Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cemetery Haunting

Constructed in 1857 and designed by John Wood, the Woodland Cemetery in Quincy, Illinois is one of the more intriguing cemeteries I've haunted recently. It overlooks the Mississippi River from the bluff on which Quincy is set. The view is wonderful.

Oh ...... you didn't know that one of my favorite pastimes was haunting old cemeteries? How long have I known you?

Yesterday afternoon found me creeping around Woodland with my camera while listening to Marschner's "Der Vampyr" on NPR radio. Really, does it get any better than that?

Well anyway, I got to thinking about why it is that cemeteries have always attracted me. When I was growing up there was a large cemetery about 6 blocks from my home. In those days kids were allowed to run around at night, stay at others' houses, camp in our backyards ...... you name it. We weren't so paranoid back then that there was a child molester hiding around every corner. Now we hear news from all over the world, news that every day tells us we are not safe. How can this not have affected our sense of being safe in our own space?

But I digress. As a child, along with my friends, we used to run through this cemetery at night. We would continually fascinate ourselves with the one above ground "tomb" of cement, trying to dislodge the lid. Which, of course, we couldn't. There was a crack in the corner of it, however, and this made us believe that somehow, some day, we would surely be able to slide that 500 pound lid over just far enough so that we could have a peek inside. This was the extent of our attempt at vandalism, at which we were dismal failures.

Well there was one other little thing, but that's a different BLOG.

When my daughters were young we used to pick up sandwiches and park in the middle of a cemetery for our picnic. This could explain the way they turned out, perhaps. Hmmmm. Nevertheless, it was always a peaceful outing. Rarely is anyone trampling through a cemetery with their barking, pooping and peeing dogs. I like that about cemeteries.

Other than the errant young vandal, seldom do you find anyone being disrespectful in a cemetery. I imagine that we still, as a society, respect the spiritual and for that I'm thankful.

So what is it about cemeteries? Fear of the unknown? Our craving for the mysterious? The intrigue of the "other worldly"? Or is it the feeling that we are playing with fire, with things we don't understand and which pump our adrenaline a bit faster, make us feel slightly more alive by contrast with the peacefulness following death?

I know there are many who dislike the thought of cemeteries or viewing them. It seems to me that were we to more readily accept that death is part of life we would find the passage through our lives into old age more acceptable. Rather than trying to always look younger and avoid thoughts of what it means to be old, would we be more at peace with the knowledge of old age and death were we to allow ourselves more contact with them?

My Dad's death was a heavy blow for me emotionally. When Dad was showing signs that he might not be around on this plane much longer I asked him if he cold try to contact me from the other side. He said he would "have to think about it." Har. To my knowledge he hasn't done so yet ......... but then again I have noticed that this past winter I've seen so many more hawks, eagles and what I call the "God sky" ...... I have to wonder if maybe he isn't having something to do with that.

There isn't anything about Woodland Cemetery that isn't intriguing. From the old grave markers which are in disrepair and falling down the bluff, to the "City Vault", built into the hillside and now housing seemingly the castoffs of the cemetery, the place has a feel of calm solitude.

Next time I think I'll bring a bottle of wine to share and sip it under one of the incredible cemetery trees providing shelter for the still living. I highly recommend a trip through the oldest cemetery you can find, reading the names and dates and giving blessings to those who have passed this way before.


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