Tag Archives: postaweek2011

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

The Larkin monument at Cypress Lawn

Thomas O. Larkin served as the only United States consul to Mexican province of Alta California during the 1840s.  He was captured during California’s transition to the United States. After annexation, he became a “merchant prince” in California, speculating in land from the Mexican ranchos.  He co-founded the city of Benicia, which served briefly as the California state capitol.  At one point, he was the richest man in America.

After his death in 1858, Larkin was buried in San Francisco’s beautiful and historic Laurel Hill Cemetery.   Decades later, his grave was suitably marked with an angel carved by German-born artist Rupert Schmid.  The down-gazing angel is placing a feathered pen on the grave.  Larkin had been one of the signers of the Californian constitution.

At the dawn of the 20th century, San Francisco politicians banned burials inside the city limits.  Laurel Hill Cemetery fought developers who eyed its land, but in 1940 the cemetery was demolished and its residents moved to Colma.  Larkin, and his angel, were transfered to Cypress Lawn Cemetery, where they remain to this day.

Cemetery of the Week #55: Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, California

Weekly Photo Challenge: Peaceful

Angel in Highgate

Twenty years ago this month, I went to Europe for the first time.  I ended up in Highgate Cemetery by accident, after finding John Gay’s Victorian Valhalla in the bookshop in Victoria Station.  The sky was threatening and gray.  The wind was chilly and damp.  Still, primroses bloomed in the hollows under the trees.  Angels stood everywhere, luminous.

In my mind, the excessively feminine winged guardians have more kinship with the fairy godmothers of my childhood than with the stern warriors of the Bible.  Something about their serenity, their total devotion, seems too intensely focused to survive the real world.  Silhouetted against the white January sky, standing their posts come rain or snow, the angels of Highgate inspired me to photograph as many of their kindred as I could before neglect destroyed them.  Since then, I’ve photographed angels in graveyards around the world.

Cemetery of the Week #2: Highgate Cemetery in London, England

Weekly Photo Challenge: Launch

Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 25 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. I was watching TV that morning before I went to my job as the Undergraduate English Secretary at the University of Michigan.

Much of the country was watching TV on January 28, 1986. Among the crew members was Christa McAuliffe, who’d won the honor to be the first Teacher in Space. She represented the opportunity for normal people to go into space. Her death marked the end of that dream for most people.

On June 12, 1986, Congress resolved that “the Secretary of the Army should construct and place in Arlington National Cemetery a memorial marker honoring the seven members of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.” Artist Robert Harding designed the bronze plaque on the front of the monument. John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem “High Flight” is inscribed on the memorial’s back.

Some of the Challenger crewmembers’ remains could be identified and were buried in private graves. Everything that could not be identified using 1980s technology was cremated and is buried in the base of this monument.

Vice President George Bush dedicated the monument on March 21, 1987. Family members of the seven Challenger astronauts, along with a small crowd of 400 other people, attended.

Faces and names engraved on the monument are:

Commander Michael J. Smith, Pilot (buried in Arlington in Section 7-A)
Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee (buried in Section 46 to the left of the Challenger Monument)
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist
Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
S. Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist (and teacher)
Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist
Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…”

Cemetery of the Week #1: Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

Weekly Photo Challenge: Winter

Christmas Day, New Calvary Cemetery

Twenty years ago or so, my brother and I celebrated Christmas at my parents’ farm outside of Flint, Michigan.  As the afternoon got older, after the presents were opened and the feast consumed, Allen wanted to go for a drive.  Nothing was open, of course, and we had nowhere to go as early twilight drew on.  So we ended up — as you do — at the cemetery.

We had no family buried in New Calvary.  I’d never been there before and I haven’t been back since.  My memory of the cemetery is that it was full of your everyday granite monuments: nothing to go out of your way for.  That may be unfair.  It could well have changed.

That afternoon, thick, heavy snow was falling.  You can see the snowflakes reflecting the flash from my little Instamatic camera.  Clumps of snow clung to the statue of Jesus, crowning him, mantling him, masking his face.  Snow gathered in the chalice held by the angel.  Between them, a leafy plant struggled upward through the snow.  That part of the statue made me think that this group embodied the night in Gethsemane, while Christ prayed for the courage to accept his martyrdom.

The photo captures that day for me so poignantly.  When it was taken, I didn’t know that I’d outlive my brother.  This year he will have been dead for an entire decade. It surprises me how much the loss still hurts.

What I wouldn’t give for another stroll through a snow-covered cemetery with him.

Another post about my family

Weekly Photo Challenge: Possibility

It would seem that a graveyard is the end to possibility.  I don’t find that to be true at all.

Take this place, for instance.  We passed the gate as we drove down the two-lane highway looking for Calistoga.  My head whipped around so fast that I’m sure my husband heard the vertebrae snap.  Climbing the hill, stretching up between the trees, was an old cemetery.  He knew we would have to stop before the weekend was over.

I will probably never see enough cemeteries.  What draws me in is the possibility of what I might find:  beautiful statuary, touching verse, lovely landscaping, new iconography, wildlife, a story that connects with me across the span of time.  There’s always something new to see.

As a matter of fact, we’re 37 weeks into this blog and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the cemeteries I want to share with you.  And that’s to say nothing of all the cemeteries I have on my must-visit list.  Thanks so much for coming along on the ride.

Cemetery of the Week #37: Calistoga Pioneer Cemetery