My post on Rocky Hill Baptist Cemetery upset someone yesterday. I am tender-hearted and wouldn’t ever want to hurt someone’s feelings. I took down the pictures of the grave of that person’s loved one, and I made some clarifications on the original post. But since I don’t want to stop writing about graveyards, and I don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings, I thought I would tell you a little about what goes into my graveyard musings.
When I walk into a cemetery, I don’t arrive with any definite agenda. I like to absorb the atmosphere and think about what that particular place is saying to me. What is its story? I could just take pictures of every headstone, or write the names of everyone buried there, but you can see that at Find-A-Grave. I’m looking for atmosphere, and also to tie that cemetery into my thoughts on other topics.
For example, in this post I spoke of how lucky we are to have these little oases of peace and beauty in the middle of all the otherwise unbridled development in West Knox County.
In this one I talked about the importance of names.
This one was about remembrance.
If I’m in a smaller cemetery, I try to read every gravestone. I think about the people there, wonder about them. Sometimes, especially if they are babies, I pray for them or even talk to them. I tell them that today,even if only today, they are remembered.
When it’s a larger cemetery, I try to walk through as much of it as I can, especially the older sections, which are the most interesting to me. I make notes about when the earliest burials took place and the names I see, particularly if the names are familiar as local place names. I take pictures of whatever interests me.
After I leave, I almost immediately start doing research. Not a lot of research, because I am not getting paid for this! But I look on the KGIS website to see what I can find out about current and former owners of the property. I look it up on Find-A-Grave. I Google for the history of the cemetery, and sometimes do a little genealogy research on some of the people buried there.
By the time I sit down to write, usually something, some angle from which to approach that particular cemetery, will have occurred to me. It would be pretty boring if all I did was describe the place and post pictures without comment. I’m trying to tell stories, not just document.
But documentation IS part of what I do. And if a cemetery is in bad shape, I’m going to say so. I don’t know why it’s in bad shape, and I’m not making value judgments. I’m wondering, and I’m raising questions.
For example, in the case of yesterday’s post, this was the first thing that I saw when I drove into Rocky Hill Baptist Cemetery, and it stirred up some questions that I raised in my post.
I wondered: WHY is a cemetery with the same name as the church, and right across the street from the church, not owned by the church? WHY is this sign so emphatic? If the church used to own the cemetery, why and when did it stop? WHY would a private association take over such a large and active cemetery requiring so much upkeep? WHO are the people being buried here now, if not church members or family members (there are lots of new graves)?
Those were just some of my questions, and my research answered some of them. The rest I put out there with the post. I do that with a lot of these posts, and sometimes I am rewarded with answers!
When I write about cemeteries, I am trying to make sure that the dead are remembered. I’d like to think that if they could see my posts, they’d appreciate them. But all I have to go on is the opinions (usually positive!) of the living.
If people get upset because I mention that a cemetery is in need of some maintenance, they are being too sensitive. I’m just reporting a fact, and I’m not accusing anyone of anything. In fact, I went out of my way in that post to mention that cemeteries require lots of upkeep and that it’s expensive, which is one reason I was wondering why a private association would take that on. I’m familiar with the financial struggle my own parish has in keeping up the Catholic cemetery, and the assistance we require from the Knights of Columbus and youth groups for periodic cleanups. The more cemeteries I visit, the more I see what a problem upkeep is–whether because no one is left to care, or people don’t have the energy, money, or time. Whatever the reason, it’s a tragedy when the last tangible reminder of a human being’s existence is obliterated.
I have had it suggested that if I’m upset that these cemeteries are in bad shape, then I should come help clean them up. 🙂 But see, I can’t clean up every cemetery in Knox County. And it’s not my job to do that. It will be my job to make sure my parents’ (who are both still here!) graves are maintained, and I will. The job I HAVE taken on is to write about cemeteries, and if it raises awareness of the very real problem of keeping them in good shape, that’s a good thing.