Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Heart of the Association for Gravestone Studies

Photo of Andrea at the 2011 AGS Conference by John O’Brien. It’s not her gravestone!

The Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) was founded in 1977 to further the study and preservation of gravestones.  With approximately 1,000 members worldwide, the Association brings together a wide variety of people to protect and preserve graveyards all around the world.

Andrea Carlin is the part-time Publications Coordinator, Senior Consultant, and volunteer secretary for the Association for Gravestone Studies. She lives with her fiancée, two cats, a dog, and lots of chaos in Greenfield, Massachusetts. When not working or taking care of pets, she walks around (or rollerblades in!) cemeteries.

Cemetery Travel: How did you get interested in cemeteries in the first place?
Andrea Carlin: I started working at the Association for Gravestone Studies in 1999 and it was, at that time, just an office job for me. After attending conferences and becoming friends with AGS members, I eventually was hooked.

Cemetery Travel: You’ve been involved with AGS for years. What all have you done for the group?
Andrea Carlin: I started out as an office assistant, was the administrator for a while, but had to leave that position to take a full-time benefitted job. I still work for AGS, though: I create the e-newsletter and design the Quarterly. I oversee the office activities, so our poor staff person isn’t all by herself and left to figure out how things are done. I’m currently the secretary of the board of trustees. That’s a volunteer position. I also help organize our local chapter meetings. I love it all!

Hope Cemetery, Worcester

Cemetery Travel: Who are the members of AGS?
Andrea Carlin: All kinds of folks, from conservationists, academics, historians, photographers, people with Goth-type interests, genealogists. That is one of the things that is so cool about AGS: it brings together people who might not connect otherwise.

Cemetery Travel: Why should someone new join?
Andrea Carlin: Fellowship! The conferences and chapter meetings are great. Everyone is welcoming and friendly. I love that they always have a wide variety of topics presented, so even if there are things that aren’t your cup of tea, it’s guaranteed there will be other things that you are into and/or want to learn more about. Plus, in my own case, every time I go to an event, I learn about something that I didn’t think I would be interested in. Epitaphs, for example, and stone types.

The publications are great, too. They also have a wide variety of material.

Cemetery Travel: What’s the best thing that AGS does, in your opinion?
Andrea Carlin: Conferences, workshops, and chapter meetings!

Andrea’s favorite tombstone, Green River Cemetery

Cemetery Travel: 
Do you have a particular passion in Gravestone Studies?
Andrea Carlin: Like a lot of other AGSers, I love kooky gravestones. I collect food and body part gravestones. I also like to take photos of gravestones that are humorous—sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. I really enjoy exploring modern gravestones. I love how personalized they can be these days.

Another view of the same stone, Green River

Cemetery Travel: 
Do you have a favorite tombstone?
Andrea Carlin: There are too many to name! I love all of my food and body part gravestones. There is a strange stone in one of my local cemeteries that I can’t find anything about. It’s one of my faves because it’s weird and I don’t know why.

Cemetery Travel: Why should people care about cemeteries?
Andrea Carlin: It’s history. It’s too bad that a lot of people just don’t see that. They are so often neglected and vandalized I like that when I mention my hobby, people usually go from “how weird” to “how cool.” And then they look at cemeteries with a new appreciation.

Cemetery Travel: Anything else you want to mention?
Andrea Carlin: Check out my Facebook gravestone pages:
Food gravestones
Body Parts gravestones
Strange epitaphs and more

A Photographic Tour of New Orleans’ Historic Cemeteries

New Orleans: CemeteriesNew Orleans: Cemeteries by Eric J. Brock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little gem is part of a series which collects historic photographs of Americana. Images of America: New Orleans Cemeteries includes hundreds of black-and-white photographs of more than a dozen New Orleans-area cemeteries, including all three St. Louis graveyards, both Lafayette cemeteries, and the Metairie, Cypress Grove, and Greenwood necropolis. The photos are a nice blend of overviews or landscapes—which give a sense of the larger graveyard—and detail of the reliefs or inscriptions adorning specific tombs.

