Tag Archives: Deaths Garden

In the Shadow of Eldfell

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All photos of Heimaey courtesy of Greg Roensch.

by Greg Roensch

We had a few hours to kill until it was time to catch the ferry. It didn’t make sense to wait at the hotel, so my wife and I checked out and took a last drive around Heimaey, the largest island in the Westman Islands archipelago off the south coast of Iceland.

With a population of roughly 4,500 people, Heimaey is a sleepy island. Most of the residents live in the shadow of Eldfell, a volcano that erupted without warning in the early morning hours of January 23, 1973. As Eldfell spewed fire, ash, and lava, Heimaey’s inhabitants scrambled to the harbor to evacuate the island on fishing boats and other vessels. Little did they know that the volcanic activity would rage for another seven months.

When all was said and done, the eruption destroyed about 400 homes. And when the lava threatened to close off the harbor, people manned firehoses to stop the advancing flow with high-powered blasts of seawater.

Today, Heimaey is a popular tourist destination, with stunning coastal views, black lava rock beaches, puffin breeding grounds, and more. It doesn’t take long to drive around the island, but, like anywhere else, you can stumble upon some interesting sights if you venture off the beaten path. That’s what I was thinking when I pulled our rental car onto a narrow gravel road.

“Um, what are you doing?” asked my wife.

“Let’s see what’s down here.”

“Well, okay, but let’s not go too far from the main road.”

“We’ll turn around if it looks bad,” I assured her.

The narrow road curved down around a bend and opened up on a windblown grassy landscape. I stopped the car where we could look out at Heimaey’s neighboring islands and, in the distance, the large white landmass of Iceland.

“Amazing, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Let’s go a little further.”

“Now you’re talking.”

crossesThe road became steeper and narrower. The potholes got bigger. Eventually, we arrived at another grassy patch overlooking the sea. While the area offered more spectacular views of the epic Icelandic scenery, what caught my attention was a small tuft of grass topped by three plain white wooden crosses. Who were they for? I wondered. Why weren’t they in Heimaey’s main cemetery?

Earlier in our trip, we’d walked through the town cemetery after visiting a museum dedicated to the Eldfell eruption. In old photos on the museum walls, you can see fire, cinders, and smoke rising in the distance beyond the cemetery’s arched gate. You can also see photos of tombstones and statuary half-buried in gray ash from the eruption. Given its proximity to the volcano, it’s surprising the cemetery wasn’t destroyed altogether. It was as if its phantasmagorical denizens banded together to say, “Destruction, go no further. You shall not pass this way.”

As interesting as the cemetery was—with its jumble of marble and stone tombstones, wooden crosses, and small statues—I was struck by the stark simplicity of the three white crosses. I don’t know how they got here or what or who they were for, but my mind started to wander. Something about the crosses made me imagine what it might have looked like coming across similar markers on a dusty mountain trail in the frontier days of the Old West.

You might have seen such a cross for a young boy struck down by tuberculosis, or a mother who died in childbirth, or a gunslinger beaten to the draw by someone who was a split second faster. After a brief discussion about whether to bury the body or leave it for the vultures, someone would persuade his or her fellow travelers to give the deceased a proper burial.

The gravediggers would rest the body in a shallow pit, remove their hats, bow their heads, and mumble a few solemn words before covering the corpse with dirt, hammering together a makeshift cross, and continuing on their way.

scenic coastStanding beside the wooden crosses on Heimaey, I also thought about how Iceland is a frontier. Known as the Land of Fire and Ice, it’s a remote country filled with natural wonders and terrain so otherworldly that it once served as training ground for Apollo astronauts preparing to walk on the moon. Heimaey, this small volcanic island off the coast of Iceland, is even more remote. With the sea wind whipping against our faces, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it might have been like for those who first set foot on this rugged outpost in the middle of the North Atlantic.

I would have liked to stay longer, but it was time to drive back into town to catch our ferry.

