The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cairns: More Than Just a Pile of Rocks

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

A cairn is a man-made pile or stack of stones, used as a landmark.  The word is from the Scottish Gaelic language and is actually the plural of the singular word, “c├árn.”  (So says Wikipedia)  Cairns can be found all over the world, created by many different cultures, and for different reasons.  Cairns would seem to be an ancient construction, but they are very much still being created and used today.  For example, cairns serve as hiking trail markers, or coastline navigation tools for sea-going vessels.  And they can serve as artistic, historical or memorial expression for their builders.  

The latter is what usually comes to mind when I think of a cairn:  a burial marker, made of many rocks carefully placed with great effort in honor of the deceased.  According to Wikipedia, there is an old Scottish tradition where burial cairns were erected on hilltops, and visitors who came to pay their respects carried a rock up to the cairn and placed it on the pile, thus increasing the size of the cairn.  (Interestingly, there is a Jewish custom in visiting a gravesite that includes placing a stone on the grave, to acknowledge the visit.)  

Douglas Keister, in his book Stories in Stone, states that almost all cultures associate rocks with “permanence, stability, reliability and strength.”  He also asserts that rocks have great meaning in Christian lore, comparing God to a rock of strength and comfort for the believer.  In Psalm 18:2, it is stated that “the Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer…”  And Christ compares Saint Peter to a rock in Matthew 16:18 when he says, “…thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…”  

In many of the pictures below, you’ll see a cairn supporting a cross.  I am not sure where this symbolism comes from, but there is the hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” with these opening lines:

“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame
How I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.”

That hill could be a cairn of rocks covered over my grass and moss, perhaps.

Another possibility comes from some Internet research:  In Utah in 1857, it is alleged that Mormons massacred over 120 men, women and children who were part of a wagon train emigrating from Arkansas to California.  The Mormons were in the middle of the “Utah War” with the federal government, and war hysteria combined with strict Mormon teachings is said to have lead to the massacre.  The Mormon militia disguised themselves as Native Americans and attacked the emigrant camp.  The fighting lasted for five days, and by then, the Arkansas people could see their attackers were white men.  Another faction of the Mormon militia went into the camp under the pretense of helping the emigrants escape their “Native American attackers.”  They escorted the emigrants out of the battle site, only to lead them into an ambush by the Mormon militia, with the aim to leave no one who could identify the disguised attackers.  Only 17 children, all under the age of seven, were spared.  The ensuing investigation was interrupted by the Civil War, and later resulted in the conviction and execution of only one Mormon militiaman.  

What does this have to do with a cairn and a cross?  I’m getting to that.  To remember the victims of the massacre, in 1859 at the scene, Major Carleton of the US Army and his men constructed a large rock cairn with a cedar cross atop it.  The Mormon leader, Brigham Young, reportedly came to the site and ordered it dismantled.  (The Christian cross is not a recognized religious symbol of the Mormon religion.)  The monument was later replaced by the Army in 1864, and has been subsequently dismantled and replaced over the years by the US Park Service and the Church of Latter Day Saints (what the Mormon Church calls itself today).  The cairn still exists today, but sans cross.   So I have no proof of the following  hypothesis, but, my hypothesis is….could the many cairns that appeared in the late 19th century cemeteries complete with a cross on top be part of a response to the Massacre at Mountain Meadow?  I don’t know.  But it is plausible, I think.  I would need to research newspaper editorials in late 1857-1860, to see if the massacre was discussed.  So much to research, so little time…

The monuments seen below represent cairns, but they are not a pile of individual stones.  Instead, they are each a single piece of marble or granite, carved to look like cairn of many stones.  Many of them have scrolls on them, identifying the deceased.  Sometimes ferns (for humility) and ivy (for steadfastness) adorn the rocks and/or the cross.  My dad has never been able to drive past one of these (no matter how many we’ve seen) without exclaiming, “Oooh, look at that!  I LIKE that!”  I know, Pop, I know.  :)

Oh and P.S., I don't know why it's so hard for people to post comments on here.  Could be perhaps because it's free.  (And I like free, personally).  But speaking of free, you can always feel free to email me with comments.
Thanks for reading. 

