Sunday, January 31, 2016

Instagram your Smart Phone Cemetery Photographs!

I’d like to think of this as my Contractual Obligation blog. I have tried to publish four Cemetery Traveler blog posts every month since embarking upon this escapade in 2010. It’s sort of a personal contract I’ve made. Rarely have I not met this goal. However, January 2016 has been a trying month for various reasons. As of January 30th, I had only published two. I cranked one out yesterday, “Cemetery Road Trip to North Jersey.“

So here it is January 31, 2016, and as my father used to say, “I’ve got a million things to do!” I temper such notions with something my daughter Olivia asked me when she was five years old: “Daddy, why are grownups so busy?” After thinking about that for a bit, I answered, “I guess it’s because they choose to be.” (As an example, I trudged half a mile in a blizzard last weekend to make the photo at right. Did I have to? No. Need to? No. Was it worth it? That's debatable!) So, tucked in with my millions of other things I need/want to be doing, I have written what amounts to my Contractual Obligation blog, my fourth blog of January 2016, presented here for your enjoyment.

New Photographic Tools
As I look out from my eyrie on all the cemeteries that need to be photographed, I find myself with a new tool – an Apple iPhone6. Not only that, but a friend turned me on to the “645 Pro” App ($3.99, and only available for Apple products, sorry), which gives you way more control over the image you capture than the iPhone’s own camera. Resolution is good with the iPhone 6 - you end up with 3MB images - and there are some basic in-phone editing controls. I’d actually made hundreds of photographs (if indeed these electronic images can be referred to as such) with the iPhone during the first months I owned it. However, it only recently occurred to me to use it to make photos in the cemeteries I visit.

Why bother, if I have real cameras at my disposal? Well, one word: “Instagram.” During the opening reception for a solo photography exhibition I had in the fall of 2015, the owner of the establishment showed me the Instagram images she blasted out to the universe to promote my show. She talked me into getting the App and setting up an account. I was told that it can be used to great advantage as a tool with which to promote your art.

So I’ve been, uh, Instagramming (if that is, in fact, an actual word) new images from cemeteries I’ve recently visited. They’re all “hash tagged” (“#graveyard,” for example) so people can find them if they look for images tagged with that word. You see, Instagram, as well as the Internet in general, is text-based – it can’t tell what the content of your photo or pdf is – you have to tag the file with text. Otherwise, no one will find it with a word search. In the course of the past month since I’ve been on Instagram, I have amassed a number of “followers,” that is, people who will see my images pop up automatically on their smart phones the moment I post them.

The photographs you see sprinkled throughout this article were made by me and my iPhone during the (current, as I write this) winter of 2015-16. You can only upload images to Instagram that you’ve made with your smart phone, by the way (you can also add a few lines of text, to describe the image, point folks to your website, etc.). It is mainly an image-centric method of communication, not text-based like Twitter. There’s no easy way to upload images from your computer to Instagram. You either have to have made the image with your smart phone (you upload it to Instagram directly from the phone), or you need some way (as with Apple’s iTunes) to transfer your image files from your computer to your smart phone.

So is all this gear and software going to make you another Edward Weston? No. These are tools. You need heart, soul, and talent to make successful photographs. Gear is fun and can open up new possibilities for you, but it won't make you a better photographer. If I sound tech-savvy, I’m really not. With anything ranging from Adobe’s Photoshop to Apple’s iPhone, I learn just enough to make the tools do what I need/want them to do! I always fall back on the basic photgraphic principles I've outlined in my book (shown below), entitled, Digital Photography for the Impatient!

Click to purchase from
So, here it is, 9:34 pm on January 31, 2016. Will I make my deadline and post this before midnight? Well, Super Bowl is not ‘til next week and hockey is in the All-Star break, so it looks good. All I need to do is transfer some of my cemetery images from my iPhone to my computer so I can size them and drop the resolution. Then I can pop them into the text here for your ultimate enjoyment!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cemetery Road Trip to North Jersey

Brownstone angel grave marker, Chester Cemetery, Chester, New Jersey
We had planned the trip a few weeks ahead of time, my friend Frank and I. The fact that it was twelve degrees Fahrenheit the morning we set out did not dissuade us. When it comes to art, we both realized you must sometimes suffer. Plus, in the words of Queen Elsa of Disney’s Frozen, “The cold never bothered me anyway” (song crescendo, crash, boom).

So off we went in Frank’s Chevy Blazer (floor heater not working), on a three hour dead-of-winter trip to northern New Jersey. The trip was uneventful while in Pennsylvania, though we did see a quaint church with a graveyard around Lahaska. The early morning light was perfect. We figured we’d hit it on the way back when the light was not so good (which is exactly what happened so never do this!).