My favorite section of the book illuminates the Girod Street Cemetery, the original Protestant burial ground, which was laid out in the rural style popular in northern graveyards. Christ Church Episcopal founded Girod Street Cemetery in 1822, but by the 1950s, it had been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that the Church deconsecrated the land and demolished over a thousand tombs. Part of the former cemetery lies under the end zone of the Superdome. Some say this explains why the New Orleans Saints rarely win. The photos of the overgrown graveyard, pre-demolition, are reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Breathtaking!

Another highlight is the chapter on the Jewish Cemeteries, which are seldom featured in other books on New Orleans. Despite the Inquisition’s prohibition against Jewish settlers in Catholic Louisiana, the first synagogue outside the original 13 American colonies was founded in New Orleans, so there is a long history of Jewish burials in the area. Although the monuments span from slate tablets up through modern granite blocks, this book makes clear that Victorian-era artistry was as appreciated in Hebrew Rest as is any other graveyard in town.

The only flaws in this book are minor. There is no list of cemetery names or addresses, not even a contact number for Save Our Cemeteries, the group who’s worked so hard to restore and protect these fragile treasures. That’s the fault of the author. The publisher’s fault lies in the lack of a listing of the other Images of America titles. If I knew how many cemetery books they’d published, I might be writing them a check even now.

You can get your copy from Amazon: New Orleans Cemeteries (Images of America: Louisiana)

This is another review from Morbid Curiosity #7.

To see all my cemetery reviews, click on the Cemetery Book Reviews category in the right column.

Cemetery of the Week #77: Lafayette Cemetery #1

The entry gate to Lafayette Cemetery #1

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
1400 Washington Street
New Orleans, Lousiana 70115
Founded: 1833
Size: one city block
Number of interments: 7,000+
Open: Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday 7 a.m. to noon.
Closed: Sunday and holidays (except Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and All Saint’s Day)

The sugar plantation once owned by Francois Livaudais was sold to developers in 1832. Among them was Cornelius Hurst, who sold the new town of Lafayette a city block for a cemetery in 1833. Many of the names in Lafayette Cemetery #1 are German or Irish, as opposed to Creole names in St. Louis #1 across town. Lafayette Cemetery had been established to serve “les Americaines,” the newcomers to town after the Louisiana Purchase 30 years earlier. Many people were buried here after the Yellow Fever epidemics that racked the city every summer, as well as families maimed by the Civil War.

Ironwork and trees in Lafayette Cemetery #1

Lafayette Cemetery also differs from the earlier St. Louis Cemetery #1 by virtue of its lanes. These interior streets were designed to accommodate funeral processions, but it makes the cemetery feel more modern, less a jumble of graves or a maze.

Across the street from the fabled Commander’s Palace in the Garden District of New Orleans, Lafayette Cemetery lay in the suburbs when it was founded in 1833. When the city engulfed the area in 1852, Lafayette #1 became a city cemetery. It’s considered one of the safest cemeteries in New Orleans. Consequently, it’s one of the most visited.

That said, unlicensed tour guides continue to loiter inside the cemetery, offering – sometimes forcefully – to show visitors around. These guides are not overseen by the city or affiliated with the cemetery, so accept their aid and information with caution.

A fire brigade tomb, decorated with an old-fashioned pumper truck

Lafayette contains as many as 1100 family tombs, as well as society tombs dedicated to firemen, orphans, or to the Odd Fellows. Even after 179 years, the cemetery continues to be in use. This is due to the caveaux inside the tombs, where the bones of all the previous occupants are jumbled together.

Among the historic figures buried in Lafayette are Judge Ferguson of the Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate-but-equal” Supreme Court case; Brigadier General Harry T. Hays, who led the 1st Louisiana Brigade in the Civil War, and one of the two Confederate governors of Louisiana.

Of course, many people are better acquainted with the vampire Lestat, who retired to his tomb in Lafayette Cemetery. I found an outtake from Queen of the Damned on youtube, which gives a little tour of the cemetery by moonlight.

In 2010, the Louisiana Landmarks Society rated Lafayette Cemetery #1 as one of the nine most endangered New Orleans landmarks. It reported that two massive oak trees threatened more than 30 historic tombs. Although owned and operated by the City of New Orleans, the cemetery lacked adequate grounds keeping and proper tomb maintenance. Worst of all, though, was the lack of supervision of the film trucks, lights, cameras, crews, and extras that have become regulars in the cemetery. Fees for filming in the cemetery are apparently not dedicated for its maintenance or repair, even if film crews damage something by accident.

