Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Toy Story … in an Abandoned Cemetery

This is my gratuitous Valentine’s Day post – you’ll just have to bear with me. Valentine’s Day is not the subject of the post, but apparently, there is some love involved. Tough love, maybe? You only hurt the ones you love? Again, bear with me (nyuk nyuk). If you’ve ever walked through a cemetery, you’ve probably seen stuffed toy animals on graves. Usually childrens’ graves. A common practice, leaving such an offering, a remembrance, perhaps. But in abandoned cemeteries? 

Abandoned cemeteries are a form of dystopia, to be sure. The environment – meaning nature – is usually in the process of destroying what humans built. For the past twenty years a Victorian-era cemetery in Philadelphia has been in a sad state of disrepair, only accessible to those who the owner or caretaker allows in. Many wonder how it got this way, but the real question on everyone’s mind is:

Why are there so many toy stuffed animals lying about throughout Mount Vernon Cemetery? 

There are no visitors to place them on graves in loving memory of the deceased. There are no visitors. There is no visitor access. You can almost picture some hideous beast living in its burrow, periodically feasting on stuffed animals. The ones you see here, matted down with weeds and rain, well, don’t really belong here, do they? The trapped, partially dismembered clown fish above has a look of fear in its eye. 
Stuffed Animal Dystopia.

Its almost as if some beast killed them with its poisonous saliva and secreted a fluid to trap them in weeds until it later required a snack. Much like an insect that gets caught in a spider’s web. Perhaps this is simply attribution bias on my part. Perhaps not. One poor toy was in the process of being dragged into the beast’s lair as I stumbled upon the massacre scene. You can just hear Jennifer Lawrence singing, “The Hanging Tree,” right?

Into the lair of the beast ....

Do the toys get thrown over the fence by the caretakers of the active cemetery next door, as they clear graves prior to mowing? Then something, or some things, retrieve the toys and drag them through the fence into the abandoned graveyard. The mind wanders to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book ..and the toys Bod may have left lying around the cemetery in his formative years.

A fox, perhaps, requires such playthings? That, apparently, is the general thought if you read the Instagram posts by the volunteers now caring for the cemetery.

So, first off, Mount Vernon Cemetery in Philadelphia is no longer abandoned. Technically, it never was. It was simply ignored by its owner - for about twenty years. It is currently being maintained by many dedicated volunteers. There are regularly scheduled cleanup days and occasional tours, but access is closely controlled. Here’s a photo of my friend Kim posing with some bears during a recent tour.

Mount Peace Cemetery, next door, has always been well-cared for. It seems likely that somehow, these small grave decorations travel from there into unkempt Mount Vernon next door. Perhaps the wild foxes that prowl the wooded grounds of Mount Vernon steal these objects from Mount Peace in the night - they snitch Winnie-the-Pooh from a defenseless grave, and abscond through some hole in the cyclone fence into the wild next door. But to what end?

Mount Vernon’s twenty-seven acres is probably twenty percent cut back at this point, with nature having a twenty-year lead on the humans trying to tame the bush. So there are plenty of hiding places for fox, deer, and so on. I’ve seen small herds of white-tails leaping through the underbrush. Sometimes you’ll even see shredded toys, along with …. bones?

So, do the red foxes drag the stuffed critters into their burrows for padding? Groundhogs do this – but with them, its usually the flags from the little flagpoles people stick on graves. But then, why are they scattered all over the grounds? That’s like saying if humans are descended from apes, then why are there still apes?

What I don’t know about the housekeeping habits of small woodland creatures could fill volumes. Perhaps instead, UFOs are involved. Whatever the case may be, if you find yourself walking through a more-or-less abandoned cemetery alone and you round a bend to find this Ted smiling at you in the middle of the road, your brain does not race for a logical explanation. Your brain screams.