Saturday, May 28, 2022

Black Swamp Cemetery and Annie Oakely

Community mausoleum, Black Swamp Cemetery

Back in early April 2022, I flew to Versailles on business. Not France, unfortunately, but Ohio. Where they pronounce it “Ver-SALES.” Private jet, strictly a one-nighter, no time for cemetery travel. Bummer. The real kicker is that the factory I was visiting had a cemetery right behind it, Black Swamp Cemetery, though I would have no opportunity to visit. The overnight accommodations were in a fancy lodge type deal a few miles away, so I couldn’t even get to the cemetery on my very little time off. Sigh. 

Cemetery enthusiasts have been in this situation many times – they drive by an interesting graveyard, and are not able to stop. Pining for the grave. The photos you see here, actually, are photos of Black Swamp Cemetery in Versailles, Ohio, the main one that I didn’t get to visit. I snapped these out the van window as our small group was en route to the lodge after leaving the factory tour on the day of our arrival. 

Versailles is a small mid-Western town surrounded by thousands of acres of cornfields. Old Victorian-era downtown buildings and old wooden houses. Another cemetery I didn’t get to visit is just outside Versailles in Greenville - Brock Cemetery, where Annie Oakley is buried. Super bummed about that. 

The lodge where we stayed outside Versailles was creepy, though, so the trip was interesting in that regard. An absolutely vacant, private lodge owned by this company to board its short-term guests during factory visits. There were six of us in our party, and we were the only guests. There was no check-in desk, no personnel. We were each shown by the van driver to a private suite on various levels of the building. It was cold outside, the lake behind the building was being rained on. The doors to the rooms had no locks. Weird.

The huge dining area was empty – oddly, there was an acoustic guitar on a stand off to the side of the room. I asked if there was going to be entertainment later. Our driver pointed out, that no, anyone can pick it up and play. Again, weird.

As we were being led around to our rooms (hopefully not our final resting places), I felt like we were in the hotel from the movie, “The Shining.” I dumped my stuff in room 13 – a ground-level room with a private door out to the lake – perfect access for the madman to gain entry to my room in the night. Our driver said dinner would be served at 7 pm and there was an open bar. Shortly, I headed up to the bar, hoping that it was not us on the menu.

Turned out to be a completely unattended fully-stocked hotel-style bar, that was, well, open. You just went behind the bar and helped yourself. Truly fine choice of bourbons, I must say. We gathered there for an hour, in the emptiness, wondering where the dinner would come from. I went over and grabbed the guitar, slid the capo up the neck and played “Here Comes the Sun” to dispel the gloom.

At 7, the kitchen opened and a chef with full crew began serving a fine five-course meal. Truly sumptuous. Afterwards, a few drinks and off to bed - fattened up, hoping I would actually wake up alive in the morning.

A random lake in Ohio, outside my room, in the bleak dawn.

Which I did, and strolled out into the dawn to shoot a few photos of the still lake. Got Wordle in four tries. We packed, were fed breakfast, then were picked up and taken to the factory for the second half of the tour. Lunch and then back to the little Darke County Airport in Versailles and the trip home (you’ll agree, I’m sure, that “Darke County” is a great name!). We didn’t even get to fly over a cemetery at take off.

We cracked open a bottle of champagne at altitude, nibbling fresh fruit. Here’s my cup and the book I was appropriately reading during this whirlwind of a trip, William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive. The flight was only about forty minutes between Darke County Airport and Philly International. And I have to say – don’t ever feel sorry for those rock stars touring across the country in a private jet. There’s no baggage claim, TSA, fighting over masks, stowing luggage, barf bags. Just hop on, have a chat with your mates, and get off at the next stop. 

My next business trip, to San Antonio, Texas, will definitely include a planned cemetery excursion. Planning is good. Hell, when Mott the Hoople toured the U.S. for the first time, maybe in 1973, the band planned all their free time hitting pawn shops looking for cool guitars. That is where Ian Hunter, according to his autobiography (Diary of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star), found that weird “H” shaped electric guitar he played – I always thought it was custom made for him. As Space Ghost says, you gotta make your own fun.