As the ship pulled away from the harbor, my wife and I stood on the rear deck and looked back at Eldfell, the volcanic mound serving as a constant reminder that it could erupt again at any moment, sending heaps of ash and streams of molten lava down on the town, the harbor, the cemetery—and even on the three white wooden crosses on a small grassy overlook at the end of a narrow gravel road leading nowhere.

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gregGreg Roensch is a writer living in San Francisco. When not writing and editing for work (Six String Communications), he writes short stories, composes quirky pop songs, and likes to travel. You can find out more about him at www.gregroensch.com. You can also follow him on Facebook or 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.

 

Cemetery Travel x 500

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One of my favorite cemeteries: Highgate Cemetery in May

This is my 500th post on Cemetery Travel.  That blows my mind.  When I first started this blog in February 2011, I was looking to impress my agent, so she could find a publisher for my collection of cemetery travel essays.

As much as she liked the proposal I sent her, she wasn’t able to find a publisher for it.  I despaired, even as the blog itself took on a life of its own.

To my surprise and pleasure, a friend in the horror community offered me a book deal.  Western Legends published Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel in April 2013.

At first I saw the blog as an appendage of the book, adding essential details to the essays.  Eventually, the Cemeteries of the Week progressed beyond to 50-some graveyards in the book.  I wanted to direct travelers to the cemeteries and burial sites I hadn’t visited yet.  Some of those posts have been my most popular, hinting at how much cemetery travel information is needed.

My most popular post on the blog, by far, is the one about Martin Luther King Jr.’s gravesite, followed by Elvis Presley’s grave, and Wyatt Earp’s.  The other 143 Cemeteries of the Week still draw a lot of traffic, too.  I’d like to continue adding to that list someday.

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Lovely Forest Hill Cemetery

In the meantime, I continue to travel to visit graveyards.  On Memorial Day, I hiked through Madison, Wisconsin to see the native mounds at Forest Hill Cemetery.  Earlier in the month, I spent a glorious day with Emerian Rich, exploring the cemeteries of Contra Costa County, California.  I’m looking forward to revisiting Highgate Cemetery soon, seeing the Pantheon in Paris, and finding the Kiss of Death sculpture in Barcelona’s Pobleno Cemetery.  I have so many more cemeteries to see.

I’m excited to continue the Death’s Garden series of essays.  33 authors have joined the blog so far, some more than once.  They have written about the graves of family members, celebrities, and paupers.  They’ve described famous statuary and forgotten monuments.  They’ve visited cemeteries far from home and just around the corner.  They’ve explored fame and memory and the sense of indescribable peace that comes from being surrounded by acres of tombstones.

The contributors have been cemetery bloggers, tour guides, theater directors, horror writers, and more.  They’ve advocated for restoration.  They’ve arranged cemetery cleanup crews.  They’ve dressed in costume, researched historic inhabitants, and rescued people from being forgotten.  They’ve also told some pretty good ghost stories.

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Jane Handel’s hand-colored photo that graced the cover of the original Death’s Garden collection.

I’m excited to see where Cemetery Travel will take us next.  I’m working toward a book called Death’s Garden Revisited, which will collect the best of the Death’s Garden essays, along with gorgeous photography.  I’d like to do a second edition of Wish You Were Here, updating where necessary and adding an index to make it more useful for researchers.  And I’m continuing to chip away at the Historic Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area.

This year I’ve gotten one novel out, to be followed by its sequel in November.  I think 2017 may be the year to bring my cemetery projects into the world.

Thank you for coming along on my journey.

Death’s Garden: Coimetrophobia

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Bullfighter’s monument at the Cemetery of Alto de Sao Joao, Lisbon, Portugal. All photos by David Bingham.

by David Bingham

Here is a word that you may not be familiar with: coimetrophobia, the fear of cemeteries. My Portuguese wife does not share my love of burial grounds. Intimations of mortality cause her acute anxiety. Gravestones, mausoleums, hearses, coffins: any reminder of the lipless grin of the skull beneath the skin horrifies her. She has only been able to face visiting her mother’s grave twice in the twenty years since she died.

