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