Eventually we crossed into New Jersey, the land of roadside oddities. New Jersey is like an entire state filled with towns like Austin, Texas – here a pair of yellow Adirondack chairs the size of Volkswagens, there a giant ice cream cone ----- with a few dead deer thrown in for good measure. We actually had a destination in mind – this was not one of my usual ramshackle expeditions, setting out with inadequate funds and no map. We were headed for Chester, New Jersey. This is in north central New Jersey, which is a miasma of small towns, with no major highways connecting them. But hey, that’s why God gave us the GPS.

Frank had been up here recently on other business. While driving through the area, he noted some interesting churchyard cemeteries and an abandoned farmhouse that he wanted to photograph at a later date. Hence, our trip.

Chester "Cemetery," with First Congregational Church, Chester, NJ
Both cemeteries we found were, I guess, technically "graveyards." I recently read an article ("Difference between 'cemetery' and 'graveyard' in English") that defined each: a "graveyard is a type of cemetery, but a cemetery is usually not a graveyard."

"From about the 7th century, the process of burial was firmly in the hands of the Church (meaning the organization), and burying the dead was only allowed on the lands near a church (now referring to the building), the so-called churchyard. The part of the churchyard used for burial is called graveyard, ....
As the population of Europe started to grow, the capacity of graveyards was no longer sufficient (the population of modern Europe is almost 40 times higher than it was in the 7th century). By the end of the 18th century, the unsustainability of church burials became apparent, and completely new places, independent of graveyards, were devised—and these were called cemeteries." - "Difference between 'cemetery' and 'graveyard' in English"

So there you go. Both the Chester Cemetery and the Union Cemetery were, um, graveyards next to a church. The former alongside the First Congregational Church in Chester, New Jersey, and the latter in Califon, NJ, along Route 513, next to the Lower Valley Presbyterian Church. 
Union Cemetery, Califon, New Jersey

Zinc memorials, Union Cemetery
When we stopped in to explore the Union Cemetery (hey, that's what the sign on the fence said, what can I say!), I was surprised to see two massive, and well-preserved zinc, or white bronze memorials. These were in wonderful condition. This “graveyard” was established in 1910, about the time the zinc memorial craze was coming to an end in the United States. (Read more about zinc, or "white bronze" cemetery monuments on my Cemetery Traveler blog post, "White Bronze Memorials.")

Cemetery Traveler Frank in Union Cemetey
Did I mention that it was cold that day? Maybe it reached the low twenties by midday. I brought a few chemical pouch hand-warmers for inside my gloves, but got lazy. Both Frank and I would jump out of his warm and running truck to grab a few shots, thinking we’d only be out in the cold for a few minutes. Then of course, you become intrigued with some detail – a statue of a WWI “Doughboy,” an interesting inscription, an iron fence. Next thing you know, you look like Frank here!

Marble "doughboy," Union Cemetery
After a frigid half an hour at Union Cemetery, we drove toward Chester to explore an abandoned farmhouse, which was brilliant in its decay. Aged ruins are a big attraction for me, especially when they offer evidence of past lives - a mirror, a crumbling piano. We had to tear ourselves away from this after an hour or so in order to get to the Chester Cemetery, while the light was still good. Cold winter’s day, bright blue cloudless sky. It seems the sun is never directly overhead in the winter months (which of course it is, but just for a short time) which makes for good photography. 
Evidence of lives passed ....
We thawed out our hands on Frank’s dashboard heating vents as we drove the few miles to Chester. While there were no extravagant statues in Chester Cemetery (established in 1777), the iron fencing and the old stones were rather amazing. North central New Jersey must be the cutoff point in the northeast part of the U.S. where Colonial-era angel-carved headstones exist. North of here, they’re all over the place. You can’t swing as cat without hitting one, as Mark Twain would say. South of here, they are extremely rare. The reason? 

The far northeastern part of North America was the first area of the continent inhabited by the early European settlers, our immigrant ancestors, so this is where all the early stones are. As time went on and the population grew, it moved south and inland – along the way, burial practices changed as did the memorials used to mark the graves. 

1772 brownstone grave marker with angel, Chester Cemetery
I was particularly taken by the brownstone “angel head” carved stones you see here. Quite typical of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in the U.S. There were not many carvers at the time, and while their overall style was similar, certain details differentiated the, Note, for instance, the long nose on the angel at the beginning of this article. My knowledge of these carvings is not great, so I was quite taken by the cloud-like thing over this angel’s head! Certainly not a toupee, do you think? LOL. I put the question out to my friends at the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS). Perhaps in my next blog will be the explanation!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Police Patrols at Mount Moriah Cemetery

This was back in the summer of 2015, when I was exploring some of the more heavily forested regions of Philadelphia's Mount Moriah Cemetery. I was with one of my usual cemetery traveler companions, Robert Reinhardt, and we were back in Section 149 on the Yeadon, PA side of the cemetery. (See map link for reference.)

