Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cemetery of the Week #62: Sunset Hills Cemetery

Crack the Whip

Sunset Hills Cemetery
G-4413 Flushing Road
Flint, Michigan 48504
Telephone: (810) 732-0260
Founded: 1926
Number of interments: Findagrave lists more than 4500.
Open: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. in summer, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. in winter

Sunset Hills Cemetery lies across from the Flint River between the former automotive capital of Flint and the former farming village of Flushing, Michigan. Sunset Hills is a lovely combination of lawn cemetery (with bronze monuments lying flush with the sod) and garden cemetery, full of gorgeous old trees, winding roadways, and peaceful views. In the spring, it comes alive with birdsong. In summer, you’d be amazed at all the shades of green. When autumn comes, the trees seem to catch fire with leaves of gold and orange. It holds a new kind of silence when the snow is on the ground.

Sunset Hills doesn’t have famous people buried in it. The best Findagrave can offer is Arthur Ellsworth Summerfield, who served as Postmaster General from 1953-1961, and Booker Moore, who played fullback for the Buffalo Bills. The Political Graveyard adds only Herbert E. Crouter, who ran as a prohibition candidate for the House of Representatives, the Lieutenant Governorship of Michigan, and the University of Michigan board of regents. It’s unclear to me if he ever succeeded in getting himself elected.

Sunset Hills is worth visiting because it’s home to some of the best sculpture I’ve seen in a graveyard anywhere.

The Provider

The first sculpture to greet the visitor stands just inside the gate. “The Provider” was sculpted by Derek Wernher in the likeness of Albert Koegel. (Koegel was the patriarch of the Koegel’s hotdog empire. Michiganders are fanatic about their hotdogs and Koegels are considered the best.) Koegel’s interest in the cemetery, dating back to its founding in the 1920s, “provided the beautiful backdrop of large trees we enjoy today,” according to Sunset Hills’ website.

“The Provider” is an older gentleman, raising a tin can up to fill a bird feeder. He wears striped rubber boots, slacks with a belt, and a button-down shirt: generic clothing for a very specific figure. The rough surface of his clothing was patterned in the casting process.

Wernher says, “My representational work does not dictate a story but, rather, captures a moment… All these works focus on the portrayal of the ‘self’ of the individual. We are all solitary, yet we are part of the universe.”

Generation Bridge

Farther into the cemetery, you come upon a group of statues called “The Generation Bridge” by J. Seward Johnson. A grandfather in a tweed suit offers a broken Hersey bar to a little girl in a quilted pale blue outfit. He looks at her, but she gazes at the blanket in her hands. Beside him on the wooden bench sits her dolly. The sculpture is tucked back under the trees in such a way that it looks very realistic.

“My art is an imitation of life. [The sculptures] invite people to come into that space, so that they don’t feel quite alone.” – J. Seward Johnson

Detail of Crack the Whip

The centerpiece of the Sunset Hills sculpture collection is “Crack the Whip,” a collection of eight children running in a semi-circle to play the game. “Crack the Whip” was the first of Sunset Hills’ sculptures, dedicated in 1983. The sculpture, which cost $85,000 at the time, was donated by an anonymous Flint-area resident who had family buried in the cemetery.

The Smithsonian’s Save Our Sculpture survey, compiled in 1993, says that the original leader of the game had gone missing. He appears in my photos taken in 1998 and 2008, so he must have been replaced. My photos from 1998 are here on yesterday’s post.

The sculpture is comprised of an Asian girl, two African American kids, a Native American, and four white kids, each distinct and individual. They are dressed in cleats and baseball shorts, a headband and a basketball jersey, a pinafore. The Asian girl has lost her Birkenstock sandal, which lies in the grass nearby.

Multiple copies of the sculpture are scattered throughout the Midwest. According to his website, Johnson makes up to seven duplicates of each sculpture. One belongs to Radisson Hotel Engineering Department in Indianapolis, who purchased it in 1986. Another copy stands at the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company in Fort Wayne Indiana. They dedicated theirs in 1987.

The Gardener

J. Seward Johnson’s final sculpture in the cemetery is called “The Gardener.” The man wears blue denim overalls with a handkerchief dangling from his back pocket. His turquoise plaid flannel shirt has its sleeves rolled back. In one hand, he holds a spade. The other holds a small flowerpot, which is sometimes filled with real flowers. On the ground beside him sits a tray containing more flowerpots. Except for the gloss on his skin – which could be sunscreen – he appears real enough that I expect people sometimes ask him directions.

Candice and the Flower Girls

“Candice and the Flower Girls,” by Gary Price, is a multi-figure piece that includes a pair of little girls and an older girl with a watering can, which trickles out a stream of water. Candice wears a sailor dress and dice-shaped ponytail holders. She holds a straw hat in one hand and her watering can in the other, her expression intent. She doesn’t have any paint, so she looks less realistic than the other sculptures in the cemetery.

