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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where Angels Do Not Fear to Tread



Jordan UCC Cemetery, Walbert, PA

Angels and cherubs, their chubby, childlike little counterparts, became a popular fixture in cemeteries in the second half of 19th century.  To me, that time is the American Victorian cemetery at its height of emotion, passion and humanization, and represents the swinging of the pendulum to the extreme, the other extreme, quite different than what was seen in the graveyards of 100 years previous. 

The progression of tombstone symbols in the eastern part of the United States among the colonists began in the 17th century and 18th centuries with carved symbols of skulls and crossbones, depicting quite starkly and literally what had happened to the deceased.  The late 18th century and early 19th century saw a shift to symbols of soul effigies, which are faces with the skin still on them, sporting wings, a precursor to the cherub.  This marked a subtle change in societal views on death.  It was thought at this time that perhaps it was not so much about skulls and bones and hellfire and damnation, but more about the soul of the deceased moving on and hopefully up.  And half a century later, angels and cherubs mark the dramatic shift in Victorian society's views about death and the afterlife.  In the late 19th century, the focus was not on the dying and the body left behind, but on the soul's forward progress to heaven, and the hope for a family reunion there someday.


 
Death Head, c. 1731, St. Peter's Episcopal Cemetery, Perth Amboy, NJ
 


Soul Effigy, c. 1776, Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island, NY
 
Angel, c. 1836, Cold Spring Presbyterian Cemetery, Cold Spring, NJ
 

The thing I love most about angels in cemetery iconography is that even with the extreme weathering of marble, the two-dimensional depictions of angels in marble are almost always readily identifiable, because of the wings.  Something of those graceful and orderly feathered appendages almost always remains, and it doesn't take years of study of symbols to comprehend the meaning intended by the family of the deceased.  Their hope that their loved one was in a better place, and was being cared for by heavenly beings, is very apparent. 

Many times, these angels are accompanied by other funerary symbols popular in their time, such as torches (God's undying light or love), roses or other flowers being sprinkled on the ground (the body--the cut flower--staying on earth as the soul moves on), or trumpets (usually wielded by the archangel Gabriel). 

The statues of angels found in late 19th century and early 20th century cemeteries also represents the improvement in pneumatic carving tools, and showcases some of the artistic talent of stone cutters.  I love to try to get close-up photographs of angels, especially those with downcast eyes, as they seem  to offer a glimpse into heaven, if such a place exists.  Sculpture itself has always held my rapt attention, as I cannot believe sometimes that those soft downy cheeks and silky ringlets of hair are, in fact, carved from hard, cold, unyielding stone. 

We could all use the help of a guardian angel now and then.  I like the thought that some being with a little more knowledge and understanding of the universe is looking after me, as I make my way, make my mistakes and make my mark.  Here's to hoping we all have our own angel.  Thanks for reading.


Angel carrying toddler Cora Emelia Becker to heaven, Greenwood Cemetery, Howertown, PA

Angel lifting the soul of 25 yr old Lucy Ann Rittner to heaven, as Lucy Ann drops flowers (her body) to the ground, Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

A Cherub over the family tomb of the Goforth family, William Penn Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Greenwood Cemetery, Howertown, PA

Cherub reminiscent of Cupid over the coolest old-man face, Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA


Doylestown Cemetery, Doylestown, PA

Angel sprinkling flowers, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Angel sprinkling flowers from a wreath, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

This is what I mean about the wings:  I can't quite make this out, but because of the wings, I believe it is an angel lifting the deceased to heaven, Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Angel with what I believe is the top of a trumpet, not a pipe, Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Fairview Cemetery, Middletown, NJ

A muscular little angel brandishing a trumpet, Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA


Oh, the headless angel, next to a tree stump (a life cut short) and what I think is a harp (an angel's tool), Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Incoming!  The angel Gabriel with his trumpet, Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Praying angel, Heidelberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Angel with a Bible, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

An angel with arms in the traditional pose of the deceased in a coffin, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Angel with a scroll, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Angel with anchor (Christian symbol of hope), Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, Tamaqua, PA

Cherub, in a familiar pose we often see today in home d├ęcor, Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery, Tamaqua, PA

An early 20th century depiction of an angel, Jordan UCC Cemetery, Walbert, PA

Again, the marble is disintegrating and wearing away, but the wing provides the clue, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

An angel grasping the broken bud that has fallen from the vine, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Mourning angel holding a dying bouquet, Lower Saucon Christ Lutheran Cemetery, Hellertown, PA

Angel guiding 6 yr old Carl Weysser to heaven, Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

Something used to be on top of the column to the left of the angel, but it has broken off, Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA


Angel showing open Bible, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ

Angel showing child the way to heaven, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Newark, NJ

Mid 20th century sculpture of mourning angel, Mount Prospect Cemetery, Neptune, NJ

Angel that used to have a hand that dropped flowers, Mount Prospect Cemetery, Neptune, NJ

Even without facial features, it is not hard to imagine the sweet face of this cherub, Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

Angel with Bible, Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

This sad little cherub mourns the loss of Horace, who died before he reached his 12th birthday, Mount Zion Cemetery, Pottsgrove, PA

Gabriel and his trumpet, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Gabriel again, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

And again, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Old St. Aloysius Cemetery, Pottstown, PA

Usually angels look young or strangely timeless, but this one looks old to me.  He points to Heaven and holds a banner that says "Our Bessie," Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Sad little angel with an upside down torch, mourning the loss of Laura Elva Cox, but demonstrating that God's light never goes out, Protestant Cemetery, Nesquehoning, PA

This motif was quite popular in the Lehigh Valley area of PA, Zion's Stone Church Cemetery, New Ringgold, PA

Mourning angel offering a wreath of flowers in memorial, Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, NJ

Angel pointing up to heaven and holding a scroll, Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA

This marble carving was placed in a gravestone of concrete, typical of the memorials made by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, St. Francesco Italian Cemetery, Eynon, PA

Angel carrying child to heaven; a rose bloom rests on top, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA


That motif again, angel with a trumpet holding deceased aloft as she drops flowers.  St. Thomas Whitemarsh Cemetery, Fort Washington, PA


Praying cherub, Tennent Presbyterian Cemetery, Tennent, NJ
 
Okay, so I am a little obsessed with this one, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

I can't help it, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

A bulky Gabriel at a rakish angle, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Gabriel, Heidleberg Union Cemetery, Slatington, PA

Angel pointing up, holding a trumpet, Gilbert Cemetery, Gilbert, PA

Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Gabriel with his trumpet, Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Angel recording deeds, perhaps in a book, or pointing to the Bible, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Angel ascending with a toddler, Tinicum UCC Cemetery, Tinicum, PA

Angel guiding two children, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Angel, I think, with an anchor, I think, Christ Church Cemetery, Shrewsbury, NJ

An early 20th century Celtic cross with the four Evangelists, (clockwise from top), Matthew, Mark, John and Luke, Hollenback Cemetery, Wilkes Barre, PA

Cherubs with a lyre, Elmwood Cemetery, Shepherdstown, WV

Gnaden Huetten Cemetery, Lehighton, PA

Date stone on the chapel at Mauch Chunk Cemetery, Jim Thorpe, PA

A multitude of trumpeting angels, New Goshenhoppen Union Cemetery, East Greenville, PA

Two angels holding a wreath over an urn, Queen of Peace Cemetery, Hawley, PA

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