Cemeteries provoke overwhelming feelings of dread, perhaps because they arouse too many painful memories. Her elder brother once worked as a night watchman in the town of Evora, famous for its Roman ruins and the Capela dos Ossos, the bone chapel, in the church of Sao Francisco. He always made his way home after his 12-hour shift, tired and inattentive and no doubt dreaming of his bed, at the time when the daily rush hour was just starting. One day, instead of waiting for the lights to change at a busy intersection, he blundered out into the road, oblivious to the bus packed with commuters that knocked him down and killed him instantly. His funeral took place back home in Lisbon. He was a solitary man, with few friends, and the funeral cortege consisted of just the hearse containing the coffin and a minibus to carry the mourners.

Alto de Sao Joao 5 - tomb detailThe cortege set off at a suitably funereal pace — hearse in front, minibus at a respectful distance behind — to the cemetery. It wasn’t long before there were mutterings about the route chosen by the hearse driver. It did not seem to be the most direct was the general consensus. My fellow passengers grew increasingly restive as we drove on. When we halted at a set of traffic lights, one of them insisted on getting down from the minibus. He ran to the hearse and had what appeared to be a very animated conversation with the driver. When he returned to the bus, he announced, “O gajo disse que ele sabe aonde nós vamos.” The guy says he knows where he is going.

When we finally pulled into the cemetery 20 minutes later, there was uproar. My fellow passengers piled out of the minibus, surrounded the hearse, and began manhandling the driver. He had driven us to the wrong cemetery. Now we were at least 45 minutes from where we should have been, at 4:00 in the afternoon, an hour before the correct cemetery closed…just as Lisbon’s notorious rush-hour traffic was about to start.

Our hitherto stately pace soon stepped up a gear as we raced against time to get to the cemetery before it closed. Dignity went out of the window. The hearse gradually increased its speed as it wove in and out of the traffic on the freeway. The disgraced driver leaned heavily on his horn to warn slower vehicles to get out of the way. The reckless manoeuvring and excessive speed soon attracted the attention of the traffic police. Further valuable minutes were wasted at the side of the road, explaining to a pair of impassive cops in mirror shades what the hurry was, then arguing when they gave both drivers tickets.

Alto de Sao Joao 7 - Fernão Botto Machado

Monument of Fernao Botto Machado.

When we finally arrived at the cemetery, the main gates were already closed. The staff told us to come back amanhã. I swear money had to exchange hands before the gates swung open again and we were issued a pair of shovels and told we had 15 minutes. The priest who was meant to officiate had long since gone home, as had the gravediggers, and so my brother-in-law was buried without benefit of clergy. The funeral directors seemed most reluctant to get their hands dirty, but being surrounded by a mob of furious, grieving relatives who looked likely, at any further provocation, to batter them senseless and bury them alive, accepted the spades thrust into their hands. They shoveled dirt unenthusiastically on top of the coffin.

The experience may have put my wife off cemeteries, but it merely whetted my curiosity. A few years later, when my sister-in-law moved to a new apartment in the high-rise suburb of Olaias, I was intrigued by the large hillside cemetery I could see from her 8th-floor windows. The Cemitério do Alto de São João didn’t look too far away. I promised myself that, when an opportunity presented itself, I would go and have a good look.

It took a good couple of years before that opportunity came. One day we were in Lisbon at my sister-in-law’s. She was engaged with my wife in one of those interminable family conversations that are deeply interesting to the participants and utterly confusing to anyone who doesn’t know the family tree root, branch, and twig. We had just eaten a heavy Portuguese lunch (at which I probably helped myself to more than my fair share). I’d had a couple of Sagres beers, the apartment was warm, the conversation was about the avô of some tia’s cunhada back in Beira Alta, and the inevitable happened. My wife shook me brusquely awake and told me to go for a walk and get some air.