The flower girls are roughly sculpted, with big grooves that show the pressure of the sculptor’s thumb. Their faces have less personality and are less established in their ethnicity than the others. Price says his goal is lifting the human spirit through sculpture. He often depicts children in natural settings, gardening and exploring nature.

The Flag Raiser

The final sculpture in Sunset Hills is called “The Flag Raiser,” again by Derek Wernher. The cemetery’s grounds crew calls him Charlie. He’s modeled on Charles Smith, grounds supervisor for over 39 years. He wears a large ring of keys clipped at his hip, a big chunky watch, loafers, and eyeglasses with no glass in them, as he reaches up as if raising the American flag.

Sunset Hills is a lovely place to spend a summer’s day, if you find yourself in mid-Michigan. Stop into the cemetery office, opposite the cemetery gates, and they will give you a map of all the sculptures.

Useful links:

Sunset Hills home page

Sunset Hills Flickr gallery

Sunset Hills urban legend

Smithsonian public sculpture listing

My thoughts and more pictures of the Crack the Whip sculpture

Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer

Detail of the Crack the Whip sculpture

To me, summertime means time to explore cemeteries.  One of the first graveyards I fell in love with was Sunset Hills in Flint, Michigan.  It’s a lovely combination of lawn cemetery (with monuments lying flush with the sod) and garden cemetery, full of lush old trees.  The element that first set Sunset Hills apart for me was the Crack the Whip sculpture by J. Seward Johnson.

Here’s a view of the sculpture set in its landscape.  It was kind of shocking the first time I came upon it.  From a distance, it looks for all the world like a gang of kids playing in the graveyard.

We used to play Crack the Whip all the time when I was a kid (although never in the graveyard). Everyone joins hands and the largest kid runs, dragging the line behind her.  The goal is to twist and turn and tangle the line up, snapping the little kids on the end so fast that they lose their feet or their grip and go tumbling away from the rest of the line.  It can be dangerous.  Parents probably don’t encourage their kids to play it these days, even though it was immensely satisfying to hang on, no matter what.

Johnson’s sculpture has such wonderful detail that there’s even a bronze sandal lying in the grass where it’s fallen from one girl’s foot. The children strain with the effort of keeping together. They sway and bend, balancing against each other, almost but not quite toppling over.  It’s a masterwork, an amazing, complicated piece.  Sunset Hills’ website says the eight children are celebrating life.

Cemetery of the Week #62: Sunset Hills Cemetery, Flint, Michigan

Cemetery of the Week #61: Granary Burying Ground

The Granary Burying Ground in springtime

Old Granary Burying Ground
101a Tremont Street at Bromfield
Boston, MA 02108
Telephone: (617) 635-4505
Founded: 1660
Size: 2 acres
Number of interments: 5000, or perhaps as many as 8000, under 2345 markers
Open: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., although some areas may be closed during the restoration work.

This weekend and throughout the summer: The Freedom Trail Organization offers a full schedule of historical tours, led by a costumed guide. The schedule is here. Tickets range from $6-$12.

Established in 1660 in an attempt to alleviate the crowding at King’s Chapel Burying Ground, the Granary Burying Ground takes its name from a grain storehouse that once stood nearby. More than 2300 — and perhaps as many as 8,000 — corpses lay inside this small patch of ground, which barely covers two acres. One source estimates that as many as 20 bodies lie beneath each tombstone.

Unfortunately, few of the grave markers actually mark graves any longer. Around the dawn of the 20th century, groundskeepers re-aligned the gravestones to make it easy to mow between them. In some cases, the footstones — which once marked the foot of a grave like a footboard on a bed frame — now lean against their headstones. At least they hadn’t been lost altogether. Perhaps during the current renovation, some well-meaning soul will set them back up the way they belong.

Paul Revere’s gravestone

The Old Granary Burying Ground is the final home of many of Boston’s Revolutionary War patriots, including James Otis (“Taxation without representation is tyranny.”), Robert Treat Paine (signer of the Declaration of Independence and first Massachusetts Attorney General), and victims of the Boston Massacre, including Crispus Attucks.

In the center of the graveyard stands a granite obelisk labeled Franklin in large, proud capitals. It marks the grave of Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Josiah and Abiah. The original stone he’d chosen was replaced by this one in 1827, erected by local citizens who wanted to lay claim to the glory of their native son, despite the fact that he’d preferred to be buried in Philadelphia. One of my antique postcards incorrectly identifies the monument as Franklin’s own, a misconception that was undoubtedly good for tourism.

