Monday, January 6, 2014

An Unidentified Cemetery

The small cemetery was near the end of a dirt road. It was unbelievably cold so it was difficult to stay long but there was so much that I saw and probably much more that I did not see. There is nothing like shooting in a country cemetery. No, there are no splendid memorials like the Hill angel but a hundred times the emotion if you just look for it. I can only say that if you can process your photographs from a country cemetery and keep a dry eye then I would say that you fell terribly short of the possible both photographically and personally. There was no sign indicating the name of the cemetery and I do not know a single person buried there but after spending a half hour there I think I know something about some of the people buried there and something about some of the people they left behind. 

A cemetery is where we put away a past—all the emotions and feelings are put in a box and buried under six feet of earth. They may fade but I am not sure they ever go away. Mother died fifty-seven years ago and the emotions are not gone. I haven’t put flowers on my mother’s grave in years, if ever. I don’t know why. It was a lot for a six year old to be told. I still remember that day she and I sat in the swing on the front porch. I hadn’t started to school yet. At the time she had been given a prognosis of six months to one year. She died the summer before my senior year in high school. I remembered the hymn she had requested ten years earlier, Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Somehow, I think she knew I would.

This was obviously a cemetery that served a relatively poor community. There were several home made headstones, there were many blank funeral home markers, there were graves with no markings at all and of course, markers that were broken, partially buried, overgrown with vegetation. Country cemeteries are full of poignancy.  I will always remember a homemade marker in Pilgrim’s Rest Cemetery south of Hempstead. It was about fifteen inches tall, in the shape of an arched window and the only word crudely scratched into the concrete was Mother.

The memory of who we were will all be lost to time in two or maybe three generations if not sooner. That bothers me. Not that I will be forgotten; that is not important, but that lives that meant something are so quickly vanquished. Or am I wrong? Are our lives not really all that important to anyone other than ourselves? There are no answers in a country cemetery for a gosh awful lot of questions.

Maybe the stone that only says Mother is the way it should be. We may not know her name but we know her life engendered love for her. Read Shelly's Oszmandias.

One of the most interesting stones. Can you imagine the type of person that those he left behind described his birth as Sunrise and his death as Sunset. I tend to believe that this was a person greatly loved and that the love was well justified. To me this is not only a unique way to engrave a stone it is a beautiful statement about the deceased.
This grave from 1892 had a mound of concrete running the length of the grave that was entirely covered with seashells. As you can see here some of the shells were missing and only the lump of concrete that supported the shell remains.
This person passed away in 1965, nearly a half century ago, and still someone has placed plastic flowers on the grave recently. It is obvious that the memory of this person has not faded away.
A blank funeral home marker; a single name, a few imbedded shards for decorations. It is always interesting to see the materials that are chosen to decorate homemade markers.

This was one of the saddest. There were three graves together that were marked only by concrete building blocks. The funeral home markers were blank. This one had a small gift of flowers.


  1. Gary, I really enjoyed this post. I especially enjoyed 5, 7 and 8. You may recall that I presented a portfolio of cemetery photographs several years back. I agree with you. Cemeteries are a sad enough place, but how much worse to see graves in neglect. The last one was interesting. It leaves many questions about the person who left the flowers there. If I still have it, I will share with you (via email) the artist statement I wrote to go with my portfolio.

  2. Jan, I would appreciate reading the artist statement. I am macabre enough to really enjoy cemeteries. When I was a kid the local cemetery was one of my favorite hide from the world places.