I finally had my chance to visit the Alto de São João, the Heights of St. John. It took me a while to find the cemetery. Still groggy and disoriented when I left the apartment, I took the easiest route out of Olaias, downhill, which took me down into the valley below the cemetery and left me with a long walk back uphill to skirt the walls and locate the entrance.

Alto de Sao Joao 6 - mausoleumsThe cemitério is a true necropolis. The dead mainly reside aboveground in sepulchres and mausoleums that line streets that have names and numbers, just like in a real town. In Lisbon’s strong light, the cemetery’s deserted lanes, its mausoleums and memorials, take on the eerie atmosphere of a De Chirico painting.

The site was first used as a burial ground in 1833 during a cholera epidemic, when plague pits were dug on what was then a hilltop outside the Lisbon city limits. At that time, Portugal had very few cemeteries; most interments were made in religious buildings of one sort or another, mainly parish churches, but also in monasteries and convents. Following centuries of burials within the walls, these became overcrowded and unsanitary. In 1835, a Liberal government passed a law obliging the civil authorities to create walled cemeteries in all urban areas of Portugal. It was an unpopular measure, provoking riots in the town of Lanhoso that grew into an anti-government uprising in the northern region of Minho. However, in the more sophisticated cities of Lisbon and Porto, the Portuguese bourgeoisie were as enthusiastic about cemeteries as their counterparts in London, Paris, or Berlin.

In response to the new laws, the city government of Lisbon founded two cemeteries in 1835, both on high ground on the city outskirts: Prazeres (Pleasures! The name is not ironic, it came from the name of the quinta, the country estate, on which the cemetery was laid out) and on the Alto de São João, looking out over the broad sweep of the river Tejo (Tagus).

In death as in life, 19th-century Portugal was a divided nation. Which of Lisbon’s two cemeteries you were buried in depended very much on your political views. Prazeres is the resting place of choice for the Conservatives — the aristocrats, clergy, military, and high financiers — who were the backbone of traditional society. The inhabitants of the Cemitério do Alto de São João, on the other hand, are Liberals to a man: republican political figures, journalists, writers, artists, and the petty bourgeoisie who supported them.

So liberal was the climate at the cemetery that it was the obvious site for Portugal’s first crematorium. Its construction was approved in 1912 and completed shortly afterwards. Predictably, the innovation was opposed by the Catholic Church, but cremation proved a proposition too radical for even their most Liberal opponents. The crematorium only became functional in 1925, when an incinerator was acquired from Germany. Once working, it proved a huge flop: between 1925 and 1936, only 22 people chose to be cremated. The decoration of the crematorium itself is remarkable: the skulls, femurs, and pelvic bones, wreathed in flames and smoke — with its hint of the inferno — seem calculated to create unease amongst potential clients with religious qualms.

Alto de Sao Joao 4 - Crematorium detailCemetery management conceded defeat and closed the crematorium down in 1936. It didn’t reopen until 1985, and then mainly as a result of pressure from Lisbon’s growing Hindu community. Cremation gradually became an acceptable method of disposing of the dead, though nowhere near as popular as it is in the UK or the USA.

Alto de Sao Joao 3 - Tomas da RochaMy favourite memorials at the cemetery belong to the bullfighters Fernando de Oliveira, Daniel Do Nascimento, and Tomás Da Rocha. Portuguese bullfighting is very different from Spanish: the bull isn’t killed. The important toureiros (bullfighters) are not matadors, but the cavaleiros, horsemen who dress in 18th-century costume. Mounted on Lusitano horses, their job is to stick three or four bandarilhas into the big hump of muscle that sits over a bull’s front legs to weaken it. This makes it possible for the cavaleiro to be replaced by an 8-strong forçada, a group of amateur fighters, who enter the ring unarmed and whose job is to engage the bull in an intimate clinch, a group hug called a ‘pega.’