John Hancock’s monument

It’s common for visitors to line up to be photographed beside the monuments of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. Also in the graveyard is the monument to John Hancock, although he may no longer lie beneath it. One story says that grave robbers stole his hand first, whether because they couldn’t remove his rings or because a collector wanted the hand that signed the Declaration of Independence. His body may have vanished during the restoration of his gravesite. I don’t know how much truth there is in these allegations.

Another gravestone that attracts pilgrims is that of Mary Goose. Mary was the first wife of Isaac Goose, whose second wife Elizabeth may or may not have been the famous Mother Goose. Legend has it that Elizabeth’s son-in-law collected her stories into Songs for the Nursery, or Mother Goose’s Melodies, but scholars find it suspicious that no copy of the original book survived. Many of the Mother Goose tales date back to France in the late 1600s. Still, some old guidebooks to Boston identify Mary as Mother Goose.

In the Granary Burying Ground, ornamentation on gravestones runs a gamut from the early awkward death’s-heads common in King’s Chapel Burying Ground to anatomically correct skulls to cherubs with portrait-like faces. I particularly liked the cherubs with hair etched by a delicate tool. These “soul effigies” indicate a huge shift in Christian philosophy, from the Puritan belief that only the Elect will rise to Heaven while their bodies moldered in the grave to a general sense that all souls took flight upon the body’s death and Heaven was available to all.

Some of the stones can be traced to particular carvers, which demonstrates an advance in how people valued graveyards. Once tombstones were acknowledged as works of art — instead of a necessary evil — artists wanted to claim to their designs. Some carvers even autographed their stones. Henry Christian Geyer advertised his talents in the local papers. He was a fisherman who had studied birds well enough to put realistic wings on his cherubs.

Unlike earlier headstones, the Granary stones offer epitaphs that record how the survivors felt about their losses. These seemed to have come into fashion in the late 1700s. One that struck me said:
“To this sad shrine who ’ere thou art draw near
Here lies the Friend most joy’d, the Son most dear
Who ne’er knew joy, but Friendship might divide
Or gave his father Grief, but when he died.”

The Granary Burying Ground is guard by a small Egyptian-style gate. Egyptian grave ornaments didn’t come into fashion until after Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign nearly two centuries after this cemetery was founded. The granite gate was designed by Solomon Willard, architect of the Bunker Hill Monument. It was quarried in nearby Quincy and unveiled in 1840.

In 1879, the last body sank into the dirt of the Granary Burying Ground. Now it invites visitors to touch history.

ETA: More information about John Hancock’s monument and his missing hand, via Gravely Speaking.

Useful links:
Interesting tidbits about the Granary Burying Ground and a map of Boston

The Granary Burying Ground is getting a facelift.

My review of a guidebook to Boston’s historic burying grounds

Other Revolutionary War heroes on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #18: King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #33: Old Dutch Burying Ground, Tarrytown, New York

Cemetery of the Week #41:  Trinity Churchyard, New York City, New York

Cemetery of the Week #43: Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadephia, Pennsylvania

Cemetery of the Week #73: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard, New York City, New York

If you should visit Yosemite…

Guide to the Yosemite CemeteryGuide to the Yosemite Cemetery by Hank Johnston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everywhere you go, there’s a cemetery. Case in point: tucked into Yosemite Valley is a tiny graveyard where pioneers, Native Americans, and summer visitors rest in peace. The graveyard is a pretty, peaceful place, despite the 3 million visitors to Yosemite National Park each year.

A visit to the Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery is much enhanced by bringing along this little guidebook, which is available from the Visitor Center gift shop. It provides biographies of the Valley’s permanent residents, along with photographs and history lessons. The stories it tells are the best part.

The book also provides a map, so you can stand at the grave as you read about the person beneath your feet.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the perfect souvenir for a trip to Yosemite. My only quibble is that I wish it began with more history of the valley, so that the people who stay there now were put into a wider perspective.

The guidebook is available to view online here. There’s one Amazon listing for a used copy, but it’s overpriced. You could try writing to the Yosemite Visitor Center to see if you can mail order a copy directly.

Cemetery of the Week #60: Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery

View all my reviews

Cemetery of the Week #60: Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery

Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery
aka Yosemite Cemetery
Yosemite Village, Yosemite National Park, California 95389
Telephone: (209) 372-0200
Founded: 1870ish
Size: ¼ acre
Number of interments: Approximately 50
Open: every day

Even armed with the Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery, it’s not easy to find the Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery. When I visited, its sign was hidden between parked cars, behind the grocery story and employee housing.

Shadowed by trees and surrounded by a low split-rail fence, most of the graves in the Pioneer Cemetery are marked with plain wooden signboards, painted Park Service brown. Some grave monuments are carved from Yosemite granite.