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA 

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA  (this is not the type of cross I mean...the upright ones are coming)

Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Jervis, NY

Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Jervis, NY  (this is not a cairn, really, but an interesting home-made gravestone of concrete with pebbles in it)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA  (I wonder if this was done by the same carver/company who did the one in the first picture, in Easton Cemetery)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA  (this wealthy gentleman was murdered by his manservant)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA  (this is the type of monument the Army erected in Utah)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA  (the cross or urn that used to be on the top has broken off)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA  "Only Waiting"  Ivy for steadfastness, ferns for humility, lily of the valley for innocence or return to spring, and note the dove at the top left of the scroll

Lemon Cemetery, Lemon, PA

Lawnview Cemetery, Rockledge, PA  (This is the gravestone of George Lippard, the Philadelphia writer and originator of the fraternal organization "Brotherhood of the Union"  See my blog about that at Lippard, Literature, Lodge and Labor)

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA  (this is also missing its cross or urn at the top)

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA  (this is missing a cross, judging from the rectangular slot at the top)

Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Nazareth, PA

West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA

West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA

West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA

Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Carversville Cemetery, Carversville, PA

Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Northwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fragile Buds and Spent Blooms

Richboro Union Cemetery, Richboro, PA

This is a rehash of an old blog that, somehow, I deleted.  The ironic part was I was trying to save the blog’s content onto my laptop, on the advice from my sister-in-law.  Thanks, Sue….haha, this blog is dedicated to you!

The most common gravestone symbol of the 19th century was the weeping willow.  But second place has to belong to the broken flower bud or half-open bloom, which most often appear on the graves of infants, children, or young adults.  One of the things I have learned in my studies of Victorian times is that there were many people who lived to see old age during the 1800s.  But the trick was making it past the age of 30.  There were many complications during childbirth that killed infants and their mothers alike.  There were also epidemics of cholera, yellow fever, diphtheria, tuberculosis and influenza that could and sometimes did wipe out entire families.  And the Civil War saw the destruction of many young men who never had the chance to grow old with their wives.  

The broken flower bud was usually carved on the graves of infants and young children, symbolizing a life cut short even before it had begun.  The half-open blossom tended to be used on gravestones of young adults who died too soon without achieving their full potential.  However, I have seen many examples of broken buds or blossoms adorning graves of older people, sometimes people who died in their 70’s or even 80’s.  I suppose it is all perspective, and perhaps there were many families who lost an aged loved one but still felt they had been taken by death way too soon.

The most common flower depicted as a broken bloom was the rose, the favorite Victorian flower, symbolizing love.  According to my favorite cemetery symbolism book by Douglas Keister (Stories In Stone), the red rose was adopted by Christians to symbolize martyrdom, while the white rose stood for purity and innocence.  For Christians, roses had thorns to remind Man about his eviction from Eden, but the beauty and fragrance remains to suggest what Paradise is like.  And the Virgin Mary is called a “rose without thorns,” because she is thought to be without sin.  Keister also maintains that roses are used in reference to the poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), “To Virgins, To Make Much of Time.”  The opening four lines are:

               “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying, And this same flower that smiles today, To-morrow will be dying.”

Other flowers often shown as broken blooms include Asiatic lilies and calla lilies, both of which also symbolize purity and innocence.  Sometimes the sheer number of broken buds on multiple gravestones in a section of some cemeteries makes me stop and realize how precious life is.  Seriously, it really makes you think.

Here are excerpts from a 19th-century poem by Meta Lander, writing about the death of her child.  Lander wrote an entire book about grieving (The Broken Bud: or Reminiscences of a Bereaved Mother, , 1861).

               My Broken Bud
I had a precious gift from heaven;--
Oh!  it was passing fair.
It was a bud of promise sweet,
Adorned with beauty rare.
I gave it sunshine and the air;
‘Twas watered by the dew;
I watched it as each coming day
Unfolded beauties anew.
One day, upon its tender stem
It could not lift its head,---
And, with a tremor through its heart,
Its petals bright were shed.
Alas! One had been near my flower
Whose icy, shivering breath
Had chilled it to its very core;---
It was the Blight of Death.

This is the sad part of cemetery travels:  seeing the vast number of small gravestones, decorated with listless flowers or drooping buds, and knowing these little persons never had the chance to cash in on the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I don't have children, but I can imagine the pain a parent must feel, burying a child.  So gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and don't waste today.   

