Tag Archives: American history

Cemetery of the Week #157: Normandy American Cemetery

American_military_cemetery_2003Normandy American Cemetery
Also known as the Omaha Beach Cemetery and Cimetière Américain de Normandie
14710, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Dedicated: 1956
Size: 172.5 acres (70 hectares)
Number of interments: 9387
Open: Except on December 25 and January 1, the cemetery is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm from April 15 to September 15, and from 9 am to 5 pm the rest of the year. Admission closes 15 minutes before closing time. The cemetery is open on holidays in France. When it is open, staff members in the visitor center can answer questions or escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.

The most-visited American military cemetery outside the US stands above a stretch of beach south of the English Channel on the northern coast of France. More than 9,000 men and four women are buried in the Normandy American Cemetery under row upon row of white crosses and Stars of David.

On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — American soldiers joined Allied Forces for the liberation of France.  2499 Americans fell before the Allies chased the Germans from heavily fortified Omaha Beach.

Two days after the landing, the American dead were buried temporarily in the first American cemetery to be established in Europe in World War II.  Called St. Laurent-sur-Mer, the cemetery was a holding place for servicemen until their families could be contacted. Next-of-kin could request repatriation or permanent burial in France. Nearly 60% of the fallen were sent home, while the rest were interred on land donated by France in gratitude for America’s sacrifice.

normandy postcardA half-mile-long access road leads to the Normandy American Cemetery, which covers 172.5 acres on the headlands above the D-Day beaches. The cemetery is the largest US World War II graveyard overseas.  Buried there are 9383 men and four women, victims of various battles. 33 pairs of brothers lie side by side. The graves are aligned on a vast green lawn divided by paths.

A $30 million visitor center was dedicated by the American Battle Monuments Commission in 2007, on the 63rd anniversary of D-Day. The visitor center, which serves as the entrance to the cemetery, welcomes approximately a million people each year.

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Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

At the heart of the cemetery rises a 22-foot-high bronze nude called “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” sculpted by Donald Harcourt De Lue and cast in Italy. The statue is surrounded by gold letters that proclaim, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord.” Behind it stands a semi-circular limestone colonnade that says, “This embattled shore, portal of freedom, is forever hallowed.” At each end of the colonnade is a loggia which displays maps of the Battle of Normandy. The loggias are engraved, “In proud remembrance of the achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices, this memorial has been erected by the United States of America.”

A semicircular garden on the east holds the Walls of the Missing. Its dedication reads: “Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves. This is their memorial. The whole Earth their sepulcher. Comrades in Arms whose Resting Place is Known Only to God.” Of the 1557 names listed, some are now marked with rosettes because they have since been discovered and identified.

Two of President Theodore Roosevelt’s sons lie here. Theodore Jr. was the president’s eldest son. He fought in both world wars and received the Medal of Honor. In WWII, he served as a general. He was one of the first Americans to come ashore in France. He landed at Utah Beach, two kilometers farther south than they’d planned, but he encouraged his men by saying, “We’ll start the war from right here!” A month after the landing, he died of a heart condition.

His brother Quentin had died in aerial combat during World War I. He had been buried in Chamery Cemetery in the Marne region of France, but he was brought here to lie beside his brother.

The pathway from the cemetery down to the beach was closed in April 2016, due to security concerns.  A viewing platform overlooks the battlefield, now a peaceful sandy beach that stretches as far as one can see.

Normandy American Cemetery is the largest overseas World War II graveyard, but the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery from World War I contains the remains of 14,000 Americans.

This clip from Saving Private Ryan was filmed in the Normandy American Cemetery:

Useful links:

American Battle Monuments Commission page for the Normandy American Cemetery

Directions to Omaha Beach

Other American military cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery, Mackinac Island, Michigan

San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California

Mare Island Cemetery, Vallejo, California

Photo Guide to the Congressional Cemetery

Historic Congressional Cemetery (Images of America: D.C.)Historic Congressional Cemetery by Rebecca Boggs Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, this book made me want to visit this cemetery. I picked the book up in Washington DC, but didn’t get a chance to read it until I was traveling. My impression had been that the Congressional Cemetery was in rough shape and was dangerous to boot, but this book made it sound so crammed with fascinating history that I will have to find a way to visit when next I’m in town.