The earliest grave marker in the cemetery records “A Boy.” Jack Leidig, an old-timer who grew up in the Valley, remembered him as the first person to be buried in the graveyard in 1870. The guidebook theorizes that this area was chosen for a cemetery because the natives had already used it as a burial ground. The Miwoks and Paiutes did not mark their graves, but Native American remains have been uncovered over the years during construction projects in the Valley.

Galen Clark, the first guardian of Yosemite in 1866, selected the granite boulder for his tombstone and planted six trees to shade his grave. Clark lived for 20 years after he’d planned his grave. Four of his trees still survive.

An enormous slab of local granite commemorates the Hutchings family. “Daughter of Yosemite” Gertrude (Cosie) Hutchings Mills was born in the Valley and lived there on and off through her 89 years. She served as postmaster of Yosemite Valley, then as schoolteacher in the village of Wawona, just outside the park’s boundary. When she married, she left Yosemite for 42 years, but after she was widowed in 1941, she returned every summer to work in Yosemite Valley, staying in a tent in Tuolumne Meadows.

Effie’s wooden grave marker

A weathered board marks the grave of Effie Maud Crippen, who died August 31, 1881, “age 14 yrs, 7 mos, 22 days.” “She faltered by the wayside and the angels took her home,” it says. According to the guidebook, Effie moved to Yosemite with her family in 1877. She loved the valley and explored it on horseback, sketching it and describing it in her poetry. A photograph from the year before she died shows her as a serious girl with a thick dark braid, wearing a shin-length skirt and low button-boots. Although hard to imagine, humans had already begun to litter Yosemite by August 1881. Wading in Mirror Lake, Effie stepped on a broken bottle and severed an artery in her foot. The 14-year-old bled to death.

Not far away from Effie’s grave stands a marble marker “In Memory of Albert May, native of Ohio,” who also died in 1881. On his stone, two manly hands clasp, signifying friendship. Marble doesn’t occur inside the boundaries of Yosemite; the Sierra Nevada Mountains are granite. This stone must have been brought in by mule train to mark May’s grave, hinting at the high regard his friend A. G. Black, who erected the stone, must have held for him. May worked for Black as a carpenter and caretaker at Black’s New Sentinel Hotel. Rocks the size of grapefruit ringed the grave itself when I visited.

John Anderson’s monument

John C. Anderson’s marker declares that he “was killed by a horse on the 5th of July 1867.” “Beloved by all,” it says. On his stone, a willow bends under the weight of its own branches like a person burdened by grief. The faded inscription had sunk into the ground.Luckily, the guidebook recorded it:

“Be ye also ready for ye know
not the hour the Son of Man cometh
Dearest Brother, tho had left us,
Here thy loss, we deeply feel.”

When gold fever struck him in 1856, John C. Anderson traveled from Illinois to stake a claim in Yosemite Valley. The gold claim didn’t pan out as richly as the hotel he and three other prospectors built for travelers to Yosemite. He served as the hotel’s coachman on the day he died.

Contradicting the date on the stone, the Mariposa Gazette reported that Anderson had been kicked by a horse and died almost instantly on July 13, 1867. In fact, the authors of the guidebook found many errors in the birth and death dates on the gravestones. Either this was a function of the delay in getting the news to Mariposa to be published or, as in Anderson’s case, the extreme time required to import the marble to mark his grave.

Originally, Anderson had been buried at the foot of the Four-Mile Trail, before being exhumed and moved to the Pioneer Cemetery. Tradition relates that his friends thrust his green locust-wood switch into the ground to mark his first grave. All locust trees in the valley supposedly descend from that green grave marker. I liked the romance of the story, even if the locusts are invasive. Ansel Adams made a beautiful photograph of them shrouded in snow.

In the old days, people had been buried all over the park, where they fell or near places they’d loved. At some point, all the bodies that could be located were gathered together into the graveyard.

Here, in this quiet, tucked-away corner in one of the busiest tourist destinations in the country — averaging three million visitors annually — these permanent residents have become part of the living history forever. Even if their lives had been brief and their deaths agonizing or sad, their spirits had been woven into the beauty of the valley.

A Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery is available to borrow or purchase at the Valley Visitor Center. My review is here.

Yosemite has a second graveyard tucked away in Wawona. Ask at the Wawona Visitor Center for its location.

Useful links:

Walking tour of the Pioneer Cemetery, mirroring the text of the guidebook.

Historic places of Yosemite

List of burials in the Yosemite Pioneer Cemetery

Article from 1961

Other California pioneer cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #13: Mission Dolores Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #25: Ward’s Cemetery, Bodie

Cemetery of the Week #37: Calistoga Pioneer Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #64: Coloma Pioneer Cemetery