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Boehm's UCC Cemetery, Blue Bell, PA (Theodore was 1 year, 9 months, and 12 days old)

Bolkcom Cemetery, Rileysville, PA (Minnie was 22 days old)

Delaware Water Gap Cemetery, Delaware Water Gap, PA (Cora was about 22 days shy of turning 5)

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Durham Cemetery, Durham PA (Mary was 2)

East Canaan Cemetery, South Canaan, PA (this infant boy didn't even live long enough for a name)

East Swamp Mennonite Cemetery, Quakertown, PA (Sarah was 33 years old)

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA (Charles was 1 year, 3 months and 13 days old)

Forest Grove Presbyterian Cemetery, Forest Grove, PA  (Hard to tell but I think Laura was 1)

Forest Grove Presbyterian Cemetery, Forest Grove, PA (Mary was only 5 weeks old.  The phrase "Asleep in the arm of Jesus" is carved on the bottom)

Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA (stone is sunken)

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA  (Oliver was 2 years, 8 months and 5 days old)

Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA (Alida was about a month away from turning 7)

Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Hickory Grove Cemetery, Waverly, PA (Clifton was 1 year and 20 days old)

Immanuel Leidy's Cemetery, Souderton, PA (Ella was almost 17 yrs old.  The inscription at the bottom reads "Give me rest.")

Jeffersonville Presbyterian Cemetery, Jeffersonville, PA (Minnie was 13 years old.  The verse reads: "Call not back the dear departed, Anchored sure where storms are o'er [over].  On the border Lord we left her, Soon to meet to part no more.")

Madisonville Union Cemetery, Madisonville, PA (Ida Adelia was about 10 1/2 years old.  "All the time on earth she spent Till God for her his angels sent.  She is not dead but sleepeth.")

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA (Here is a care of an older person having a broken bud on their stone.  Matilda was 75 when she died.)

Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA (tough to read, I think Mary was a little older than 3 years)

Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA (this is a relative of Matilda, above.  Sisters who never married, perhaps??  Sarah died when she was 83.)

Moravian High Acres Cemetery, Canadensis, PA (Rosey was just a week past her 6th birthday.  "Thou art gone, little Rosie, Sweet child of our love, From earth's fairy strand, to bright mansions above."  I don't know who wrote that line, but when I googled it, it appears on Victorian children's graves across the country. )

Moscow Cemetery, Moscow, PA (Forest was 1 year, 3 months and 24 days old. "Budded on earth to bloom in Heaven.")

Neshaminy Presbyterian Cemetery, Warrington, PA  (Anna was 10 1/2)

Neshaminy Presbyterian Cemetery, Warrington, PA  (Levi was about a month shy of his 1st birthday)

Newtown Cemetery, Newtown, PA (I think Mabel was almost 1 1/2 years old.  "Fold her O Father in thine arms, And let her henceforth be A messenger of love between Our human heart and Thee.")

Newtown Presbyterian Cemetery, Warrington, PA

Nockamixon Union Cemetery, Ferndale, PA (pretty illegible, as the stone has fallen backward and the marble has been subjected to the elements, especially acid rain)

Norris City Cemetery, Norristown, PA (Lizzie was 3 years, 3 months and 12 days old)

Old Brooklyn Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA  (Edwin was 2 years old)

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA (Carrie was 1 year, 3 months and 9 days old)

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA  (Carrie's brother [above] who died before he reached the age of 2 months.)

Prince of Peace Lutheran Cemetery, Johnsonville, PA  (Isabella was a year and a week old)

Prompton Cemetery, Prompton, PA

Raubsville Cemetery, Raubsville, PA  (George Edward was not quite 2)

Richboro Union Cemetery, Richboro, PA  ("Our little Lizzie" is "Though lost to sight, to memory dear.")

St. John's Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ridge Valley, PA (Allen Lafayette was almost 6 years old)

St. John's Evan. Lutheran Cemetery, Ridge Valley, PA  (difficult to read, plus it's in German.  I think it's Ullen who was 3 years and 26 days old.)

St. Mary's Cemetery, Doylestown, PA  (Daniel was only 15 days old)

St. Peter's Lutheran Cemetery, North Wales, PA  (Dillwyn was 7 years, 7 months and 12 days old.)