In the days before embalming, the cemetery began as a place to plant congressmen when they died in office. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the US Capitol Building, was asked to design a monument that would set the congressional graves apart from the others. These monuments were placed for every member of congress who perished between 1807 and 1877, whether they are at rest in the cemetery or not.

Other people of note buried in the Congressional Cemetery are John Philip Sousa (the March King), FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his purported boyfriend Clyde Tolson, Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, Air Force veteran Leonard Matlovich (one of the first gay rights activist veterans), several Native American statesmen, and the first woman to interview a sitting president, among many, many others.

One of the Lincoln conspirators is buried in an unmarked grave with his sister. Lincoln’s valet, who allowed Booth into the President’s box at Ford’s Theater, lies here. The mediums that Mary Todd Lincoln contacted after her husband’s death are here, as well as the man who rented Booth the horse (and lent him the spurs that caught in the stage drapery), and the man who owned the tavern where Booth waited for his cue to attack the president. That’s a lot of witnesses to history gathered together in one place.

Unlike many of the Images of America books, which focus on vintage images of their subjects, this book is filled with modern photographs, revealing just how lovely — and loved — the Congressional Cemetery is these days. I can’t wait to see it for myself.

Get a copy of your own on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Death’s Garden: Westminster Church

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Poe’s monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

by E. A. Black

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and Edgar Allan Poe has always been my favorite writer. When I was 17 and a junior in high school back in the 1970s, my social studies teacher gave my class the assignment of writing about a famous American. I didn’t want to merely crack open a book and write an essay about Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abe Lincoln, or Ernest Hemingway. I craved adventure. Since I lived near Westminster Church in Baltimore, where Poe was buried, I figured why write a boring report when I could turn my essay into a huge research project, complete with actual visits to Poe’s grave?

My mother drove me to the Poe House on Amity Street, where we were given the grand tour. The house was tiny and crowded. I imagined Poe, his 14-year-old wife and cousin Virginia Clemm, and his aunt and mother-in-law Maria Clemm singing around the piano in the living room. He doted on Virginia and took care of her when she became sick with tuberculosis. The disease eventually killed her. Although it can’t be proven, the Poe Society alleges Poe wrote about a dozen stories and poems while he lived in the house, including MS Found In A Bottle, Berenice, and Morella.

After visiting the house, we went to Westminster Presbyterian Church and graveyard. I was blown away at how massive the site was. The church itself was built in the Gothic Revival style, full of nooks, crannies, and spooky airs. The brick building had a slanted A-frame roof that loomed over me. A tall tower with four spires sat in the center of the building in the front. Tall arched Gothic windows graced all sides of the church. It was a spectacular structure, especially to an impressionable 17-year-old like myself.

While many notable Baltimoreans were buried in Westminster Cemetery, including mayors, U. S. Representatives, military personnel from the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and the son of Francis Scott Key (Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner), the only people who interested me were Poe and his wife. Poe’s monument, which is visible from the street, was massive. A bronze plaque with his facial image is on one side of the monument, along with his birth and death dates. He, his wife/cousin Virginia, and his aunt/mother-in-law are buried beneath it. I huddled around the grave with other guests on a cold fall Saturday afternoon. Jeff Jerome, the Poe House curator, told Poe’s story and the history of the grave.

Poe’s wife Virginia died in New York. Years later, when the cemetery she was buried in was destroyed, her remains were transferred from her resting space. According to legend, the sexton in the New York cemetery held Virginia’s bones on his shovel and was ready to toss them when Poe biographer William Gill claimed them. The story was that there was so little left of her body that her remains were placed in a box the size of a shoebox. Gill stored the box under his bed and later arranged for it to be sent to Baltimore. Her remains were buried with her husband’s on his birthday in 1885.

Original Poe RSK001

Poe’s monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

The monument is one of two gravestones of his on the site. The original one stands towards the back of Westminster Hall, marked with an engraved raven. That’s where Poe was originally buried. It’s a family plot, where his grandfather and brother are also buried. In 1875, a local school teacher raised money for a classier monument for the writer, a “Pennies For Poe” project. The result is the massive monument I saw first – the one visible from the street. Once it was completed, Poe’s body was transferred. Because of that project, it’s customary for visitors to leave pennies on the monument. When I visited, I left a penny. Of course I did. I wanted to be a part of history.