Accidents, sometimes fatal, are not uncommon in the Corridas. Fernando de Oliveira died in the Campo Pequeno bullring in Lisbon on the afternoon of 12 May 1904. Fernando was fighting Ferrador, a bull bred on the estate of the Marquês de Castelo Melhor. Fernando managed to sink his first bandarilha into the bull’s back, but the incensed animal charged, knocking his horse’s legs from underneath him. Bullfighter and horse collapsed in a tangle of arms, legs, and stirrups, and the bull attacked again. Other toureiros ran to help. The bull was coaxed away. The panicked horse climbed back to its feet and ran, bucking and kicking, around the ring. Fernando lay where he had fallen. The base of his skull was fatally crushed.

Alto de Sao Joao 1 - Fernando De Oliveira

Monument to Fernando de Oliveira.

In the days before film and video, no one could be quite sure what had happened after the horse stumbled. Some thought that the fall itself was responsible for the head injury. Others were sure that Fernando had been smashed on the back of the head by a flying stirrup. Others swore that the horseman had managed to raise himself to his knees immediately after his fall, but with his back towards the bull, which gored him from behind. Fernando’s monument in the cemitério was raised by public subscription amongst aficionados of Portuguese tauromaquia.

I have been back to the Cemitério do Alto de São João many times since that first visit, but have never been able to persuade my wife to accompany me. Ironically she shares the common Catholic antipathy to cremation and insists that when her time comes, she must be decently buried. In a cemetery, of course. Death reconciles us with everything, it seems, even coimetrophobia.

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Self portraitBorn in the north of England, David Bingham has been living in London for 35 years. He loves the city and its history, especially the cemeteries. He is married to a Portuguese coimetrophobe and they have two teenage girls. They have a house in Portugal and one day plan to split their time between Lisbon and London.

David started The London Dead three years ago as a way of sharing his fascination with the stories he discovered in the cemeteries and churchyards of London. One day, when he finally rids himself of work commitments — and the girls don’t require chauffeuring and chaperoning somewhere virtually every evening and weekend — he will start a blog called The Lisbon Dead.

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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.

 

 

The Legend of Black Aggie

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Photo from DC Curbbed’s collection of female statuary.  http://dc.curbed.com/maps/washington-dc-public-art-female.

by E. A. Black

I have always had a soft spot for cemetery statuary. I own a replica of the Bird Girl statue seen on the cover of the book Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. The original statue resides in a cemetery. (Editor’s note: It use to reside in Bonaventure Cemetery, but out of fear of vandalism, it was moved to the Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah.)

When I die, I want to be interred in a huge mausoleum complete with Coptic or Masonic symbols around the door, even though I’m neither Coptic nor a Mason. If I can’t have a mausoleum, I’d love to have a beautiful statue of a shrouded woman or a classic adult female angel hovering over my grave.

I know none of this is possible (or affordable), so instead I have decided to donate my body to the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, popularly known as the Body Farm. I told my husband about it and he’s interested, too. On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to be buried beneath the floorboards of my home, with my skull sitting in a curio cabinet in the living room, so I may haunt the house, but that’s likely illegal, so the Body Farm it is.

Although I love statuary, one particular statue has frightened me since I was a child. Her name is Black Aggie. It was popular in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to scare the bejesus out of kids by telling her story. I didn’t see Black Aggie when I was a kid, although she stood in Druid Ridge Cemetery in nearby Pikesville. I begged my mother to drive me to Druid Ridge to see her, but she refused.

To me and many of my friends, Black Aggie was the stuff of legend. The life-sized statue depicted a grown woman (or man: the sex was indeterminate, but most thought of her as female) seated on a chair wearing a long, flowing shroud. The shroud covered her head, which looked down upon you from its height on a pedestal. Her expression was hard to read. She seemed pensive or sad. Considering her real name was “Grief,” such an expression seemed appropriate.

