Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ghosts in the Receiving Vault?

You know how ghost hunters always say their cameras stopped working when they were trying to take a photograph in some spirit-active location? Well, it finally happened to me. You would think that after fifteen years of photographing in cemeteries, I would have experienced this more often.

Last weekend I was out at Mount Moriah Cemetery in West Philly for a cleanup day. About twenty people were working in Section 21. Bright sunny cool spring day, not the kind of ambiance you would think would attract ghosts. The old receiving vault is in this section next to an old mausoleum, unmarked and unassuming. Big pile of dirt in front of the doorless entrance, with about a one-foot opening at the top. You can see the opening in the photo below, beneath the volunteer at the left side. Someone told me the vault is just filled with plastic flowers taken from graves. I figured, hey, may still make an interesting photograph.

Volunteers working above old receiving vault
So I climbed up the bank of dirt and rocks and peered in. Piles of old plastic flowers alright, of the funeral arrangement type - grave blankets, as they say. Set my DSLR to forced flash and pointed it inside. Hit the shutter release and ... nothing. Pulled the camera back out into the light, checked all the settings. The focus-setting strobe wasn't strobing to set the focus, for some reason. So I set the focus and locked it (an auto focus camera will hunt for something on which to focus, and if it doesn't find something, it won't let you click the shutter). Still wouldn't work. Huh.

Road-level view of covered entrance to receiving vault
Inside vault with point-and-shoot
Pulled the camera out of the receiving vault and tried it in the daylight. Worked fine. Buggerall. I know this camera (Canon Rebel XTi) like the back of my hand. Why wouldn't it work? I grabbed my (Canon) G9 point-and-shoot and snapped off a few pix inside the vault with no trouble. As I was leaving the cemetery, I stopped my car and got out. Wanted to get a long view of the receiving vault. That's when my cell phone found its way out of my belt holster and became intimate with the ground.

Mount Moriah Cemetery gatehouse
I got into my car and drove around to the gatehouse, where I stopped to get out and take a few more photos. A car passed mine going in the opposite direction, driven by no one I recognized. As I came back to my car, I realized my cell phone was gone. Damn. High speed thinking, swearing, then praying - you know how that goes. Ran back to the weeds where I had crouched around the crumbling gatehouse - nothing. Nothing but a deer tick on my pant leg, that is, which I flicked away. Funny, first time I’ve ever seen one. Maybe my luck is changing for the worse. Man, if I had dropped my phone somewhere back in the woods - well, it could be anywhere. That's when it hit me - I just used it to check the time after I shot the road-level view of the receiving vault you see above. Maybe if fell out when I got back into my car?

I turned the car around, drove back down the dirt road and saw my phone lying in two pieces in the road. Either I drove over it or that other car did. I put the phone back together and miraculously, it worked! Got in my car to head home thanking my lucky stars when the brake failure warning light illuminated on my dashboard. Chalk it all up to the multi-planular mysteries of time and space.

Tree-damaged monument
The next day, Sunday, was a nice day as well. I decided to make a solo trip back to Mount Moriah. In the back of my mind, I was curious about whether or not I could get those shots inside the receiving vault. However, the main reason I wanted to go back was because the light was about the same as the previous day and I wanted to get a few wide angle views of the section of the cemetery up behind the receiving vault. There were some large monuments in the woods there which had been knocked off their foundations by huge fallen trees. This was, for me, a previously unexplored portion of the cemetery and I wanted to get back there with my trusty Nikon film camera.

After climbing through the tangle of trees, brush, and newly-thorned rose bushes, I got the photographs I was after. I emerged from the woods to the sound of a chainsaw. Just my friend Ken ripping through some small trees down the hill (that's him in the photo above), giving yet another monument its freedom. So I climbed down the hill to the receiving vault to give it another go. Flash worked every time. Any mode I dialed in, camera worked just fine. Plastic flowers on a hard dirt floor, nothing more.