The interior of Westminster Hall, where the catacombs were located, was dark, and creepy. It smelled of damp earth. Full of gravestones and burial vaults, it was rather smothering. I had to bend over a little when I walked. I imagined men and women buried alive in those depths, like what Poe had written in his Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Good thing I didn’t have claustrophobia. The further into the crypts I walked, the more intense was the feeling of desolation and death. If there was ever an appropriate place to bury Edgar Allan Poe, this was it.

For 75 years, a mysterious man known as the Poe Toaster would visit the large monument on Poe’s birthday (January 19) and leave roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac on the grave. Rumor stated that the tradition was handed down from the original Poe Toaster to his son. The curator of the Poe Museum allegedly knew the identity of the Poe Toaster, but never revealed who the man was. I’d heard that a small crowd would gather around Poe’s grave on his birthday, but when the Poe Toaster stopped by in the dead of night with his gifts, no one disturbed him. Sadly, I’ve never been to the cemetery on Poe’s birthday to witness this. The Poe Toaster stopped visiting in 2010. (Loren’s note:  a new Poe Toaster may have taken up the tradition.)

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Halloween was always a fun time at the Westminster Church cemetery. I went to the holiday festivities the year I wrote my social studies essay. The assistant curator of the Poe House, whose name I can’t recall, bore a rather striking resemblance to the writer. He dressed up in 19th-century garb, pretending to be Poe, and read from Poe’s classic The Black Cat. I was entranced, a teenager with a love for horror in her element.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a man driven insane by his hatred for a black cat named Pluto. He kills the cat. One night when he was out drinking again, another black cat stumbled onto the scene. It looked remarkably like Pluto and his wife instantly took a liking to it. The man had been abusing her all along and his abuse escalated as the new cat made itself comfortable in their presence. Overcome by his loathing of the animal, he tried to kill it with an axe. When his wife tried to stop him, he buried the axe in her brain, killing her. He entombed her body in a space beneath the cellar wall. When the cops came around, he boasted about how well his house was built. He took them to the cellar and hit his cane against the wall in front of where he buried his wife. From behind the bricks came the sad and desperate sound of a cat mewling. When the police tore down the wall, they found the body of the man’s wife and the cat, disheveled but alive, on top of her head. The man had accidentally sealed the cat in the wall with his wife’s body. He was sent to jail and was hanged.

At the end of the assistant curator’s story, he pulled out a toy black cat and wrestled with it, complete with shrieking, startling everyone out of their wits. It was the best story reading I’d ever seen. It sure shook me up. I couldn’t stop laughing. I hadn’t had that much fun in years.

I’ve often driven past the church and caught glimpses of the Poe monument from the street. Although I have lived in New England for 20 years and I’ve seen many old and historic cemeteries, Westminster Church and Edgar Allan Poe’s grave remain the cemetery that made the biggest impression on me.

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elizabeth_blackE. A. Black has written dark fiction and horror for numerous publications including Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, Mirages: Tales From Authors Of The Macabre, Teeming Terrors, and Wicked Tales: The Journal Of The New England Horror Writers Vol. 3.

E. A. Black Amazon Author Page

E. A. Black blog and website

Elizabeth Black Facebook page

Elizabeth Black Twitter

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Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

Death’s Garden: The Dead Dreaming

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Maple Hill’s gate, photographed by Billie Sue Mosiman.

by Billie Sue Mosiman

We lived in Helena, Arkansas and I was thirteen. In the summer, I’d make a sack lunch, take a book, hop on my bike, and ride off across the hills and ravines to the Civil War cemetery that draped across a hill. The old tombstones rose step by step up into thick woods. It was a well-kept place, with the pathways smooth dirt. The grassy areas where the graves resided were the green of emerald deep water.