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The Adams Memorial, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

The original statue was designed by a premiere sculptor of the late 1800s – Augustus St. Gaudens. She was commissioned by Henry Adams (grandson of President John Quincy Adams) in honor of his late wife Marion, who had committed suicide following the death of her father. It took St. Gaudens four years to create the statue, but once finished, she was described as “one of the most powerful and expressive pieces in the history of American art, before or since.” She became known as the “Adams Memorial” and later, “Grief.” Some say Mark Twain coined the latter name, after he saw the memorial in 1906.

However, the original statue is not the statue that became known as Black Aggie. That statue is an unauthorized gray replica made in the early 1900s by Eduard L. A. Pausch. The replica sat on the grave of General Felix Agnus, a local publisher. It is this replica for which the legend of Black Aggie was born.

The replica statue was harmless in daylight, but her legend took flight at night. My friends and I had plenty of stories to tell. She moved of her own accord at night. Her eyes supposedly glowed red at the stroke of midnight. If you returned her gaze, you were struck blind. Spirits of the dead rose from their graves to gather around her. Pregnant women touched by her shadow miscarried. Grass refused to grow in front of the statue. If you stood in front of a mirror and repeated “Black Aggie,” she’d scratch your face. The only positive legend about her was that if you left coins in her palms, you’d have good luck — if you were brave enough to get that close.

Rumors abound that a college fraternity hazed initiates by requiring them to spend the night sitting in Black Aggie’s lap. One young man took the dare and was left at dusk in Druid Ridge Cemetery. When his frat buddies returned in the morning to fetch him, they found him lying in the statue’s arms, dead. The horrified expression on his face made it clear he died from fright.

Another story involved a young man who came to visit the statue at night with some of his friends. The friends wanted to leave coins for good luck, but this idiot decided it would be great fun to put his cigarette out in her palm. A decade later, his body was found in a dump in South Carolina. He had been shot in the head. The culprit remained at large, motive unknown. Us kids simply knew Black Aggie was responsible.

Sadly, the statue was vandalized. Names and messages had been scrawled on her, her granite base, and the wall behind her. Although most of the graffiti had been removed, much of it remained, defacing the statue. Despite efforts to prevent further damage, the vandalism continued into the 1960s. The Agnus family sought to donate the statue to the Maryland Institute of Art, but she ended up donated to the Smithsonian.

Her final resting place brings me to my own encounter with the statue.

In the early 1980s, I was working as a camp counselor at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Several new groups came in every week. One week, a high school camp came in with an architecture teacher. I sat in on his classes and we took a trip to Washington, DC, but this wasn’t your usual trip to the nation’s capitol. Instead of visiting the museums, we toured the various important forms of architecture in the area. I saw parts of DC I had never seen before.

The highlight was the Dolley Madison house. I can’t remember anything about the architecture anymore. I believe it was American Colonial. We toured the house inside and out and it was lovely. The garden was especially gorgeous. I wandered around by myself and came across a beautiful, life-sized statue of a person. In a shroud. Sitting on a chair. The teacher was standing next to me with a big shit-eating grin on his face. I stared at the statue and finally said, “Is this…?”

“Yup, it sure is.”

I stood in front of Black Aggie!

It was broad daylight. I couldn’t pull myself away. I turned to the teacher and laughed. “Her eyes aren’t glowing red.”

“Not during the day. Wait until nighttime. Bwahahaha!”

I don’t recall whether or not both of her arms were intact. There were stories that one of her arms had been severed. I also didn’t see any graffiti. Despite my childhood fears and the tall tales I had heard, I felt reverent standing in front of Black Aggie. She was an incredibly beautiful statue. Bigger than life. Kind of grayish. Her pensive expression was indeed very sad, as if she had suffered great loss. Her hands were exquisitely sculpted and quite large. I imagined that frat boy who supposedly died in her arms. Gave me the shivers.