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA  (C. Clinton was not yet 3)

St. Peter's Union Cemetery, Hilltown, PA  (Arthur Francis died before he was 7 months old)

Old Brooklyn Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA  (Cynthia was about 7 1/2.  "The little bud Was nipt too soon Twill rise and bloom Beyond the tomb.")
Tannersville Union Cemetery, Tannersville, PA  (Margaret, who died at age 78, was also the sister-in-law of my g-g-g-g-grandfather.  "Kind angels watch her sleeping dust Till angels come to raise the just.  Then may she wake to sweet surprise And in her Saviour's arms will rise.")

Tannersville Union Cemetery, Tannersville, PA (stone sunken)

Union United Cemetery, Union Lake, PA  (tough to read dates)

Zion Hill Cemetery, Zionhill, PA (Florence was 22 (and her baby daughter buried next to her died as an infant in 1918.)

St. Peter's Tohickon UCC Cemetery, Keelersville, PA  ([left] Levi was 13, [middle] Lydia Anna was 27, and [right] Lucy Ann was 31.)

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA  (broken lily, Emma was 25)

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ  (Joseph was 5, "gone but not forgotten")

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ   (two infant sons, not even named)

Haupt Cemetery, Ambler, PA  (Eliza was 1 year, 3 months, and 15 days old)

Orvilla Cemetery, Orvilla, PA  (Mary Ella was 2 years and 1 month old.  "But Jesus called unto him and said suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.")

Paupack Cemetery, Paupack, PA  (Francis Wesley was only 7 months and 23 days old.  "Dear Francis amongst the flock, shall be the shepherd's cure, While folded in thy Saviour's arms...."I really should remove the leaves before I photograph them, but I like the look of how the stones have evolved with Nature.)

Quakertown Union Cemetery, Quakertown, PA

Scott Valley Cemetery, Montdale, PA  (Mary Jane was only 23 days past her 2nd birthday)

St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Lewes, DE

Stark Cemetery, Starkville, PA  (Ida was 7 years and 4 months old and her sister Hellen was 4 1/2 years old; Hellen died 3 days after Ida.  "I take these little lambs said he and lay them on my breast, Protection they shall find in me, In me be ever blest.")

Tinicum UCC Cemetery, Tinicum. PA  (Our little son Horace Benjamin was a little over 2 months old when he died.)

Towamencin Mennonite Cemetery, Harleysville, PA  ("She is not dead but sleepeth.")

Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Jervis, NY  (Flora and Samuel were siblings; Flora was not yet 2 and Samuel was not yet 1 when they died, 5 years apart from each other.)
Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA  (Three siblings.  Clarence was 6 1/2, Harry was 10 months and Sallie was 3.  "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.")

Salford Mennonite Cemetery, Harleysville, PA  (another one in German, Elizabeth was not quite 39 as far as I can tell)

Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ  (Evelene was 18.  "None knew her but to love her.  None named her but to praise.")

Indian Creek Christ Reformed Cemetery, Indian Valley, PA  (tough to read the dates)

Salford Mennonite Cemetery, Harleysville, PA  (Jacob was not yet 20)

Salford Mennonite Cemetery, Harleysville, PA  (Henry was almost 19)

St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Lewes, DE  (James died in 1804.  Yeah, 1804.  Tough to read all of this)

Trinity Christian Cemetery, Skippack, PA  (Mary was 24 years, 5 months and 21 days old.  "My Dear...gone but not forgotten.")

Tunkhannock Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA  (Augusta was 16 years and 4 months old)

Willow View Cemetery, Clifford, PA  (Emma was 20 and she died about 2 weeks after giving birth to her son Claud, who died 6 weeks later.  "Thou art my saviour, O Lord, I have said that I would heed thy words.")
Falls Cemetery, Falls, PA  (Alice died in Kansas City, MO, was buried in PA, aged 24 years, 3 months, and 21 days.  "Peacefully sleep.")

Overfield Cemetery, Meshoppen, PA

Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA  (William Rogers and his wife lost 5 of their children, two as unnamed infants, between the years of 1823 and 1842.  They were re-interred in Doylestown Cemetery, in the family plot in 1853.  Rogers was one of the founders of Doylestown Cemetery in 1851.)