The volunteer organization Save Our Cemeteries has been working to maintain the cemetery for several decades. To raise funds, they offer daily cemetery tours in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Monday through Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets for the hour-long tour are $20 per person, but the money goes to help with conservation of the cemetery. Tours fill up, so you can reserve your spot in advance. Here’s the link.

The Bryant family tomb with bricks exposed

Next month, on October 13-14, Save Our Cemeteries will be offering the first (of many, hopefully!) Tomb Restoration Workshops. They will cover vegetation removal, marble cleaning, and minor crack and stucco repair. The workshop will be held in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and is open to the public, although pre-registration is required. The cost is $100 for one day or $150 for both, limited to 25 participants per day. Please call 504-525-3377 to register.

Useful links:

Lafayette Cemetery Research Project

A Lafayette photo album

Save Our Cemeteries homepage

Anne Rice in New Orleans

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Lafayette:

New Orleans Cemeteries: Life in the Cities of the Dead

Elysium: A Gathering of Souls

New Orleans Architecture vol. 3: the Cemeteries

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary

Thomas Starr King’s grave

In the heart of San Francisco stands a solitary grave.  I’d driven past it for years, always hurrying down Franklin Street on my way somewhere else.  One sunny summer day while my daughter was at Tutu Camp, I decided to make a special trip to see why there was a grave at this very busy intersection.

You see, San Francisco banned burials within the city limits in 1901.  After that, city fathers set about systematically destroying the graveyards in town.  Very few fragments remain: broken headstones as rain gutters in Buena Vista Park, the lovely jumble of granite at the Wave Organ, the exquisite Neptune Society Columbarium, the broken headstones that support the sand at Ocean Beach.  For a grave monument to have survived the purge, the person must have been someone special.

And he turns out to have been, too.  “Apostle of liberty,” the bronze plaque near his tomb calls him, “humanitarian, Unitarian minister who in the Civil War bound California to the Union and led her to excel all other states in support of the United States Sanitary Commission, predecessor to the American Red Cross.”

Thomas Starr King spent only the last four years of his short life in California.  During that time, he preached fiery sermons against slavery.  He broke his health traveling up and down the state to raise money for hospitals and medicines for soldiers fighting the Civil War on the other side of the country. Abraham Lincoln credited King for preventing California from withdrawing from the Union to become a separate republic.

It puzzled me was that the First Unitarian Universalist Church, where King now lies, was not built until 1889: 25 years after King’s death in 1864.  Where had his body rested until he came here?

The peaceful little plot held onto its secrets.  I photographed it from every angle, resolving to contact the church and ask.

Unfortunately, the person I reached through the web site didn’t know.  He said he’d ask the church archivists.  Although I never heard back from them, I discovered that this gravesite is King’s third.  Originally, he was buried on the grounds of the church he served, on the edge of San Francisco’s Union Square (where the vote was taken to remain in the Union). When the new church was finished in 1889, the congregation sold the land downtown and Thomas Starr King was taken with due honor to lie in Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Poor Laurel Hill suffered from the San Francisco ban on burials and was demolished in the 1940s.  At that point, King moved back to the grounds of the community he served.

Another of San Francisco’s early leaders had a similar fate.  Thomas Larkin, also evicted from Laurel Hill, now rests in Cypress Lawn in Colma.

Cemetery of the Week #76: Rose Hill Cemetery

Rose Hill Cemetery, 2001

Rose Hill Cemetery
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
5175 Somersville Road
Antioch, California 94509
Telephone: (510) 544-2750
Founded: circa 1865
Size: one acre
Number of interments: at least 235
Park/Gate Hours: Always opens at 8 a.m. Closing time varies with the season from 5 p.m. in November through January to 8 p.m. from mid-April to September. Check with the ranger as you come in.
Fee: $5 per vehicle, $2 per dog

Rose Hill Cemetery lies in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, near Mount Diablo in the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Rose Hill has seen a lot of change since its oldest marked burial—a teenaged girl named Elizabeth Richmond—in February 1865. Not so long ago, it was a sad patch of ground on a hill in the middle of nowhere. A county road used to run right by it, making it accessible to anyone from the inland towns of Antioch or Concord who wanted an isolated place to drink beer and smash up gravestones. The worst of the vandalism began in the 1950s, but before that, ranchers allowed cattle to graze amongst the old unfenced graveyard. Occasionally Bessie might bump a fragile marble tablet and knock it over on the steep slope.

