Tag Archives: children’s grave

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment

“Do not bury me in the cold ground”

Despite the heat baking the insides of my lungs, I halted before the little marble gravestone.  It stood as tall as my knee, nearly blinding me in the August sun.  I don’t know why it had seemed like a good idea to visit M. Parfitt in August.  A transplanted Sacramentan, she was dressed in blue jeans and a plaid short-sleeved top.  I felt practically indecent in my hand-me-down sundress.  It had to be 110 degrees.  Still, I shivered as I framed the little headstone in my camera’s lens.

It said: “Our Dear Cora’s Last Request:  I am going to die.  Do not bury me in the cold ground.”

Had they ignored her dying wish?  Did she curl beneath my feet in the dry Sacramento dirt?  Could she feel the heat of the sunlight crushing me to the ground?  Was she basking in warmth down deep inside her grave?

Had 7-year-old Cora Elvareto Dingley belonged to one of the Christian sects who believed that the dead remained imprisoned in their graves until Judgment Day, straining to hear Gabriel’s horn?  Had she been begging for the reassurance that she’d meet her mother again in Heaven?  Had she longed to go to “the Spiritland,” as one of her permanent neighbors did?  On her monument, no graven angel led Cora upward.  No hand of God reached down to her.

The child’s words blazed from the gravestone like an accusation.  Her parents couldn’t fend off death.  They couldn’t keep her safe or protect her when it mattered.  They couldn’t keep her with them, but had to bury her in the cold earth.  They couldn’t even have cremated her, since the first crematory was built in Pennsylvania in 1876, the year following Cora’s death.

It wasn’t the Dingleys’ parental failures that froze my heart that August day.  It was that her parents chose her wish to adorn her tombstone, so that every time they stood before it, every time they touched the marble or brought her flowers, every time they thought of their little girl, they would know how they had disappointed her, sending her alone into the ground.  Everyone who passed the grave would know how terribly, how thoroughly, they’d failed her.

Cemetery of the Week #66: Old City Cemetery, Sacramento, California

Thumbnail Encyclopedia of Cemetery History

Silent Cities: the Evolution of the American CemeterySilent Cities: the Evolution of the American Cemetery by Kenneth Jackson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This reference book (so-called because the photos are reproduced too small to be enjoyed without a magnifying glass) is chock-full of fascinating cemetery minutiae. Spanning from the first churchyard burials in America to the modern rise in cremation, exploring the differences in tomb decoration in various ethnic burial grounds, defining architectural movements, and studying reflections of American culture in grave monuments: the book rushes through a breathless amount of material. Four to seven crisp full-color photographs crowd each page. If you are curious about understanding what you see as you wander the local boneyard, this encyclopedia will get you started.

This review originally appeared on Gothic.Net.

You can sometimes find used copies on Amazon: Silent Cities: the Evolution of the American Cemetery.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #24: Jack London’s gravesite

The graves at Jack London State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park
2400 London Ranch Road
Glen Ellen, California 95442
Telephone: (707) 938-5216
Established: The date the children were buried is unknown. London joined them in 1916.
Number of interments: At least four
Open: The Park is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Museum is open Thursday – Monday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. The Londons’ Cottage is only open Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 4.
Entry fee: $8 per vehicle

A plaque near the grave relates how the gravesite had been chosen. Before his death, Jack London told Charmian and his sister, “I wouldn’t mind if you laid my ashes on the knoll where the Greenlaw children are buried. And roll over me a red boulder from the ruins of the Big House.”

Four days after his death on November 22, 1916, Charmian London carried her husband’s ashes up the rise in a small copper urn wreathed in primroses, one of the hardy flowers that don’t shrivel in winter’s chill. She placed the cremains in a cement receptacle. Four horses pulled a large lava rock up from around the Wolf House ruin. Using rollers and a crowbar, workmen from the ranch shifted the boulder into place.

The boulder is strangely shaped: a weird, worn, organic form for a rock. Moss covers it like velvet, softening its broken edges. If it hadn’t been for the fence of peeling pickets surrounding it, the boulder could have been any natural rock, so well did it suit its environment.

Jack London’s tombstone

Inside the fence, crispy brown oak leaves lay in a mat amidst the dead grass. September in Northern California is a time of brown and dust. It had been a blazingly hot day in August when Wolf House burned down.

Near London’s grave stood another smaller picket fence surrounding the trunk of an oak. Tall green weeds drowsed inside the fence, blanketing the graves of two settler children. Nothing is known about David and Lilli Greenlaw, who died in 1876 and 1877 — not even where their parents went, after the children’s death. The graves have always been marked with redwood boards, replaced by each successive owner of the land whenever they deteriorated.

The State Historic Park’s website says that “Jack was deeply moved by the feeling of loneliness at the children’s graves.” He felt that they would be less lonely if he were buried near them. It’s an odd sentiment for a man who abandoned his first wife and two daughters to chase a life of adventure.

Mostly I wondered if London chose a boulder to cover him so that he could fade into the landscape he loved and vanish with memory. He had lived through the Victorian age, with its excessive stages of mourning and the elaborate grave decorations that I love. London was among the most widely read authors of his time. He might have guessed his grave would become a place of pilgrimage, with grateful readers wanting to commune with him as they offered a rose. I suppose he strove to be too much of a man’s man to want any sentiment. The boulder, the isolation: those were conscious choices on his part.

Of all the graves I’ve visited over the years, London’s is the most isolated. Of course George Washington and Thomas Jefferson lay entombed on their own properties as well, but those gravesites stood in settled lands, easy travel even in those days. In 1916, Sonoma County was sparsely populated, a place of ranches and vineyards. London might as well have been buried on the edge of the earth, like Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa or Charles Lindbergh in the churchyard at Hana. At least Lindbergh had more company than a couple of nearly anonymous children.

If you are interested in visiting London’s gravesite, you should do so this year. In 2012, Jack London State Historic Park is due to be closed because of the California state budget crisis.

Useful Links:

Jack London’s life

Jack London’s books online

Jack London State Historic Park

California State Park page

Docent tours

Other Jack London information Cemetery Travel:

My visit to London’s grave

My review of Permanent Californians

My review of Laid to Rest in California

Weekly Photo Challenge: Numbers

Child’s monument, Old CIty Cemetery

This tiny little lamb is sacred to the memory of a boy who died at the age of one year, eight months, and eight days old. Figuring the length of a life to the day was common in the later half of the 19th century. I pity the families, calculating their loss to the day.

The Old City Cemetery in the California state capitol is full of children’s graves. They are guarded by lambs and stone rosebuds with broken stems, by doves and little angels, all symbols of innocence.

Sacramento, approximately 70 miles northeast of San Francisco, became the first Californian boomtown in 1849. As such, it grew immensely wealthy. The former frontier outpost benefited as the last provisioning point for the forty-niners on their way up to the Sierra gold fields. Between 1848 and 1853, over half a million people passed through Sacramento on the way to seek their fortunes.

Sacramento City Cemetery was founded by a city ordinance in December 1849 to be a “public grave yard” unaffiliated with any religious organization. It remains as the oldest original (non-rebuilt) historical site in Sacramento.

It is an incredibly beautiful place. Beneath the arching branches of oaks and the fronds of palms, white marble markers rise against the flawless blue Californian sky. Ornamentation varies from faux Egyptian to upright Protestant obelisks, from hands clutching each other throughout eternity to angels and muses standing upright against their grief.

Cemetery of the Week #66: Old City Cemetery, Sacramento, California