Black cast-iron gates opened at the bottom of the hill and I would push my bike, lunch sack in the basket, up the path. I’d turn off into the smaller paths leading between the graves. I relished the pure peace emanating from this place. I’d been taught in school about the Civil War and here lay many of that war’s dead. Yet it wasn’t a sad place. I felt no unhappy spirits lingering. It felt more like a lovely park for imaginative children than a haunted arena of long-lost souls.

Later I discovered there had been a tremendous battle in Helena, with the Union in massive warships coming in their determined way down the Mississippi River to raid and conquer and the Confederates defending the city. Hundreds of tombstones lay on this long hill, testifying to the outcome.

I’d put aside my bike and walk slowly, softly, among the tombstones, curiously reading the names and dates of death. No one ever seemed to visit this historical cemetery. I was always alone and preferred it that way. I never felt threatened, worried, or afraid some male stranger might come by to whisk me into oblivion. It never crossed my mind, the way it would today.

I found peace in this ancient cemetery. I contemplated the battle these soldiers had fought, the pure bravery, misery, and insanity of it all. I’d run my hand over the rough, pitted stone of the angels and statues. After visiting with the dead, I’d return to my bike and get the book and the lunch. I’d find a shaded spot on the amazing grass and lean my back against a tombstone. Hours would pass as the sun skimmed over the surrounding forest: the tombstone shadows leaning, upright, then leaning again down toward twilight.

c1095b2e5866f239f0ef49a84c3c07f0[1]I went to this cemetery day after day, many times throughout that summer. No one came to intrude. I was not lonely or sad or afraid. It was peace I sought and peace I found. Birds sang and that’s all. No person traversed this place.

Through the summer, I began to feel it was my special, secret place, the only place I could find quiet and harmony. Every noon I’d eat my meager lunch: baloney sandwich and sometimes an apple or banana. I’d grow sleepy and doze a bit sitting up.

One day, a friend who lived down the street asked me where I went every day on my bike. “You don’t come back until almost dark,” she said.

I told her I’d take her there, my place, and show her. The next morning, we both rode off on our bikes. When I turned into the black gates with the toothy stones sticking up row after row on the hillside, my friend stopped abruptly at the gate. “This is a cemetery,” she said.

I told her I knew that, come on in, it wasn’t scary at all. She came slowly, following behind me. I showed her the marvelous pathways, the soft grass, the names and sayings and dates on the markers. None of the tombstones leaned. It was all as pristine and perfect as cookies laid out on a slanting platter.

“But what do you do here? It’s so empty.”

No, it was filled, I told her, absolutely crammed with people, but they were silent now and left me alone.

Her eyebrows rose. I knew then, if not before, that I might be an eccentric child. Today thirteen-year-old girls wear makeup and short tops and dance to music I don’t understand. In my thirteenth year, I was a child, a real child, a little girl. Yes, I was on the cusp of becoming woman, but not yet.

We nibbled on our lunches while I went on about how marvelous this place was. How silent and peaceful. How welcoming. I urged my friend to listen to the birdsong. I pointed to where the shadows grew and withdrew. I told her to listen, just listen, and wasn’t it the best silence she’d ever heard? No adults talking, no car horns, no radio music. It was pure here and clean and peace lay over it all. When here, I walked carefully not to step on a grave. I tried not to rustle my paper sack too loudly or scrape the rocks on the path with my bike tires. If there was serenity anywhere in Helena, Arkansas, it was here and only here and I’d luckily discovered it, my secret hideout.

We left early and I don’t remember that girl being much of a friend anymore. I understand the reasoning for that now, but it was a little hurtful at thirteen. What had I done so wrong? Was it weird to like to spend time reading and dozing in a cemetery with the war dead?

I wasn’t going to change or pretend I was not interested and happy in the Civil War cemetery. I still rose early, slipped out of the house with my lunch sack and book, and ran off on my bike every day I could.

It’s possible that’s the place where I learned to concentrate. I learned so well that when grown and working as a novelist, I could hold a thought in my head, leave it to get my children water or food, come back and pick up with the very next word in the middle of a sentence.

It’s the place that taught me not to fear the dead and their brethren. After so many years, they’d departed those grassy graves or they lay quietly waiting. They had no truck with the living world, having done their best and moved on.