That's my car parked against the trees in the photo above. You might think this was the border of the cemetery, since the grass is cut in the foreground. However, one step into the woods would show that the grave markers continue on for quite some distance. Here's a photo of Rob (at right) in one of the mildly overgrown areas.

John McCullough monument in Section 149
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the current state of this massive, formerly abandoned cemetery, only about 35% of the grounds of Mount Moriah have been rescued from nature's wild abandon. The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. stepped into the picture in 2011 when the cemetery was officially abandoned. While most of its hundreds of sprawling acres are currently uncut and unmaintained, the all-volunteer Friends group (along with thousands of volunteers and contributors) manage to keep (as of this writing) about 35% of the grounds cut and maintained. This leaves an immense area open to exploration.

Forested area of Mount Moriah Cemetery
For a map showing the state of restoration efforts, click here.
For a current status report (as of Dec. 18, 2015) of Mount Moriah Cemetery, click here.
See daily progress at the cemetery on The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Facebook Group Page.

Cut and maintained area of Mount Moriah Cemetery

After about an hour climbing through the heavy undergrowth, knocking through tall stands of Japanese knotweed, and photographing monuments and other grave markers deep in the woods, we heard the distinctive and somewhat close "Bwoop! Bwoop!" of a police car. You know that sound - its the one they use to get you to pull over. I wasn't too concerned because this is one of the few times that I've been caught exploring an abandoned site where I actually had a legitimate reason to be there! I just tell people I'm on the Board of Directors of the The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. About every thirty seconds, another "Bwoop! Bwoop!" This guy is serious - police are obviously trying to get our attention, and the sound is coming from where my car was parked.

Japanese knotweed encroaching upon a grave

Navigating the terrain at Mount Moriah
Rob is about thirty paces ahead of me moving toward the clearing near section 142 – another "Bwoop! Bwoop!" I lose sight of him as I stop to make photographs. As I enter the clearing, a police cruiser is parked near my car, and Rob is standing next to the officer. Officer looks at me and says, "Ed Snyder?" I say, “Yes.” He says, "Just checking. Have a good day.” Gets into his car and drives away though the cemetery.

That was odd – I assumed Rob told him who we were and what we were doing there. Later, I come to find out that this Yeadon, PA. police officer had asked Rob if he was Ed Snyder! He had already run my plates and knew whose name under which my car was registered! To see me, he had no idea who I was – he just wanted to make sure my car hadn’t been stolen and/or that I was up to no good there in the woods!

Kudos to the Yeadon Police Department for patrolling the back areas of the cemetery looking for evildoers! I have encountered them on a few occasions – the Yeadon police on the Yeadon side of Mount Moriah and the Philadelphia police on the Philadelphia side (photo above). Routine patrols send the message to people that the cemetery is safe and if you are considering committing a crime here, you will be caught.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Death Salon

Yes, that's right, the Death Salon. Wonder what that’s all about? Back at the beginning of October, 2015, my daughter Julie texted me and asked if I was attending the “Death Salon” at Philadelphia’s Mütter museum. I had heard of the Death Salon, but its big conference in Philadelphia slipped by me. Grateful as ever to Julie, I jumped at the opportunity.

What is the “Death Salon,” you may ask? Allow me to quote from their website:
Welcome to Death Salon. We hold events that bring together intellectuals and independent thinkers engaged in the exploration of our shared mortality by sharing knowledge and art. Death is sanitized and hidden in contemporary culture to the point of becoming a taboo subject. We aim to subvert this death denial by opening up conversations with the public about death and its anthropological, historical, and artistic contributions to culture. In the spirit of the 18th-century salon, our curated intellectual gatherings hosted in cities worldwide.”
After some preliminary calls and Web searches, I saw that I had already missed the first day of the conference. Would I be able to attend just the second day? I drove over to the Mütter at 8 a.m. on Monday, October 6, and bumbled my way to the conference area on the second floor.

The Mütter is a fine place to hold a Death conference. The place is all about death – or rather medical research that has been advanced through the study of dead bodies. The Mütter is the museum (open to the public) of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The best way to describe it is via this quote from their website:
"America's finest museum of medical history, the Mütter Museum displays its beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a nineteenth-century "cabinet museum" setting. The goal of the Museum is to help visitors understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body and appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease."
Sounds rather tame, but, trust me – the Mütter is not for the faint of heart (nor is finding the umlaut key on your standard keyboard!). So after a discussion with the ticket desk, it turned out they would not give me half price admission even though I missed the first day. The full $150 price tag seemed a bit steep for me to listen to speakers go on and on about death – God knows, I can understand how people want to flee after I’ve gone on about it for twenty minutes.