Rose Hill Cemetery from the Visitor’s Center

Even before the East Bay Regional Park District took control of the land in 1973, well-meaning “preservation” tactics did as much harm as good. First, volunteers collected the chunks of broken headstones and set them in concrete, level with the ground, where they could be walked on—or worse, stomped on—while collecting pools of water whenever winter came to California. Then the Park District used herbicides to sterilize the soil around the graves. The intention had been to ease maintenance by removing the need to mow. Unfortunately, once the native grasses died off, winter rains carved gullies into the bare dirt hillside.

The graveyard suffered more abuse in the 1990s after Antoinette May featured it in  Haunted Houses of California. Psychic Nick Nocerino reported that the desecration had caused the tolling bells, laughter, and crying often heard in the cemetery at night. Would-be ghost hunters often sneaked into the graveyard to hear for themselves. Some of them took more than photographs as souvenirs.

As one might guess from the Black Diamond moniker, former residents of the area mined coal, starting in the 1850s. Black Diamond became the largest coalmine in California. By the dawn of the 20th century, the best-quality coal had already been removed. All five towns that surrounded the graveyard gradually became abandoned. Little evidence of the boom time remains in the area, other than heaps of mine tailings and exotic trees like Italian cypress, Chinese tree of heaven, and pepper trees, planted by the townspeople. All the buildings are gone.

Sarah Norton’s gravestone, before it was repaired

Back in the day, the population of Nortonville, the largest town, topped 1,100 people. It lay slightly west of the cemetery, over a ridge. Closer to the cemetery stood Somersville, whose population peaked at approximately 800. For many years, residents named the cemetery after the nearest town, although local newspapers referred to it as the Nortonville Cemetery. Later, after townsfolk abandoned the area, the graveyard was identified as the Old Welsh Cemetery because so many Welsh immigrants rested there. Eventually it came to be called Rose Hill, after Andrew Rose, who ranched the area. His widow Emma deeded the land to Contra Costa County in the 1940s.

The park spans 6096 acres of hiking trails, picnic grounds, and campsites. The Hazel Atlas Mine is open for tours. A visitor center displays artifacts from the area and the rangers speak to tour groups, when they’re not busy rebuilding the broken gravestones.

Rose Hill Cemetery from Amanda Dyer on Vimeo.

Among those buried in the graveyard is Sarah Norton, a midwife who delivered more than 600 babies. She and her husband Noah founded the town of Nortonville. Rebecca Evans probably availed herself of Sarah’s assistance, since she bore 10 children for she died at age 33. In 1876, a methane explosion killed 10 men in Nortonville’s Black Diamond Mine. They are buried together in the center part of the cemetery.  The monument that used to stand to their memory was looted away.

The last known burial in the graveyard was William T. Davis, who was born in Somersville and died at age 79 in 1954. He was buried in his family’s plot, with his mother and two brothers. The other headstones are missing.

Restoration of the graveyard continues, as gravestones return to the park from wherever they’ve traveled. If you have information on the whereabouts of missing headstones or grave fences, the Park District would like them back, no questions asked.  If you have photos or family stories about the graveyard prior to 1973, please called 1-888-EBPARKS, option 3, extension 4506.

Important to know: Make certain you carry water when you visit. The interior parts of the San Francisco Bay Area can be very hot and dry and there is nowhere to fill your water bottle. Also, in October, the native tarantulas roam in the daytime, looking for mates. They shouldn’t harass you if you don’t harass them.

Useful links:

Information about the park & the cemetery, including a .pdf list of who’s buried there.

A great blog post about the area

“Rose Hill is one freaky treat.”

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Books about Rose Hill and Black Diamond Mines:

These are available at the park or through Amazon.

Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, CA (IMG) (Images of America) (Images of America (Arcadia Publishing))

Rose Hill: A Comprehensive History of a Pioneer Cemetery in the Mount Diablo Coal Field, Contra Costa County, California

My book, Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, has a chapter on Rose Hill.

Alternately, the Rose Hill book is available from the Contra Costa Historical Society here.