I couldn’t resist. I touched her. The marble felt cool. Nothing happened to me. I didn’t drop dead a second later, nor was I rendered blind. I didn’t notice if any grass grew around her. She sat in the shade of some trees and seemed downright peaceful. I glanced at the ground and saw that her shadow fell across me.

“Good thing I’m not pregnant,” I said.

“Yup,” the teacher said. “You’d be a goner by now.”

Luckily, I had a camera with me and took a few pictures, but sadly I have not retained them. Still, I was delighted to have finally stood in front of the statue that scared the piss out of me when I was a kid. I was pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful she was.

I’d have been honored to have such a statue sitting on my grave. The local kids would come visit in fear of seeing her eyes glow bright red. I’d have risen from the dead just to see them running off, screaming. Black Aggie is one of the more exciting legends from my youth and I got to see her in the flesh (so to speak) when I grew up. As far as I know, she still sits in the garden courtyard of the Dolley Madison House. I should stop by for a visit the next time I’m in DC.

I’ll bring coins.

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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 BadMirages: Tales From Authors Of The Macabre, Teeming Terrors, and Wicked Tales: The Journal Of The New England Horror Writers Vol. 3

Ms. Black’s latest release, her erotic sci fi thriller Roughing It, is available at Amazon.

She also wrote about visiting Poe’s grave for Cemetery Travel.

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.

 

 

 

 

Brian and Paul and Me in the Cemetery

Loren059by Martha J. Allard

We started hanging out in the cemetery because my mother hated Brian. Well, hate is a strong word. He made her nervous. When we couldn’t go to my house, the tradition of wine coolers in the cemetery was born. This was the summer before Brian and Paul, my two best friends, went to their separate corners of the country. Our last summer together.

My hometown is pretty stereotypical. It’s the picture people get in their minds when they imagine the Midwest. Downtown is two blocks of brick storefronts, lined with wrought iron lampposts, instead of streetlights. The cemetery is tiny, right off Main Street.

Giant pines shelter the graves. The oldest stones have no names or dates left, scoured away by decades of snow and rain. The ground under the heaviest stones has shifted, slanting them like crooked teeth.

A Civil War monument anchors the middle of the cemetery. Atop a tall granite pedestal, General Grant salutes the town’s dead. Brian and Paul and I chose the base of Grant’s pedestal as our spot, mostly because I am squeamish about drinking on a stranger’s grave. Also, the fact that the monument is out from under the canopy of trees made it relatively free of the huge amounts of bats that live in them. We realized, as soon as we took the position, that it gave the best view of the whole cemetery. As we talked, mist curled around the headstones and dark clouds rolled across the moon. It could have been a scene from any old horror movie.

It was like time slowed for us there, like maybe August would go on a week longer, so we could get everything said that needed to be said. Unfortunately, everywhere else, things turned cold right on schedule. Paul and Brian had to go.

When one of them visits, we always go back to the cemetery. We say we know that it won’t be the same, but I think we always hope it will. Brian came at the end of summer this year on a surprise visit. Neither of us was surprised at where we ended up.

Bats swooped and pinwheeled in the night sky as we talked and sipped our coolers. The sameness of the place helped us over the awkwardness of people who haven’t seen each other in way too long. We slipped into the old days quickly. For a while, it was almost like we weren’t usually separated by three thousand miles.

But I knew that you can only nurse a wine cooler for so long and this was very temporary. In the morning, Brian would be on a plane and I would be driving past an ordinary cemetery. August was slipping away again and things were still left unsaid.

This was initially published in Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries in 1994.

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Martha J. Allard is the author of Black Light, a rock’n’roll ghost story. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines like Talebones and Not One of Us. Her story “Dust” won an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 19th edition, edited by Gardner Dozois. Her story “Phase” was nominated for a British Science Fiction Award. They are both collected in the chapbook Dust and Other Stories. You can find her on her blog at marthajallard.blogspot.com.

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About the Death’s Garden project:

Death's Garden001

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 or did anything else unusual in one. The submissions guidelines are here.