Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Final Resting Place

I'm weird. I've found I actually enjoy visiting cemeteries. Their peace and tranquility is certainly a part of the allure, but the tombstones, monuments, and mausoleums are what really attracts me. And the more overrun and unkempt the cemetery is, the better!

Obviously this passion arose from my haunting for Halloween, visiting cemeteries to get ideas for carving tombstones out of foam. But I've since found myself going to a cemetery to walk and take in the scenery for no other reason than it was quite relaxing. Not the "flat stone" cemeteries with markers that are really just plaques laying on the ground, but the burial places where there are monuments to those interred within.

Yet it also stems from my love of history. It's why I also love abandoned buildings, particularly those that have longbeen forgotten. I enjoy trying to imagine the history of the place, the people that populated it, and the stories the building could tell. There's something about finding an old, cracked plate or a rusted knife on a rotted countertop and thinking about the day it was placed there. What the person who lived there was thinking and how they came to leave the place but not take the knife or plate with them.

Or factories where the grass has grown tall in the parking lot. The windows have long since broken out by vandals and the walls covered in graffiti, but at one time people were walking through the gates of the grounds in the morning drinking a cup of coffee. That sort of history fascinates me.

There was a sumptuous book called "Ruin" which was a collection of black and white photos of old mills, bridges, grain elevators, storefronts, and more. It should be on my coffee table.

No doubt, though, this love of a dilapidated past was born of my trips to upstate New York to visit my grandmother's farm. Located in Afton, NY, we'd travel for hours and it was with a sense of relief when we hit the "beebee road," a gravel track that took us up to Tracy Rd., so named for the big, propertied family that lived there.

My grandmother's farm was along Tracy Rd. but to get there we had to pass the "first farm," a ramshackle hut that at some point had been turned into a hunter's shack. It was set back from the road amid high weeds, the wood grayed from years of exposure. My mother would tell us stories about growing up in that shack, where the cow poked its head through her bedroom window right over her bed and having to walk through the snow to go to the outhouse in winter.

It's not how I remember it
It's gone now, as is the second farm. The third farm still stands, but is on its way to a similar fate as the first farm. The house sat at the top of a hill and had been a grand white structure with a portico porch running across the face of building. It commanded the view of the 188-acre dairy farm they ran, with pastures streaming out in front and wheat fields behind. A windbreak of poplar trees still stands, as does the giant, single elm out in the middle of the trees.

The farm has since been divided up by developers and houses now dot the fields where I once ran in my youth, catching frogs in the hand-dug watering hole, walking with the cows down to pasture. I visited a couple of years ago and was slightly distressed to see a calf tied up on the home's front lawn just as someone would leash a dog. The house has indeed fallen on hard times, no longer looking as I or any of my family members remembered it. Gone are the columns and the cement porch, replaced by a small wooden structure, almost utilitarian in nature.

I got to all this reminiscing and thinking of ruined buildings and forgotten cemeteries -- and my adoration for all of them -- because I just finished watching a show on cemeteries on Netflix called "A Cemetery Special," a show that highlighted a number of cemeteries around the country, including Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery, the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh (I may try to take that in when I go to Hauntcon), and the Cypress Lawn cemetery in California.

It wasn't particularly in depth, and I thought it could stand to focus a little more on the unique architecture that dots their hillsides, but I ended up thinking how odd it was how much I enjoyed old cemeteries.

As I said, I'm weird.


  1. Hey Rich...I agree with you 100% I love walking cemeterys so I guess we are both weird?! If you never saw my posts from Boston check them out..I took tons of cemetery pictures while I was there...that was my main focus while my wife and I were there.

  2. I thought of your trip to Boston when I was watching the show. Tons of inspiration there!



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