Odd places like cemeteries can be a place of not just solitude, but of learning, and of acceptance of one’s own strangeness. We will all go there, those who desire burial, into the earth. Having spent a summer in a graveyard was an adventure, a revelation, and one of the best summers I remember.

I don’t know how the cemetery fares today, but being a national one, I expect it to be the same: Gray stones rising up and up and up until the woods halt the advance. Acres of the dead reminding us of what civil strife can cause, of what we can head toward if we begin to hate one another because of race or discontent. Once we load the musket, bring it to the shoulder to aim, and let loose Death against another man, woman, or child, then we at least might meet the dark grave and grow at last cold and silent.  It’s even possible a little girl walks the paths above us, reading her books and dreaming easily of days past and future.

This essay was originally published on The Peculiar Writer blog.

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Billie Sue Mosiman was born in Alabama and lives now in Texas on a small ranch. Author of more than 60 books on Amazon, Mosiman is a thriller, suspense, and horror novelist, a short fiction writer, and a lover of words. Her books have been published since 1984 and two of them received an Edgar Award Nomination for best novel and a Bram Stoker Award Nomination for most superior novel. She’s the editor of Fright Mare: Women Write Horror, to be published in February 2016. Please check out her books on Amazon.

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Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

Cemetery of the Week #139: Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Vintage postcard of Copp's Hill Burying Ground, postmarked 1909.

Vintage postcard of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, postmarked 1909.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Hull Street and Snowhill Street
Boston, Massachusetts
Telephone: (617) 635-4505
Founded: 1659
Closed: sometime during the 1850s
Size: 4 acres
Number of interments: more than 10,000
Open: Daily 9 AM to 5 PM
GPS coordinates: 42° 22′ 2″ N, 71° 3′ 19″ W

While the area near the Old North Church may have been used as a burying ground as early as 1633, the graveyard was officially laid out on February 20, 1659. It was the second graveyard in Boston, as King’s Chapel was founded right around 1630.

Originally called Windmill Hill, then the North Burying Ground, the graveyard came to be named after William Copp, a shoemaker who lived near what is now called Prince Street and had at one point owned the land. He and his family are buried in the graveyard now.

Also buried in the graveyard at the Reverend Doctors Mather. The Mather tomb contains the mortal remains of Increase (died 1723), Cotton (died 1727) and Samuel (died 1785). Cotton Mather may be best known these days for his encouragement and support of the Salem Witch Trials. He preached from horseback after the hanging of Reverend George Burroughs, who spoke the Lord’s Prayer flawlessly before the hangman dropped him. Witches weren’t supposed to be able to do that and people watching the hanging grew restive, but Mather said a devil stood at Burroughs’s shoulder and fed him the words. The trials — and executions — continued.

More than a thousand freed blacks and slaves were buried in Copp’s Hill by the time the Revolutionary War started. They had lived in the so-called “New Guinea” settlement at the base of the hill and are buried, for the most part, in unmarked graves on the Snowhill Street side of the graveyard. The Celebrate Boston website says that their markers were stolen and re-used as construction materials during the 1860s.

Vintage postcard of Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church

Vintage postcard of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church

According to New England Cemeteries: A Collector’s Guide, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is half a block west of the Old North Church, where Paul Revere saw the lights that signaled “one if by land, two if by sea.” During the Revolutionary War, the British camped in the graveyard in order to shell Charlestown to the north and Bunker Hill. It is commonly believed that British soldiers used headstones for target practice, particularly one belonging to Daniel Malcolm, whose epitaph names him a “true son of liberty.”

Others at rest in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground are Edmund Hartt, shipyard owner and builder of the USS Constitution; Robert Newman, who raised the lantern to signal Paul Revere; and Prince Hall, an anti-slavery Revolutionary soldier who founded the black Masonic Order. Also buried there are thousands of artisans, craftspeople, and merchants who’d lived in the surrounding area.

Useful links:

The City of Boston page on Copp’s Hill has a map.

City of Boston Freedom Trail entry on Copp’s Hill

Celebrate Boston site, referenced above.

A bunch of photos of Copp’s Hill’s monuments on Grave Addiction.

The Freedom Trail website

Other Boston cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Granary Burying Ground

Central Burying Ground

Forest Hills Cemetery