The program (view online) did seem fascinating; however, what I hoped I could do was somehow cajole or finagle my way in to the exhibitors’ area, the so-called “Dark Artisans’ Bazaar.” While death-related ephemera interests me, I noticed as I perused the vendor lineup (click to view) that my friend Greg Cristiano from TearDrop Memories would be there.

Greg Cristiano of "TearDrop Memories" at the Death Salon's Dark Artisans’ Bazaar

Teardrop Memories is a New Hope, Pennsylvania storefront business (and Internet retailer) specializing in Victorian mourning memorabilia (among other things). It would be nice to at least peek in and say hi to Greg. As it turned out, they would not even let me in to the Bazaar if I didn’t pay full admission! Kind of weird. You would think the organizers would have allowed the vendors to sell to anyone visiting the Mütter, not just those who paid for attendance to the conference. The crowd in the lecture hall that morning didn’t look that big – maybe a hundred people.

Lecture Hall at Mütter Museum, Philadelphia, for The Death Salon, Oct. 6, 2015

I asked if I could at least pop my head in and say hi to Greg. After checking with his higher-ups, the young gentleman at the registration table led me to the huge conservatory where maybe twenty-five vendors were set up on the periphery of the room. Greg was just inside the door and we both said our enthusiastic hellos (I have written about Greg Cristiano’s "TearDrop Memories” on the Cemetery Traveler in the past) then without thinking, dove into a mourning arts discussion as only true believers can.

Example of framed Victorian artwork made from hair of the deceased (ref)

We just went on and on about death things to the degree that the young fellow must have given up on me and returned to his post. This left me alone to roam around the Dark Artisans’ Bazaar for a bit. There were no other customers, as all the attendees were in the lecture hall next door. I poked my head in to see what aspect of death was being discussed at that moment. I got the idea that I might not actually want to sit through two solid days of death lectures.

Luxurious Victorian library in which Dark Artisans' Bazaar was held (Mütter Museum)

Terry Skovronck, "Death Midwife
I may have stayed for an hour, roaming from one exhibitor's table to the next. TearDrop Memories had many examples of antique Victorian-era mourning  jewelry (many unique and fabulous pieces), hair wall hangings (see photo above), coffins, and other memento mori items. Greg's neighbor was Terry Skovronck, a self-proclaimed "Death Midwife."  

Obscura Antiques and Oddities from New York City had a variety of interesting faux 3-D, Fresnel artwork - death-related, of course. Some people (whose business cards are in the selection in my opening photo at top) were selling such truly bizarre goods and services that I simply did not know what to say to them! "" "Urns by Artists?" There were various types of death-related art, including Caitlin McCormack's crocheted (cotton string) skeletal specimens, as well as the typical t-shirts, buttons, and books.

One of the more interesting books I saw was called Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem and Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive, by Jack Mord - a "compilation of more than 120 extraordinary and haunting photographs and related ephemera documenting the practice of death and mourning photography in the Victorian Era and early twentieth century." The book is available on for $20 – which is quite a steal. Jack Mord has a large Facebook presence with his vintage postmortem photography.         

Note my antique white gold "wizard" wedding ring!

Then I came to the conference table, of sorts. Here I purchased my "Death Salon" enameled pin (see above), and a copy of the decidedly atypical book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (also available from Now, I'm a sucker for just about any death book, but with a title and cover graphic like this, who could possibly resist? The author, Caitlin Doughty, seemed to have something to do with the Death Salon; the woman at the table said she was one of the organizers. Well, after purchasing and reading the book, it seems Caitlin is pretty much the driving force behind Death Salon (as well as its sister organization, The Order of the Good Death.

Death tables in the exhibit hall
Caitlin Doughty is on a mission to get us to face the reality of our eventual demise. Many people ride this bandwagon, but to Caitlin’s credit, she’s got the street cred to back it up. In her twenties, she took a job burning people in a crematorium, partly to come to terms with her life-long curiosity about death. Not satisfied that her interests and understanding of death had been rounded out, she went to school and became a mortician. In 2011,with her founding of The Order of the Good Death, her goal has been to bring “the realistic discussion of death back into popular culture.” (All the more reason to hold the Death Salon at the Mütter Museum!)

So while I barely touched the coffin handle of the Death Salon in Philadelphia, I got a taste of what the organization is all about. Through Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I learned a great deal. The book is a fabulous read, and, I might add, a New York Times bestseller. I do hope to attend a Death Salon in the future, this time as a registered, paid attendee. I have a great deal of respect for what Caitlin Doughty and friends are doing and I sincerely hope the young man whose grip I eluded to get into the Dark Artisans’ Bazaar will not be too severely punished.

References and Further Reading:
Death Salon website
The Mütter Museum website
TearDrop Memories website