Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Like Sheltered Flowers, Transplanted to Keep Them from Harm"



Children in eternal "sleep", with lily of the valley, a symbol of innocence, William Penn Cemetery, Philadelphia

American society in the 19th century knew death as a regular visitor to life, and while death is still a constant in our century, when someone "young" dies, it seems somehow more surprising to us than it did to those in the 1800s. 

For one thing, life expectancy has increased through medical, scientific and technological advances over the past 150 years.  Infant mortality rates have dropped dramatically, and it is fairly uncommon now for women to die in childbirth.  Soldiers, those young and those somewhat older, male and female, still die in wars that show that those in charge are ignorant of their history lessons, but the numbers of soldiers lost in recent wars cannot (thankfully) compare to the huge losses suffered in America's Civil War.  Also, diseases that nowadays are just shadowy words that make us shiver a little were once real and terrifying spectres that crossed thresholds and killed family members, and in too many cases, the entire family.  Cholera, yellow fever, malaria, scarlet fever, and diphtheria could ravage towns and cities in epidemic numbers.  And tuberculosis and influenza, which today can still prove deadly, left a much wider swath of death in their wake one hundred and fifty years ago, before the concepts of germs and antiseptics were understood. 

I suppose there will always be "accidental deaths," but it seems somewhat more tragic when it happens to a child or young adult.  Drownings of children were common in the 1800s, as well as accidents with runaway horses, wheeled vehicles and trains.  Children were curious then as they always will be, and they swallowed things that ended their young lives. (Ever go to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia and see the collection of laryngologist Chevalier Jackson's thousands of items he extracted from the esophagi and stomachs of mostly children??)  And, of course, one of the hardest things for me to see in cemeteries is the "family" of small tombstones, siblings that died young, one after the other. 

And while death for the young in the 1800s might have been more commonplace, it wasn't any less sorrowful.  I don't know how parents found the strength to deal with the loss of a child, or worse, more than one child.  And how did young children deal with the loss of their siblings?  Perhaps knowing others had weathered the same storms helped them.  I found a webpage ( http://www.merrycoz.org/papers/DEATH.HTM) that explores a mid-19th-century magazine called Robert Merry's Museum, the first American magazine for children that published letters from its subscribers.  The magazine's lifespan was from 1841-1872, and subscribers who wrote to the "Merry's Monthly Chat with His Friends" column were mostly teenagers, though younger children and even adults wrote letters that were published.  (Robert Merry was a fictional character, but the magazine's readers seemed to feel "Uncle Merry" was almost a real person.)  Hundreds of letters were received and published by the magazine, and some of them dealt with death, loss and sorrow. 

The website about this magazine summarizes the "themes [that] predominated in the letters [about death]: that heaven is our true home; that life is brief, but even a brief life is not pointless; that God sometimes takes the very young to protect them from life; and that, given life's briefness, one must be prepared to die at any time. Children, especially, were presented as angelic beings whose virtues were worth imitating, [and they] are better off in heaven, safe from the harshness of life, like sheltered flowers transplanted to keep them from harm."

An 1855 letter tugs at the heart:  "I know she has gone to Jesus," Eddie wrote of his little sister, dead of cholera, "but I do miss her so much."  Sadly,"a staple of letters written in the 1840s and 1850s was the sentiment, 'if I live to grow up.'"  The following photographs show memorials for children who did not live to grow up, but the love felt by the ones they left behind, to me, still can be felt almost palpably in these stones. 


I first saw a memorial like this in Northwood Cemetery in Philadelphia.  A tree stump, a sign of a life that ended too soon, sporting immortal ivy (it never dies, even in winter), with a child's sun bonnet and little boots.  Since then, I have found several of them, even one for a boy.  IOOF Cemetery, Tamaqua, PA




Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA




Harry's empty baby shoes, Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA




Little Mary Janes and socks, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA




IOOF Cemetery, Tamaqua, PA  (can you see my Pop in the truck??)




"But the morning cometh," Zion Lutheran Cemetery, Flourtown, PA




This kills me, a small empty bed, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA




One of two life-sized memorials for young boys, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA




The back of the above stone, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA




George Edwin Swope, not quite 6 weeks old, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA




Evergreen Cemetery, Susquehanna Depot, PA




Freeland Cemetery, Freeland, PA




"Dear parents, do not morn for me, the happy soul would say, nor grieve, dear Mother, for I am free of this poor sleeping clay."  Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, PA




Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA




Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA




"Our little Daisy" died in 1863, aged 1 year and 5 months; unfortunately, her little statue has broken, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA




Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA




IOOF Cemetery, Tamaqua, PA




A sleeping lamb lies at the head of this sleeping young person, Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, NJ




Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA




Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA




Some soft humor injected...when I saw this one, I went running to it (like they are going to run away or something) and I stepped in a groundhog hole, fell down, bounced right back up and kept running until I reached this.  It took me about 10 minutes before I realized I had really twisted my ankle.  :)  This was so sad and lovely, tho.  Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ





Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ




I am assuming that is a fence behind Harry, Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA




Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA




"A little bud of love to bloom with God above," Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA




Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA




New Falkner Swamp UCC Cemetery, Gilbertsville, PA




New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA




Newton Cemetery, Newton Ransom, PA




Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, NJ





Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, NJ




South Dennis United Methodist Cemetery, South Dennis, NJ




South Dennis United Methodist Cemetery, South Dennis, NJ




"Together we shall sleep, together we may rise, and sing our morning hymn, one household in the skies," South Dennis United Methodist Cemetery, South Dennis, NJ




St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Lafayette Hill, PA




"It is well with the child," Tennent Presbyterian Cemetery, Tennent, NJ




West Swamp Mennonite Cemetery, Quakertown, PA




Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA




Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA




Another one that killed me, her three babies died, Tennent Presbyterian Cemetery, Tennent, NJ




Three children died young, only 2 are memorialized in sculpture, Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA



Two sleeping children, both died in the year they were born, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

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