks of life showed up for many different reasons. Everyone has his or her own personal reason for helping to save and restore Mount Moriah Cemetery. A group of Temple University film students recognized this and spent the day filming and doing interviews with the people involved. The kids enjoyed the pumpkin-painting table!


Several families came to find their ancestors’ graves, for which we were prepared with maps and laptop with database of burial records. Friends’ Board members Fred and Sue Facciolli ran the genealogy station. One of the services that Board members provide is physically helping visitors to find graves in the cemetery, if that is requested. Several such missions were accomplished, often by FOMMCI Board member Donna Morelli (who many people know as her Facebook persona “The Haunt of Mount Moriah”), who knows the site better than most.

Drexel students clearing hillside weeds from around graves
We had about sixty people show up to work from various organizations, among them: PowerCorpsPHL (Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement & Volunteer Service), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church), and Drexel University. Drexel sends its freshmen as part of its (required) Civic Engagement course. Students are able to decide where they want to volunteer their time and effort ; this busload of students chose Mount Moriah. We are immensely grateful for the work the Drexel students accomplished clearing the hillside brush and weeds in Section 15.

Askin mausoleum (Section 28) before and during excavation

Askin mausoleum after clearing!
Many volunteers working along with the LDS group tackled the Askin mausoleum and hillside in Section 28. As you can see from the photos above, the structure was not even visible prior to the day’s cleanup effort. Afterward – what a transformation! Everyone here today seemed driven to accomplish some good, and their efforts surely paid off. Our Board members and other volunteers set up and served hot food and drinks all day – we are grateful to KC, Dawn Dyer, and Jen O’Donnell for running the tables and keeping the lines moving.

Board member Sam Ricks leading "Congressional Medal of Honor" tour
Betsy Ross' grave
We coaxed the volunteer workers to take some breaks, and enjoy the tours provided by FOMMCI Board members Sam Ricks and Ed Snyder. Sam ran the lecture tour "Remembering our Congressional Medal of Honor Veterans" in the Naval Asylum Plot and provided information on Mount Moriah’s twenty-one Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Ed provided an “Art and Architecture” tour, which included the 1855 gatehouse, the (Masonic) Circle of St. John, and Betsy Ross’ grave.

At day’s end, I was interviewed by the Temple University students who were making a documentary about the Friends’ involvement with Mount Moriah Cemetery. The last question went something like this: “Has your experience caring for this abandoned cemetery changed your view of how you want to be remembered after you die?” I wasn’t prepared for that one, but answered in all honesty: “I hope people care for my final resting place in the same way we are trying to do that at Mount Moriah. Its all about respect – respect for the person, respect  for that person’s memory.”

Board member Ed Snyder giving "Art and Architecture" tour (photo by Frank Rausch)
Paulette (L) and Donna (R) help locate graves
All in all, it was a fun, fulfilling, and enjoyable day. Thanks to all who came out to celebrate! In the words of FOMMCI President, Paulette Rhone, “Thank you all for joining us for our second Annual Family and Friends Fall Festival … More importantly, thank you for being a Friend of Mount Moriah … it was a great day to get to know each other….”

For more information on the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., please visit us on Facebook and on our website.