Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Grave of Guitar Maker C.F. Martin ... Almost

This summer, my brother Tim had the great idea to visit the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. He (traveling south from Wilkes-Barre) would meet my son Christopher and I (traveling north from Philadelphia) in Nazareth to take the tour through the factory. We are a rather musical family - Chris and I both play guitar, while Tim occasionally plays a compact disc player.

Factory worker at Martin Guitars, Nazareth, Pennsylvania
Martin is the manufacturer of the most highly-regarded factory-produced acoustic guitar in the world. They’ve been in business for 180 years – Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. started the company in 1833 when he arrived in America from his native Germany. The company is currently run by C.F. Martin, IV. Martin guitars are extremely expensive. If you play one, you immediately see why. Not only do they sound wonderful, but they look and feel like beautifully crafted objets d’art. At the tour’s end, we were all given souvenir soundhole cutouts from the guitar-making process, probably the only Martin guitar-related item that I could ever afford to own!

So where am I going with this and what does it have to do with cemeteries? Well, I always check out the local cemeteries when I travel, and was surprised to find that Nazareth is basically a small town loaded with cemeteries (which of course will require a follow-up visit!). In fact, there’s one right down the street from the guitar factory at Beil Ave. and North Broad Street - “Schoeneck Moravian” cemetery (which you can see in the photo just beyond the blue sign).

Strange stones in most of these cemeteries – flat thick marble ones, like full sized headstones, but lying down instead of upright. I wonder if this is where they got the idea for memorial parks, with uniform flush-to-the ground markers? These are not flush, though, they stand anywhere from four to eight inches off the ground.

Another local cemetery is Moravian Cemetery (Center and Willow Streets), in which repose the remains of one Lucia Otilia Martin, wife of Christian Frederick Martin, Sr., founder of the company. So, there’s the big tie-in between the Martin Guitar Factory tour and the Cemetery Traveler – the grave of the patriarch’s wife. Must visit. But what about C.F. Martin, Sr. himself? Where doth repose his mortal remains? My guess is right next to his wife, who died a year before him in 1872. But if that's the case, why an unmarked grave? Perhaps instead his body was shipped back to his homeland for burial – Saxony, Germany. Who knows? I tried to get in touch with the company’s current president, C.F. Martin IV, to see if he knows. I received no reply.

So after the wonderful tour of the Martin Guitar factory, Tim, Chris, and I had lunch at the restaurant down the street, across from Schoeneck Moravian Cemetery. I then sprung my request on them to visit the Martin grave, a couple miles away. All were game. Then I popped out the piece of paper with the photo of her grave from the Find-a-Grave website. I showed it to them saying, “I don’t know how big the cemetery is or how easy it will be to find this, but maybe you guys can help. I promise if it takes more than twenty minutes, I’ll give up.” My compatriots were ok with that, bless their souls. So we drove off and found Moavian Cemetery with little trouble.

My car parked in Nazareth, PA's Moravian Cemetery
It’s an interesting visual – cemetery on a hillside. Blazing hot August sun, around 4 pm. Drove my car up the main cemetery road to about mid-terrace, and pulled in to a crossroad. I stopped my car, my brother pulling his car in behind mine. I rolled down the windows and stepped out onto the grass, Chris getting out the passenger side. As I began to announce my plan for finding the grave to those gathered before me, I felt a sharp sting on my ankle. I thought there was a picker bush so I looked down. At the same time as I saw all the hornets swarming out of the hole in the ground next to my foot, I felt two more stings under my arm (I assume I was waving said arms wildly at the time, allowing the little buggers easy access to my more tender parts)!

Did I mention that since it was so hot that day, I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved Black Sabbath t-shirt? Yeow! I ran around my car and jumped into the passenger seat, over the shifter and jammed the key in the ignition – had to get the windows up! Oh, man, those stings started to REALLY hurt!

Son Chris and brother Tim searching Moravian Cemetery, Nazareth, PA
I got out of the car, manufacturing new curse words as I grabbed my camera and began to instruct Chris and Tim about how we would fan out and look for the Martin grave. As we began walking, I could not BELIEVE how these three bee stings hurt! Omigod! And to think some people get themselves stung regularly for medicinal purposes or worse - those bizarre tribal rituals involving hundreds of bee stings ….

I really had no idea whether we would actually find the Martin grave – every stone in the place looked exactly the same! And everything was flat, so you actually had to look down at every stone to read it – no cursory glancing around. So I was rather amazed when I found the stone in about five minutes. Snapped a few photos and that was it – the grave of Lucia Otilia Martin (formerly Kühle), the matriarch of Martin Guitars. (Oddly, the Martin website refers to her as "Ottilie Lucia Kühle.") My quest was successful and I got to spend a fun day with my son and brother (at least until the bees got involved). Those stings hurt for DAYS afterward!

Epilogue - A Bit of History

Lucia Otilia Martin's grave marker
So, I’ve been flipping this “Moravian” term around like I know what I’m talking about. The Internet tells me that Moravia was one of the “historical countries” (meaning it no longer exists) of Eastern Europe. The area is now Czechoslovakia. The Moravian Church is one of the Protestant denominations (ref.).

Nazareth, Pennsylvania was founded in 1740 by Germans, and was “… specifically Moravian by charter. Outside faiths were not allowed to purchase property within Nazareth, a basically all German Protestant community.” (ref.) Nazareth itself was named after the Biblical town where Jesus Christ was born. There’s a great holiday gift shop on the outskirts of town where you can buy gift baskets loaded with beef sticks, farmer’s cheese, crackers, and the like – the place is called “Cheeses of Nazareth.” (I just made that up – sorry, couldn’t resist!)

References and Further Reading: