Category Archives: Static Category – BTG

The end of the line

After almost three years of writing about historic cemeteries, interesting anecdotes, and funky headstone symbols, Beyond The Ghosts… is closing its doors to any new posts. However, the blog will remain as a static site for those looking to do research and yes, if you leave a comment, I will still respond.   
 

There are several reasons why but time is probably the biggest. Multiple new projects keep pushing me into various directions, severely limiting the time needed to research interesting new angles.  

Good stories take a while to discover and develop.  

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a believer in quality, not quantity. Far too many blogs and content sites seem more concerned with putting something out there, just anything, in order to keep the search engine spiders hitting. That’s not my style and I won’t insult readers by doing so.  

General interest runs a close second.  

Like most bloggers, I keep an eye on the stats to find out about the audience. Unfortunately, the past several months have attracted far more spammers than readers. I’m not sure whether this means spammers think cemeteries are the new hot thing or whether it simply proves their complete lack of awareness. 

Regardless, the combination of the two has made me realize that this very interesting ride has finally come to an end.  

What a privilege it’s been.  

I’ve traveled to unique places like the early Christian catacombs and an old western ghost town, accessed one of the most fascinating research places in the world (Westminster Abbey), and had the good fortune of meeting dedicated volunteers whose work in these historic sites all too often, goes unnoticed.  

My sincerest appreciation goes out to all those who supported the Beyond The Ghosts… efforts over these past three years—4Culture, the Newcastle Historical Society, Ruth Pickering, Karen Bouton, The Seattle Public Library genealogy experts, and many others who took time out of their busy day to point me in the right direction.  

Last, but not least, thank you to all those who stopped by to read an article (or two) and offered their encouragement.  I’ll still be around to respond if the muse moves you to comment on particular post.

It really has been quite a fun ride.  Many thanks to you all.

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Teddy’s Story: Decoding the kanji stones

This week’s guest post comes from Kristy Lommen whose website serves as a tribute to the Auburn area’s Japanese communities, both past and present. Over the past year, Ms. Lommen worked with Yoshiko Kato to decode as many of kanji stones as possible before they faded away. Here is one of their discoveries:

Photo courtesy Kristy Lommen

When Yoshiko Kato visited the cemetery to translate the kanji stones, I was particularly excited when she reached the fourth marker in the first row. Although the family surnames had been previously translated from most of the stones, this particular stone was marked on our transcript with only a mysterious, black question mark. We had, at that time, not even the least idea who might be buried in that grave.

Yoshiko kneeled in front of the marker, leaning forward and backward alternately in order to make sense of the nearly illegible marks. She resorted to using a finger to attempt to trace the kanji, gleaning by feel information that proved to be too faint to read by eye.

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Now about that cemetery in the backyard…

Idyllic pastures

 

Homeowners wanting to purchase that historic 18th or 19th century farmhouse would do well to think it through before handing over the escrow down payment. Many of these lovely old places come with an unexpected little extra located in the far corners of the property—the family cemetery.     

Finding out about these potential new neighbors generates mixed reactions. For some, it only enhances the overall attraction and connection to local history while for others it’s an immediate deal breaker – especially if it’s a cultural no-no.     

Revolutionary War veteran, died 1850

 

This past April, the New York Times reported on one potential buyer who refused to even look at a $3 million dollar property because it was next to a cemetery while another discovered an 1812 marker in the front lawn after escrow closed. Figuring it was just part of owning a house constructed in the late 1600s, the owner shrugged and added the upkeep into his regular lawn maintenance duties.     

Then there are those who feel they’ve hit the jackpot.     

One Maine family was ecstatic to discover a late 18th century cemetery lurking in their backyard. After clearing out numerous piles of brush and tree branches, the cemetery was re-dedicated with a pretty little memorial plaque and even got its own website.     

Abigail Wellman: died April 12, 1817, 50 years old

 

Old family cemeteries are a lot more common than most people realize and they’re not just found in the New England or mid-Atlantic areas. There are just as many private cemeteries located in the South. But let’s not forget the nation’s longest rural graveyard either; the Oregon Trail. A leisurely drive along the pastoral byways in all of these states will reveal any number of weathered headstones standing guard on a lonely hill.     

Old cemeteries encountered rough times during the recent housing boom when developers pushed further out into previously rural areas. A 2006 Washington Post article highlighted the challenges some of these forgotten sites faced in Tennessee.     

“State archaeologist Nick Fielder estimates that there are 20,000 family cemeteries in Tennessee, but there’s no way to know for sure. There’s no central inventory, and most documentation is done by historians and volunteers who scour records and trudge through meadows in search of graves.     

Fielder says about 100 family cemeteries fall in the path of development in Tennessee each year, about two times as many as a decade ago. Under state law, he said, there’s nothing sacred about sites. Relatives of the deceased have no legal leverage over family plots they don’t own, and landowners who can pay to move a cemetery need only a judge’s approval.”     

Thankfully, the lucky ones are removed to a new location while others, like Comet Lodge Cemetery in Seattle, get stuck in a very odd kind of limbo. Interestingly enough, this particular area is now home to many Asians who would consider it very unlucky to live near a cemetery.     

So what happens if you buy that gorgeous fixer-upper and (gulp) find out there are a few more residents on the place than originally thought?     

Family cemetery, upstate New York

 

Well, the first thing to understand is that most states do not consider the abandoned family cemetery on your property to be yours, regardless of whether you hold the title. You cannot just simply up and move the bodies on your own. However, since rules governing this process vary around the country, it’s best to review cemetery laws at the state level. For example, here is commentary on Florida’s regulations, a link to New York State’s cemetery law manual, the friendly, Q&A styled version for Virginia, and an artistically presented handbook from South Carolina.     

Barring that, there’s always the option of simply leaving the new neighbors alone. After all, it’s not very likely they’ll be throwing loud parties anytime soon.

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The high altitude cemetery at Aconcagua

Flickr photo by photonooner

 

Aconcagua reaches upward to 22,841 feet and is located in the Mendoza Province of Argentina. It is the highest mountain in the Americas and the highest mountain outside of Asia. While Aconcagua is one of the magnificent Seven Summits, no technical hiking skills are required to hike it. Instead, a very high level of physical fitness, stamina, and perhaps the ability to control one’s temper when navigating the endless slag fields is recommended. In 2009, it was estimated that over 8,000 permits were issued to hikers looking to add this peak to their ascent bag. 

Flickr photo by Russ Osborne

 

Not everyone is successful. 

Last year, the BBC interviewed the chief park-keeper, Daniel Cucciara who commented: “Most visitors to the park are from the United States or Europe. Forty percent of the tourists who come here do no preparation at all. If you come to Aconcagua you need to have a mountain culture, you need to have climbed other mountains…you need to have trained for two or three years in gymnasiums, done a lot of running, and even then this doesn’t mean you are going to make the summit. You never know how your body will respond to such high altitudes.” 

That’s potentially 3,200 people who, for whatever reason, decide to risk altitude sickness, navigating with crampons in the dreaded White Wind of Aconcagua,or worse, pulmonary embolism, without first undergoing this strict training regimen. In 2009, 280 people were evacuated from the mountain. Some of those who didn’t make it are remembered with boots and gloves in a small cemetery not too far from the mountain’s brooding gaze. 

More resources: 

More cemetery photos via Flickr

Still want to climb Aconcagua? Visit SummitPost.org 

Note: while this video offers stunning views, the music is a bit dramatic. 

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Scaring up more cemetery repair funds

Flickr photo by borman818

 

This past August, BTG posted an article on how cemeteries could raise extra maintenance and repair funds. Some of these ideas included growing special heritage roses, art exhibitions, and Living History Performances. Today, we stumbled across two more interesting ideas we’d like to share: 

Idea #1: In Cumberland, Rhode Island, local middle school athletes are competing in a pledge drive to raise money for the Elder Ballou Historic Cemetery that will go toward cleaning up the site. And what do the kids get for doing all the work? Well, they get to wander through the cemetery the day before Halloween, listening to scary, and maybe not-so scary, forgotten stories from a local park ranger. 

Idea #2: Capitalizing both on the idea of cemetery tourism and the American love of road trips, Hillsdale.net reports on the nation’s first historic cemetery tour that covers the entire state of Indiana and ties in with several local autumn festivals.  Talk about good planning! 

“Over 50 miles will be covered along the trail that utilizes historic Route 6 (The Grand Army of the Republic Highway) as the connector for the two counties and will eventually makes its way toward Chicago in the future. Proceeds raised from the Trail will in part go to the historic cemetery conservation in DeKalb and Noble Counties. A host of other activities will be taking place during the month such as the Apple Festival, Pumpkin Fantasyland and the known Owl-o-ween throughout Noble County. Foil impression art workshops of historic monuments will also take place, along with other speakers on historic cemetery topics throughout the month.”

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Cemetery geocaching: Has treasure hunting gone too far?

Flickr photo by Bob-n-Renee

 

Geocaching has rapidly become the modern day version of treasure hunting. At this time, it’s estimated that over 1.1 million enthusiasts using a variety of GPS tracking devices are currently searching for treasure boxes located in over 100 countries.   

Caching is a popular outdoor activity ranging from the tamer family outing on local trails to the higher risk rock climbing or even scuba diving expedition. It’s all in the name of locating a hidden container filled with various small items like toys, buttons, and Travel Bugs (items that move from cache to cache).   

While most caches are located around trails and parks, a controversy has arisen over geocaching in cemeteries, prompting one county in Texas and some states (Tennessee and South Carolina) to ban them altogether. This has generated a wide response from geocachers eager to defend their activity while other enthusiasts admit that perhaps there should be a more subtle approach to cemetery caches.   

According to one forum responder:   

“Caches in cemeteries have been tricky things. Most folks are respectful and all that but, (there is always a but) others are not. There was a cache in Tennessee that required the cacher to move the burial stone somehow to retrieve the cache. This was a couple years ago. Poor taste, lots of upset people etc. In (I think Ohio) cachers were running a bit of a competition with caches in cemeteries. Very poorly done.”   

Does this mean cemetery geocaching should be banned entirely? Well, it depends.   

If it means hiding Tupperware containers (or surplus ammo boxes) in, around, under, or above a headstone and if finding said box requires any sort of digging or shifting or patting of the stone in order to find it, then yes, it should be banned. Family members (or conservationists) should be the only ones puttering around the site in this manner.   

If you really must have an actual cache, place it outside the cemetery boundaries. It’s simply a matter of discretion and respect.   

However, caches should not be banned if they are location-less:   

(A description is given for something to find, such as a one-room schoolhouse, and the finder locates an example of this object. The finder records the location using their GPS hand-held receiver and often takes a picture at the location showing the named object and his or her GPS receiver).   

…Or virtual sites:   

(Caches of this nature are coordinates for a location that does not contain the traditional box, log book, or trade items. Instead, the location contains some other described object. Validation for finding a virtual cache generally requires you to email the cache hider with information such as a date or a name on a plaque, or to post a picture of yourself at the site with GPS receiver in hand).   

Old cemeteries and ghost towns have enough problems with vandals as it is and if there is a way to generate interest in local history then by all means, let’s keep it. In fact, BTG posted an article last week about one teacher doing just that.   

Cemetery geocaches are most likely here to stay and the only way to slow them down, or perhaps stop them altogether, would be to remove the GPS coordinates from online sites like FindAGrave.com, a valuable tool to both genealogists and cachers alike. Since this is highly unlikely, perhaps the best approach to cemetery caching is to simply apply some respect and a whole lot of common sense.   

Other resources:   

Geocachers Defend Their High Tech Hobby   

http://www.geocaching.com/

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Fishing for younger genealogists

Flickr photo by kretyn

 

How can genealogy attract more Millennials and Gen X and Yers?  

Is it even possible?  

Yes, but properly snaring them seems to require the right fishing technique. Depending on who you ask, the traditionalist says it’s all in the lure while another claims it’s the casting technique that really matters. Then there are the shoulder-shrugging types who say, “A day off, my lucky hat, and a cooler full of beer—who cares whether I catch any fish?”  

In the past few weeks, more than a few articles have wondered whether the genealogy field might be labeled the laissez-faire fisherman type than the industrious lure and casting trawler.  

High Definition Genealogy goes straight for the jugular by stating several reasons just why people younger than 45 might think this field yanks the welcome carpet out from under their feet. A recent post on Roots and Rambles goes further, observing that conference dates and times often conflict with school and work day commitments while the cost of the conference itself can be prohibitive for families on a budget. One younger enthusiast commented that at a conference, ‘The woman behind me said “Aren’t you too young to be doing genealogy?”  

Welcome, indeed.  

Thankfully, technology is helping to tear all of this down. Between Roots Television, genealogy Twitter lists, genealogy blogs, and countless articles now popping up online, the perceived age gap is finally narrowing.  

However, we believe the best Catch-And-Don’t-Release award goes to John Harris.  

Mr. Harris, a teacher in Somerset, Pennsylvania, came up with an innovative way to snare Millennials through their own tools. His “Hunting History: Discovering Your Hometown” high school class has students using GPS devices to track down old churches and specific cemetery headstone markers from coordinates given out in class.  

Harris says: “When you can offer something that kids can get their hands on – in their backyard – when they go through town, they see historical sites. When you can turn them on to that, word gets out that that’s pretty fun. They discover the history all on their own.”  

He’s on to something because not only did he win a $5,000 award from the History Channel but more importantly, this elective, twice a year class maxing out 30 students per semester, is always full. That’s sixty new history and genealogy enthusiasts caught each year.  

Now that’s a winning fishing technique that gets ‘em while their young.

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Back to normal in New Orleans?

New Orleans puts on a show

 

Almost two years ago, we posted an article about the state of repairs to NOLA cemeteries post-Katrina. Some cemeteries, like Metairie, seemed to weather the storm just fine while other cemeteries in the outlying poorer areas weren’t so lucky.     

Five years after Katrina, news crews have returned to document the city’s slow but inevitable rise back to its feet. While the focus is rightfully on human survival and individual initiative over government red tape (also known as SBA disaster recovery loans) there are also cemetery volunteer efforts that shouldn’t be forgotten—specifically from Save Our Cemeteries.     

Save Our Cemeteries (SOC) is a New Orleans based organization dedicated to preserving and restoring these Louisiana historic sites. After Katrina hit, they posted a website updating the public on which cemeteries were being cleared and which sites still needed help. At this time, they continue to offer tours, lectures, and volunteer cleanup programs. Some of their previous efforts included cleaning up this long-neglected potters field.     

SOC’s fundraisers are also popular. How about the annual 5K Run Through History? There are few chances to race through a cemetery for a good cause and this is one of them. Those seeking something less sweaty can indulge in the All Saints Soiree—A Masked Ball and Silent Auction. All proceeds will go toward historic cemetery restoration efforts.     

So, does this mean that in the past five years things are finally returning to normal in this city? Well, maybe not completely, but each passing day seems to bring yet one more positive confirmation that NOLA is alive and well.     

Just as it was before Katrina, certain cemeteries were deemed off-limits because of crime. This has not changed. Recently, one bemused graveyard rabbit posted a reminder on his blog that tourists should not randomly wander in St. Louis 2 unless they want to part with their wallets and cameras.     

Corruption, beginning at $350 a pop, also seems to be roaring back in true Mardi Gras style. Last weekend The Times-Picayune reported that city employee Alma Gardner is accused of:     

Mishandling payments and improperly hiring at least one man, purporting to be her grandson, to dig graves in three publicly owned burial grounds. According to a the city’s municipal code, city employees cannot be involved in contracting or brokering gravedigging services, as [she] is accused of doing. The new testimonies suggest that Gardner, who has served as Interim superintendent of cemeteries since shortly after Hurricane Katrina, may have been a habitual offender.”     

Laissez les bon temps roulez  (again).

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Snapshots: William and Catherine Booth

William and Catherine Booth: Salvation Army Founders

 

Known for its thrift stores and Christmas time bell ringers, The Salvation Army is now located in over 120 countries and remains a symbol of help to those in need—specifically, displaced Pakistani families and closer to home, those still suffering from the after-effects of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina

Established almost 150 years ago by William and Catherine Booth, the organization originally focused on three “S” words; soup, soap, and salvation—things very much needed in London’s East End where it was based. Mid-to late 19th century London was the time for industrial expansion, growth, and development. To say that life was brutal would be an understatement for those unfortunate enough to fall between the economic cracks while living in the time of Jack the Ripper

The Booth’s emphasis on social help in one of the poorest areas of London eventually turned into the foundation of In Darkest England and The Way Out, a book comparing London unfavorably to other developing nations at the time. 

It’s doubtful the founders could have ever imagined just how far their small ministry would eventually reach. Service statistics for fiscal years 2007/2008, the years prior to the current Great Recession, show the Salvation Army helping over 29 million people, serving over 69 million hot meals, distributing over 21 million items of clothing, furniture, and gifts, and offering lodgings to over 10 million people. 

It will be interesting to see the numbers for fiscal years 2009/2010. 

William and Catherine Booth are buried in one of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries, Abney Park, located at Stoke Newington High Street.

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Anne Frank’s marker at Bergen Belsen

Camp marker. Photo courtesy of Sabine Ludwig

 

A little while back, I received some interesting photos from a world-traveling photographer friend of mine, Sabine Ludwig, who decided to stay local for one of her more recent trips. I’m glad she did.  

The Bergen Belsen death camp is located in northwestern Germany and between 1943 and 1945, countless numbers of people died there from shooting, hunger, and disease. Bergen Belsen also holds the distinction of being the first camp entered, liberated, and documented by the Western allied forces.  

Photo courtesy of Sabine Ludwig

 

Probably the most famous inmate (although she certainly never anticipated this celebrity) was Anne Frank who hid with her family in a secret annex of rooms in her father’s office building in Amsterdam. The entrance to their living quarters was guarded by a bookcase.  

Betrayed by an unidentified informer to the local police, Anne and her family were arrested, split into male/female contingents and sent to separate concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were first at Auschwitz and eventually, transferred to Bergen Belsen.  

A few weeks before the camp was liberated in 1945, a typhus epidemic swept the camp.  

Anne did not survive.  

Her father, Otto Frank, did survive and attempted with mixed success, to publish Anne’s diary. It was only in the mid to late 1950s, after a Broadway play and a movie, did the book finally take off.  

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Scaring up cemetery funds part deux

Just as little something to consider when planning a Living Performance venue.

We received an email yesterday from the people organizing the Living Performance fundraiser at Saar Pioneer Cemetery (mentioned in Scaring up Cemetery Funds).  After four performances (two on a Saturday and two on a Sunday), enough money was raised to pay for both cemetery maintenance AND a book on the cemetery itself.  

So be careful. You may end up making more money than initially planned.

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Scaring up cemetery repair funds

Mary Anderson: Salvation Army Member

This past April, the Veterans Administration announced that it will, “use up to $4.4 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program to repair and preserve historic monuments and memorials at VA-operated national cemeteries…” This is good news for our national cemeteries what about for everyone else? All too often, local cemeteries are forced to think more creatively in order to find sustainable sources of maintenance funds.

However, some of these ideas can be quite intriguing.

In 2009, Atlanta artist Cooper Sanchez held a one-day (or rather, one night) art show at the historic Oakland cemetery. This is just one of several lectures, shows, and walking tours frequently offered to help drum up community support. Not wanting to be left behind, Seattle’s Evergreen Washelli accepted submissions this past spring for up to six solo art shows to be held in its Columbarium. 

Some cemeteries simply combine volunteer green thumb talents with a love for local history. The next time you’re in your local library, check out the Fall, 2009 issue of Country Gardens. On page 30, Cemetery Survivors details how Jane Baber White rejuvenated the 26-acre Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. Once a forgotten site filled with overgrown shrubs and weeds, the cemetery is now filled with an amazing variety of heritage roses (approximately 60 types) ranging from the old-fashioned, 19th century to the 1950s favorites.

Living History performance at Saar Pioneer Cemetery

Another popular way to raise both funds and community interest is with Living History performances. Last weekend at the Saar Pioneer Cemetery in Kent, Washington, the Book-It Theatre and Living Voices highlighted the lives of several fascinating pioneers buried there.

Of course, another option is to find grant funding. Seattle cemetery volunteers and historical societies are fortunate to have potential funding from organizations like Humanities Washington and 4Culture. Not located in Washington? No worries. Check out possible grants at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Sometimes, there really are piles of cold, hard cash lying around for someone to pick up. How about tapping into those unclaimed bank or trust accounts? We commented about this on our Facebook fan page a while back but it’s worthwhile mentioning again. Seems like an Allentown, PA cemetery received almost $28,000 from old trust accounts. That’s a tidy little sum. What kinds of old accounts is your state hanging onto?

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What was once a tremendous carving…

   

The San Francisco National Cemetery is located in the northern end of The Presidio and holds a large number of interesting headstones scattered in between the usual military-issue markers. Earlier this year, BTG profiled an immense Book of Life located near one of the roadways and almost impossible to miss.   

Dr. Clarence A. Treuholtz: 1876 - 1913

 

One marker that’s not quite so prominent but offers a poignancy all its own, is the half-destroyed memorial to 37-year old Dr. Clarence A. Treuholtz, a captain in the Army Medical Corp, who served at various Army posts in Alaska, New Mexico, and Arizona – specifically, Fort Apache, a post that later became the home of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1923.   

There are two particularly sad items of note about this headstone. The first is that while Dr. Treuholtz is buried here, his wife Elizabeth, is not. The second sad note is the blatant vandalism marking the spot.   

   

Once upon a time, this must have been a magnificent carving of an eagle perched on a rocky outcrop. Now, only a broken set of clawed stumps remain.   

 

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It’s a long road to Cooperstown

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Maria Frances Cooper: b. 1819 - d. 1898 (daughter of James Fenimore Cooper)

 

Every summer, a small village in upstate New York swells to several times its size as thousands of visitors descend upon it, eager to pay respects to their baseball heroes. Located approximately an hour half from the state capitol in Albany or five + driving hours from New York City, most agree that for baseball players and visitors alike, it’s a long road to Cooperstown.       

It’s an even longer road in winter but the payoff comes in having the town practically to one’s self. The Hall of Fame, shops, and readily available parking are all there for the leisurely traveler willing to put up with the occasional icy sidewalks and snow drifts.       

For the more scholarly-inclined, winter is a great time to visit the Cooper family plot at Christ Church where literary genius and Victorian churchyard cemetery gazing can be had with few interruptions.       

Cooper family plot - southern side

 

At this time of year, the Christ Church grounds are well insulated with snow, except for the path from the old-fashioned vicarage through the Cooper family plot and to the church itself.       Continue reading

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And we’re back…

It’s great to be back!

What with all the little things going on in the past few weeks, it was really nice to concentrate on getting them all done and out of the way. Now it’s time to resume some regular posting but we won’t get too staid just yet. Since most of us are still enjoying a long weekend, let’s keep the celebratory spirit going with some fun cemetery articles from around the world.

1. Whimsical, patriotic, serious…here is a terrific post, A Lovely Day for a Trip to the Graveyard, by Dina Fainberg who writes (and photographs) the fabulous carvings found in Russian cemeteries. Sights like these are what inspired me to begin writing this blog because I felt like I was visiting an open-air sculpture park and not a graveyard.

2. A timely followup to the previous post, Redefining the Cemetery Concept, discusses how cemeteries can still remain relevent in today’s society (photography, symbolism discovery, art festivals, even weddings) and points out several unique sites for future visits.

3. If all this cemetery talk is stirring up the ambition to find out more of your family history, check out, Take a Trip to Trace Your Roots. Detailing some of the more well-known sites from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to the Allen County Library of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the article is a help to those of us who could use a little more direction in our genealogical searches.

4. One caveat to keep in mind is that many online genealogical searches are not cheap and many can snare first-time seekers into paying more than they had originally anticipated. One solution for those living in larger metropolitan areas is to check out their local libraries. Quite often, full-time genealogists are on hand to help out and if they’re not, the libraries will have readily available and free databases.

5. And speaking of searching, Josh Perry still believes in good old-fashioned, gumshoe work. Combining an interest in cemeteries with organized crime, he hunts down gravesites of notorious Chicago gangsters. Check out his Grave Hunting Primer to see how he does it and what he recommends.

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Stones & Bones Stories pdf

For those readers who thought it might be neat to check out the Stones & Bones slide show, I’ve finally created a pdf for you.

It can be found here: Stones and Bones Slide Show.

If you’re interested in hearing the Seattle Public Library presentation mp3 podcast, here it is: 

http://www.spl.org/Audio/stones_and_bones2009.mp3

Enjoy!

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So, you think you can cook…

Clarence Metz: Army cook

 

I admit it. I’m a Top Chef fan.   

Not that I can whip up such amazing creations myself, but I really enjoy seeing how these talented chefs pull off the seemingly impossible in such a limited amount of time. And under some really difficult environments.   

But did you ever see those episodes where the contestants are told they must cook a gourmet meal for 300 people? And even though the serving portion usually ends up being some spoon-sized, artistic dollop on a tiny plate, the contestants usually all have the same freaked-out expression on their faces.   

One meal for 300 people?   

Oh. My. God.   

(Cue the laughter from all those current and ex-military cooks)   

Let’s look at this challenge from a military perspective.   Continue reading

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Military Veterinarians: Then and now

Rudolph Celinas: World War I horseshoer

 

World War I irrevocably changed the view of warfare in a number of ways. The trench bogs, the introduction of tanks, weapons of mass destruction (mustard gas) and the last-gasp reliance on horses for either hauling artillery or cavalry officers through the endless mud and muck.  

Animals were integral to the war effort. According to the RootsWebAncestry.com website, the US Army had six classes of animals to fulfill military hauling requirements. These were:  

• For the cavalry: Active horses from 950 to 1,200 pounds  

• For hauling light artillery: Strong active horses from 1,150 to 1,300 pounds  

• For hauling siege batteries: Powerful horses from 1,400 to 1,700 pounds  

• For hauling wheelers above 1,150 pounds or leaders above 1,000 pounds: pack and draft mules  Continue reading

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Where there’s a war, there’s a nurse

Blanche Hackett: WWI Army Nurse Corps

 

The Army Nurse Corps.    

In the U.S., the need for nurses was recognized as early as 1775 when General Washington requested that the fledging U.S. government send nurses and matrons to care for injured Revolutionary War soldiers. Thankfully, such assistance wasn’t limited to behind-the-lines facilities. For example, take volunteer Molly Pitcher who carried water under fire to help keep her husband’s artillery gunners hydrated.    

By the time the Civil War erupted, nursing support had become more official.    

According to the Army Nurse Corps website, “Approximately 6,000 women performed nursing duties for the federal forces…often performing their humanitarian service close to the fighting front or on the battlefields themselves.” One of the most famous personalities from this time, was Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.    

The Spanish American War in 1898 proved to be one of the deadlier arenas due to typhoid and yellow fever contagions. While less than 400 American soldiers were killed in combat during this war, more than 2,000 contracted yellow fever during the campaign.    

Among the nurses, fifteen died from typhoid, one died from yellow fever.    Continue reading

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Remembering our veterans…

…and the history they’ve made. 

Private Koester: Born 1833 - Died 1918

 

May is a great month for remembering our veterans and our sometimes forgotten history. Over the next few weeks, Beyond The Ghosts… will be posting a variety of interesting memorial headstone snapshots and stories from the photo archives. In the meantime, here are four links to some previous military postings to get us started. 

And lest we forget…To those who have served, or who are currently serving, thank you! 

World War 1 Tank Corps 

Marching with General Sherman down through Atlanta 

The Siberian Front – World War I 

Before the Air Force, the Army had things well in hand…

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Auburn Pioneer Cemetery: A tiny cemetery with many stories

Auburn Pioneer entry way

 

“One of these days, I’m going to check that place out.”     

Everyone has an Auburn Pioneer Cemetery in their life. It’s that one place we see every day that piques our interest as we drive to and from work. Sometimes the traffic or red light gives us a chance to look more closely as we pass by. We take a moment to admire the archway’s elegant carving and idly survey the rows of moss-covered stones. Then we wonder how a cemetery ever got sandwiched between a boat seller and a major thoroughfare.     

The boat seller's shop

 

But then traffic speeds up or the light turns green and suddenly, the day’s demands crowd everything else out. Work, grocery runs, children, or upcoming project presentations block out everything but the daily necessities. The idea of visiting a non-descript cemetery disappears until the next time we’re held up and need to kill two minutes worth of time before moving on.     

And once again, the intriguing entry way beckons.     

The demarcation line     

For those who do manage to finally get to Auburn Pioneer, a number of intriguing perspectives compete for the visitor’s attention almost immediately upon entering the site. Continue reading

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Lakeview Cemetery Part II: Elegant memorials to an eccentric past

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Part II: The travels of Nora Johns Hill

        

In The Pioneers of Lakeview, Robert Ferguson details one such cemetery relocation story, proving that just because you’re dead and buried, doesn’t mean you won’t be moving.           

A Tree of Life carving

 

 Nora Johns Hill may have been the first recorded death of a white American in Seattle, but her real notoriety began only after she passed away. For 31 years after her death, her body meandered from one cemetery site to another, until finally finding peace in Lakeview Cemetery.            

A Woodworker's memorial

 

Nora was first laid to rest in 1855 on the east side of Maynard’s Point next to a tidal lagoon and now, present-day Occidental Avenue, South. Then a real estate boom happened and Nora’s grave was removed to The White Church on the corner of Second Ave and Columbia.           

Up until that time, Nora had managed 10 years worth of peace and quiet.           

Woodmen of the World

 

  Continue reading

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Lakeview Cemetery Part I: Elegant memorials to an eccentric past

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The treats     

The Denny family plot

 

Scattered throughout the immaculate grounds of Lakeview Cemetery, classic Victorian sculptures pay homage to Seattle’s pioneer fortitude and frontier savvy. Most of Seattle’s founding families (Denny, Renton, Mercer, Boren, Yesler, and others) are buried in the western hill section, offering a ‘one-stop shopping’ approach for local history buffs.          

Capt. William Renton

 

The stylish memorials act as a seemingly prim contradiction to neighboring Capitol Hill’s stated irreverence.          

Austin Bell's mausoleum

 

The tricks     

However, the founding families’ elegance smoothly glosses over the scruffy reality of a frontier town’s robust approach to living. With few niceties available to soften the harsher edges, unconventional allowances were sometimes made in Seattle that might not have been tolerated in other, more established cities.         Continue reading

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April 15: The Titanic’s night to remember

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The bow of the Titanic

 

Almost 100 years ago and in the early hours of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank into the history books. Out of approximately 2,227 passengers plus crew, approximately 700 people survived. After the disaster, some 320 bodies were recovered for burial at Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, including a J. Dawson, the unanticipated hero of James Cameron’s movie, Titanic. The remaining 1,500 became an unwitting part of one of the most fascinating cemetery memorials of all time.    

The story is well known.    

A glorious passenger ship surpassing the scale of all those previously built. The RMS Titanic was a floating palace that included swimming pools, squash courts, elevators and steam baths. The First Class lounge was in the Louis XV style while the Smoking Room had mahogany paneling highlighted with mother-of-pearl. A verandah, complete with flower-packed trellises, allowed for post-prandial relaxation while the formal Reception Area anticipated the evening’s fine dining. However, the type of food served certainly differed according to class.    

Life was very good. At least until the iceberg showed up.    

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Crown Hill Cemetery, Part II

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Disease, fire, and unsolved mysteries…          

 (this is a continuation from Crown Hill Cemetery Part I)         

The infant & children's section

 

Crown Hill denotes more than a risky sawmill legacy.         

The community’s early years were also difficult times for infants and children. The cemetery has at least two sections filled with closely placed rows of markers that poignantly testify to childhood disease and infections during those pre-vaccination times. Typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and even the 1918 influenza epidemic. All of these left their mark.            

Another view of the children's section

 

 Fire also left its mark.            

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The Titanic’s real J. Dawson

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J. Dawson, Titanic victim

 

1997 marked the debut of Titanic, James Cameron’s $200 million dollar movie that profiled an early 20th century Romeo and Juliet attraction between an itinerant Jack Dawson (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and high society girl, Rose DeWitt Bukater (played by Kate Winslet). It’s a fictionalized story set within an almost century-old tragedy. 

Or so it seems. Did you know that there was an actual J. Dawson as a registered crew member on the doomed R.M.S. Titanic? 

Who was this man? Was his story the impetus for Cameron’s blockbuster movie? Or is his life a simple footnote within the Titanic drama? 

Unfortunately, J. Dawson didn’t survive the icy Arctic waters on that April night. His body was recovered from the sea one month after the tragedy and buried in a Nova Scotia cemetery. He now rests under the occasional layer of flowers, photographs and movie ticket stubs. 

Senan Molony, a journalist and dedicated Titanic researcher, discovered that Joseph Dawson was the son of a failed Irish Catholic priest and worked on the ship as a trimmer. A trimmer is basically a stokehold slave designated to channel coal to the firemen at the furnaces. He was responsible for keeping the black mountains on a level plateau at all times so that no imbalances caused a threat to the trim, or even-keel, of the ship. Yet Joseph’s life leading up to that fateful night followed a series of ironic ups and down that are movie worthy in their own right. 

Read the whole story here.

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Crown Hill Cemetery: Part I

A sawmill heritage    

Crown Hill Cemetery, Seattle WA

 

It takes a little bit of effort to find Crown Hill Cemetery near Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Surrounded by hedgerows and with a sign half-swallowed by rhododendrons, the low profile is so effective, some local residents don’t even realize it’s there. And that’s how the old Scandinavians probably would have liked it.       

Acknowledged heritage

 

Ballard was a mill town in Seattle. It was made up of sawmills and ship chandleries and machine shops and fishing docks and dry docks. It was a place of working men, hardworking people, union men with big calloused hands, some of whom died young because they worked too hard. Ballard was not pretty…just a district of honest immigrant Swedes, Norwegians and Finns who sought to make their lives better, who sought dignity and decency without flair or fanfare.” *       

Overview

 

Pine, cedar, and fir trees are scattered throughout the site, offering both shade and a reminder of the area’s logging roots. Another surprising aspect is the amount of seemingly open, park-like space in the oldest sections. The unexpected, in-ground headstones can claim this credit. Discreetly receding into the lined distance, the markers are simply inscribed with such old-fashioned names like Hedwig, Torbjorg, Inga, and Lars.       

Hedwig Wicks: 1872-1943

 

   Continue reading

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Any volunteers?

Flickr photo: superhua

 

This week, some readers asked about specific cemetery volunteer work needs. After shooting out a few emails, I found some sites that would love extra help in surveying, research, maintenance, or even conservation skills. And while only a few sites have responded at this time, I do anticipate others coming forward. Once that happens, I’ll update this post. 

Saar Pioneer Cemetery, Kent, WA: Karen Bouton did a magnificent job in cleaning both the grounds and the stones on this site, but it’s tough handling this all by herself. If you are interested in helping, please send an email to: skcgswebmaster@yahoo.com

Fall City Cemetery, Fall City, WA: Ruth Pickering, President of the Fall City Historical Society, is looking for volunteers skilled in site surveys or historical research. There might even be some conservation needs. Her eventual goal is to plan a cemetery tour highlighting the interesting life stories of the early Fall City pioneers. Contact email: fallcityhistorical@juno.com 

Tolt Historical Cemetery, Carnation, WA: Isabel Jones, President and Director of the Tolt Historical Society, is looking for a few good volunteers that might be able to help with restoring/maintaining several of the broken and worn stones at the site. A previous post shows the need in more detail. Contact email: isabelj2@juno.com

Newcastle Coal Miners’ Cemetery, Newcastly, WA: Pam Lee, President of the Newcastle Historical Society, welcomes potential volunteer help – especially from those with grant writing, webmaster, record organizing skills! If interested, drop in to say hello at one of the Newcastle Historical Society monthly meetings. When?  The first Thursday of every month from 4.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. Where? The Newcastle City Hall Community Room. Note: April’s meeting will be Thursday, April 8

Washington State Paranormal Investigations & Research isn’t just about the extraordinary. They also take cemetery restoration seriously with their ‘adoption’ of a tiny, overgrown site called Hillgrove Cemetery. Located near Sea-Tac airport, this privately-owned cemetery is the final resting place of many Highline pioneer families. More than 350 people are buried at Hillgrove. Veterans interred there are from the Civil War (both North and South), the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and Korea. Enthusiastic volunteers willing to prune, weed, rake, and more.  Interested? Contact Patricia at Patricia@wspir.com to sign up for cleanup date announcements.

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4,000 year old cemetery in Northern China

Small River Cemetery #5

 

This morning, The New York Times reported that archeologists have re-discovered a unique cemetery, called Small River Cemetery #5,  located on the eastern edges of the fierce Taklimakan desert. The cemetery is unique for several reasons: 1. the desolate location; 2. distinct European features, plus DNA markers, of the preserved mummies; and 3. the apparent civilization’s focus on procreation for survival’s sake in a harsh land. 

Read the full story here.

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Snapshots: Sculpture in Barcelona’s Cementiri de l’Est

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Established in 1773, this cemetery was originally placed outside the eastern city limits for hygiene reasons. Generations of interesting statues fill the various nooks and crannies here. 

At rest...

 

While many of the carvings (and mausoleums) are now vandalized and broken, a few statues remain intact. This is one of them. 

Closeup

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Woodinville Mead: A ‘proper’ cemetery with a touch of mystery

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Entrance to Woodinville Memorial Mead

 

“First used for burials in the late 1870s, it was officially deeded to the citizens of Woodinville on April 4, 1898 by Ira and Susan Woodin.” 

While some historical cemeteries might have a tumultuous history, many are still fortunate to play a quiet, yet well-loved part in their local communities. Woodinville Mead is one such place (or so it might seem). Loggers were the first to call this spot home but it was the farmers who helped turn a meandering bog into today’s award-winning wineries and microbreweries

At one time, this area of King County (approximately 20 miles northeast of Seattle) was so heavily forested that tree stumps were used as shelters and even temporary housing. Sawmills sprouted at various sites throughout what was to become Washington Territory so that by 1889, the year of statehood, 310 mills from the Columbia to the Canadian line, were cutting 1.06 million board feet of lumber. * 

However, loggers had little use for the cleared land and as they moved deeper into the vast forests, farmers discovered the rich soil, spreading the news to family and friends seeking a respite from the urban rush of late 19th century Seattle. Soon, farmers quickly outstripped the number of remaining loggers. 

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Snapshots: The Presidio’s book of life

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Situated in the middle of the San Francisco National Cemetery is a magnificent example of a Book of Life. According to Douglas Keister’s, Stories in Stone, “An open book is a favorite device for registering the names of the deceased, in its purest form, an open book can be compared to the human heart, its thoughts and feelings open to the world and to God.”

This one is so realistically carved that it’s almost possible to imagine turning the pages.

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Comet Lodge Cemetery: Limbo Part II

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Part II: From 1938 to present day  

Woodmen of the World memorial

In 1938, Odd Fellow members still owning cemetery land parcels fell behind in property tax payments. The county foreclosed and became, whether through design or accident, the new owner of Comet Lodge Cemetery. For the next fifteen years, questions over what was purchased, restoration permissions, and street widening ordinances, drifted back and forth between the city treasurer, council, and local improvement societies.  

Eventually, official non-action moved the questions to the back burner and the county seemingly forgot that it ever owned a cemetery. Comet Lodge Cemetery became both a home for transients and a byword for ‘eyesore’ for several more decades.  

A circle of headstone bases

 

Almost 100 years after its official Odd Fellows designation, new attempts to build on cemetery grounds ignited a public fury. Preservation Seattle noted that in 1987, a local resident began clearing the site in what appeared to be a simple restoration effort. That illusion quickly vanished.  

“When he began bulldozing the property, and the graves of the 200 or so individuals buried there, the real plans became vividly clear [and] quirkier than anyone realized. What initially looked like restoration activity was really part of the man’s life-long dream to live on a cemetery. He intended to build his house there.”  

Another report offers more details.  

A group called Elysian Fields claiming ownership of Comet Lodge Cemetery, decided to build a “caretakers cottage” on the site and plant foodstuffs for the local community. By the time the Washington State Cemetery Board brought in an order to cease and desist, the majority of headstones had been bulldozed to the south end of the property.”  

Since that time, twenty restoration attempts for Comet Lodge have been made. All have failed. Even HistoryLink’s 2009 work only managed to relocate twelve headstones while the remaining markers are little more than broken bits and pieces. Out of the hundreds of missing headstones, only six remain in their original plots.  

A serene view

 

Today, King County and the Washington State Cemetery Association retain custodial responsibility of the site. Only a few aesthetically placed headstones remain to tell passers-by of its original purpose and Comet Lodge now seems more a park than a cemetery. However, for one resident living near the old Baby Land portion, the calm appearance will never deceive. The decades-old scandal, plus certain inexplicable activities within her house, have rendered the property un-saleable.  

Online sources:  

City and County records of Comet Lodge destruction  

These are matters of grave importance. PDF, pp, 4, 16  

No stone unturned: One man’s lonely battle to save the graveyard City Hall would rather forget  

Washington State law concerning abandoned cemeteries  

Interment.net: Cemetery records for Comet Lodge  

Newspapers:  

• Seattle Post Intelligencer: “A grave commentary on an old cemetery.” October 16, 1997.  

• Seattle Times: “New life for an old cemetery: Project organizers want to turn it into an horticultural park.” September 25, 1985.  

• Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Cemetery slated to make a resurrection: Comet Lodge site will be turned into a memorial park.” June 17, 1999.  

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Comet Lodge Cemetery: A century in limbo

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Part I: From the beginning to 1931 

An inscrutable reminder

 

Maybe it was the greed or a need to sweep political embarrassment under the proverbial rug. Perhaps it’s simply an old Indian curse on those foolish enough to disturb a sacred burial site. Whatever the reason, this cemetery has suffered a century’s worth of indignities including abandonment, foreclosure, bulldozing, and housing development. And what began as a five acre cemetery plot, now remains a mere 2.3 acre knoll languishing between a multitude of single family homes. 

It’s a story almost too strange to be true. 

Comet Lodge Cemetery was a Duwamish Indian burial site long before actual land ownership passed to the International Order of Odd Fellows in 1895. Offering fine hilltop views of south Seattle, it seemed a pleasant resting place for those early settlers such as Emma Rigby, one of area’s first female doctors. 

But peace reigned for only twelve years. 

An early German settler

 

In 1905, a booming population, plus a need for more residential housing tract land, caused the City of Seattle to move 700+ bodies from the county pauper’s cemetery to an undisclosed location in south Seattle. No transfer records seem to exist but it’s generally assumed the new burial location was the Odd Fellows Cemetery as the site became known as the Georgetown Potters’ Field. 

Over the next two decades, the Odd Fellows Council began selling off specific parcels to individual members who then re-sold the plots, regardless of whether they were occupied. One local enthusiast told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that his master’s thesis research had revealed the cemetery had even been split in half in 1908 to accommodate the building of eleven new homes. 

In 1927, land records show the City of Seattle purchasing portions of “Baby Land”, a section of the cemetery devoted specifically to young children and infants. No records of disinterment can be found but this portion was later zoned and developed for residential housing. 

The Odd Fellows Council finally dissolved in 1931, abandoning cemetery upkeep responsibilities to the families of those buried at the site. Initial attempts were made to keep the cemetery cleared but sheer size proved overwhelming. The cemetery fell into disrepair and headstones became trapped in a mass of blackberry bramble overgrowth. 

Coming up next. Part II: 1938 to present day

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Snapshots: Before the Air Force…

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…there was the Army Air Service.

James L. Claghorn

The United States Army Air Service was the forerunner of the Air Force and established in May, 1918 after the United States entered World War I.

The first U.S. aviation squadron to reach France was the 1st Aero Squadron, an observation unit, which arrived in France in September, 1917. After other squadrons were organized at home, they were also sent to France to continue training. It was February 18, 1918, before any U.S. squadron entered combat (the 103rd Aero Squadron, a pursuit unit flying with French forces and composed largely of former members of the Lafayette Escadrille).

Flyboys, a 2006 film, follows the enlistment, training and combat experiences of Americans who volunteered to become fighter pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille, the 124th air squadron formed by the French in 1916. The squadron consisted entirely of American volunteers who wanted to fly and fight in World War I during the main years of the conflict, 1914-1917, before the United States later joined the war.

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Snapshots: The Spanish Mason

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Check out all the relief carvings behind the statue (ladder, shovel, compass, level, etc.). If this isn’t an example of a Mason, then I don’t know what is.

Cementiri de l'Est, Barcelona

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Snapshots: WWI Siberian Front

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Private Wotruba at rest beneath Mount Si

 

The specifics of Private Wotruba’s military career are not known. However, there’s a very good chance he might have been one of those who played a fascinating  (and often overlooked) part in the World War I Eastern Front. 

The 62nd infantry served in Europe (reaching France as the armistice was signed). During the latter part of August, 1918, some five thousand men and nearly one hundred officers were transferred from the 8th Division to the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia (AEF).  

The AEF had two purposes: rescue 40,000 Czech Legion soldiers attempting to make it through Bolshevik lines to Vladivostok and to protect the military supplies originally sent to assist the now-toppled Czarist monarchy. Another part of the AEF was sent to protect the ports of Murmansk and Archangel in what’s known as the Polar Bear Expedition

Was Wotruba one of these soldiers? Perhaps, but without knowing his career details we can only guess. Two possible factors do lend credibility. Wotruba is either a Byelorussian or Bohemian name and he may even have spoken some Russian. If this was the case, he would have contributed authenticity to a high risk expedition wandering around the inhospitable Siberian steppes. Again, this is only speculation, but it’s interesting to wonder. 

History and movies do their best to portray the miserable existence of Western Front trench warfare but forget about the terrible Eastern Front where soldiers were forced to function in sub-zero temperatures. Below is some video footage on the Czech Legion fighters. 

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Barcelona’s Roman past

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At the height of its power, the Roman Empire ringed the Mediterranean, influencing any number of conquered peoples with its judicial, political and artistic achievements. Remnants of these influences, such as aqueducts, mosaics or protective walls, can still be seen throughout Europe and the U.K.

While the Romans may not have considered Barcelona, Spain, as important a site as say, Tarragon (a well-preserved portside city to the southeast), visitors can still see the interesting bits and pieces the empire left behind.

More specifically, are the tombs located in the city’s Barri Gotic section. Romans typically buried their dead in mausoleums or in a necropolis outside city walls, but as modern-day Barcelona expanded beyond its ancient boundaries, these relics of a distant past unexpectedly became an integral part of a contemporary neighborhood.

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Snapshots: The mailman

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Lakeview Cemetery

 

Martin W. Hubbard was the first postmaster of Hubbard from 1850 – 1887. 

Hubbard started his work career as a logger before becoming the postmaster. Local mail was distributed from his home and any mail heading to Seattle, was rowed across Lake Washington. Interestingly enough, research has shown that most loggers at that time never knew how to swim. 

In 1886, the town was renamed Juanita. 

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Illegible headstones? There’s an app for that

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Popular consensus seems to be that cell phones are far too prevalent in daily life. Tweeting, texting, music, surfing, games – the list is endless. Some might even say phones have become more toy than tool.

Aside from basic functions and some photo capabilities, it’s certainly not much help in old graveyards, right? Well, if John Bottorff has anything to do about it, cell phones might become a genealogist’s best friend.

Bottorff, the owner of Objecs, LLC, has developed three, cell-phone readable tablets suitable for both the new and old, illegible gravestones. Called the Personal Rosetta Stone, these tablets store selected personal data via RFID technology and are mounted on the gravestone. By touching the stone with an NFC-RFID enabled cell phone, genealogical information is then uploaded to the viewer screen. Continue reading

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Newcastle Coal Miners’ Cemetery, Part II

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Part II: Stories, Stones, and Symbols
 
Note: This article is the second half of Newcastle Coal Miner’s Cemetery.

William T. Scott, coal miner

 

Newcastle Cemetery headstones bluntly attest to the difficult mining life and temporary respite offered by various brotherhood communities. Thanks to the ring of trees protecting the site, most of the carvings have escaped the inevitable Pacific Northwest erosion. 

William T. Scott’s stone is one such survivor. 

“Death to me short warning give, Therefore, be carefull how you live. Prepare in time and do not delay, For I was quickly called away…” 

Scott’s membership in both the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) and the Knights of Pythias, is also clearly marked. The Odd Fellows are denoted by the three chain links signifying friendship, love, and truth… 

I.O.O.F. chainlink emblem

 

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Snapshots: Ada’s piano

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Lakeview Cemetery

Little is known about this marker raised…

“…In sweet memory of Ada, beloved wife of W. H. Plachy.

July 10, 1869 – July 22, 1895”

Ada was 26 years old when she died. Her husband was a civil engineer and the first water pipeline surveyor for the Seattle area.

Note: the piano shown is listed as a forte piano that retains some of the earlier harpischord sounds. This instrument was the forerunner of today’s piano.

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Newcastle Coal Miners’ Cemetery

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Part I: The Hidden History

Photo courtesy Bob Cerelli

The next time you fly into Seattle at night, look east beyond the twinkling street lamps and Interstate 405’s golden traffic ribbon. Smack in the middle of evening suburbia is a vast, ragged expanse of pitch black.

There are no lights here and if local legislators keep getting their way, there will never be lights.

This emptiness is a silent reminder that for 100 years – from 1863 to 1963 – over 11 million tons of coal were excavated from these hills, earning Newcastle, Washington the nickname, “The Pennsylvania of the Pacific Coast.”

It’s a practical matter, really.

A mere twenty years ago, “The Office of Surface Mining was still sealing off dangerous openings – a total of 166 mine subsidences. One opening  required fifty yards of concrete to create a plug over the top. Some sink holes were as large as 100 feet in diameter. At the other extreme, many holes were so obscured, an inclined tree might be the only clue to the hidden danger. Due to all these underground cavities, the county does not issue new building permits in the vicinity of the mines.*

Old coal tunnels, odorless swamp gas, and the occasional cave-in simply make it too dangerous, although up until the 2008 market crash, some real estate developers thought otherwise.

Today, the area is thickly crisscrossed with trees, vines, birdsong, and hiking trails wandering past the now, very securely sealed mine entrances…

Sealed mine entrance

…and the occasional swamp gas vent.

Swamp gas vent

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Snapshots: The soldier

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Fall City Cemetery

Pacific Northwest cemeteries have a wide variety of military markers for every conflict since the Civil War. Sometimes, the smaller cemeteries are those with the greatest number of veterans.

Take George Kelley, one of the integral founders of Fall City, WA.

According to Jack’s History of Fall City, George Kelley was part of Company 1, 64th regiment of the Illinois Volunteers. This regiment saw first-hand action at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the siege of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea, an infamous campaign that began with Sherman’s troops leaving Atlanta, Georgia on November 15 and ending with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21.

Kelley later participated in a military Grand Review in front of President Lincoln.

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Hands-on preservation

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Before

Knowing how to properly restore vandalized headstones is a primary concern for those caring for older cemeteries. However, finding the right instructor can be a challenge. This past summer, Todd Scott, Preservation Architect for the King County Historic Preservation Program, attended a hands-on conservation workshop taught by Jonathan Appell.

Recently, Beyond The Ghosts… caught up with Todd to find out more.

Question: Your title is Preservation Architect. What does a Preservation Architect do?

Answer:

I’m primarily involved with two Historic Preservation Program activities:

First, I work directly with property owners and/or contractors on various preservation projects involving King County landmarks. This can also include reviewing and recommending various preservation project proposal requests to the Landmarks Commission. 

Second, I provide technical assistance and education to historic property owners who want to know how best to maintain their sites. I’ll also handle questions from people wanting to preserve historic resources that aren’t necessarily a designated landmark.

Question: Tell us about cemetery preservation conference you attended in August?

Answer:

Sure. This past August, I attended a regional headstone conservation and repair workshop in Coos Bay, Oregon. It was co-hosted by Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery and the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries. Jonathan Appell was the speaker.

Cleaning

Question: What was it about? Continue reading

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Snapshots: The race car driver

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Crown Hill Cemetery

 

George L. Smyth was born 1899 in Nova Scotia. Smyth was an early race car driver from the 1920s to the early 1930s, handling a variety of cars that included a 1915 Stutz, a Begg and a McDowell 

On March 4, 1934 he participated in his last race, a fifteen mile race for AAA Pacific Coast Big Cars in California. 

The track became so overblown with dust, drivers had difficulty seeing the course. One car, slowed by engine problems, conked out in one of the turns. The raised dust was so effective in hiding the disabled car that by the time Swede drove into the turn, it was too late to swerve away from a collision. The impact caused Swede’s car to roll, causing fatal injuries to him and two others. 

Source: Motorsport Memorials 

Check out this car racing clip from the 1940s. How times have changed! 

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Stones & Bones stories: A long-lived life

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Fall City Snoqualmie Indian Cemetery

This is not a typo.

According to Jack’s History of Fall City, Grandma Moses, a Snoqualmie Indian elder, presents an intriguing surprise. A tribal councilwoman noted that: “We had many members who lived a long time. Although no one kept records, they marked their birthdays by notching a wooden stick.”

130 years.

Impossible, right?

Maybe not.

Unlike us, Grandma most likely spent her life in the fresh air, walking long distances and eating fresh food. She also drank the local water which has a high mineral content and is also known as “hard water”. Hard water typically contains calcium and magnesium, minerals all too lacking in today’s diet. With all these factors in her favor, who’s to say she couldn’t live to at least 130 years?

 

 

 

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Lending a helping hand

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Temporary repairs in Mount Si cemetery

Cemetery restoration projects typically fall on the shoulders of either a few volunteers or a local historical society. Access to public funds is challenging; securing reasonably priced preservation expertise, daunting. However, King County, Washington is looking to change this approach through a new program called, “Historic Graves and Cemeteries Preservation Initiative”.

The program is designed to:

• Raise awareness of the state of local cemeteries;

• Provide public information and outreach;

• Survey active, inactive, and abandoned cemeteries;

• Determine priorities for preservation and restoration.

Last year, Lauren McCroskey, Chair of the King County Landmarks Commission, formally introduced the Initiative. Here is an excerpt of her remarks. Continue reading

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Repairing the stones

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For those unable to attend any of the Stones & Bones presentations, a pdf link to the damage/repairs section of the talk is below. Anecdotal notes are in the tiny, comic-strip conversation balloons on the upper left hand corner of the slides. Move the mouse over the balloon to make them appear.

Stones & Bones pdf…Damage and repairs

 

And don’t forget to check back this coming weekend when the King County public works efforts for cemetery repair will be posted.

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Overcrowded cemeteries

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Highgate crowding

Highgate Cemetery

In London, gravesite sharing has become an uncomfortable-yet-necessary-to discuss option. The Guardian summed it up the best when it reported:

“So you think London, population 8 million, is crowded with the living? There are many millions more under the soil of a city that has been inhabited for 2,000 years. And London is rapidly running out of places to put them. Now the city’s largest cemetery is trying to persuade Londoners to share a grave with a stranger. “

Will it work?

Perhaps, but there are mixed feelings in addition to the illegality of grave re-use to overcome. However, re-use is legal if the grave is 75 years or older AND located in the City of London.

Read the full article here.

Some may just say this only bolsters the rationale for cremation but what if this is not an option?

In contrast to London, only one of the 71 cemeteries in Moscow remains open for burials. The Russian Orthodox Church does not allow for cremation, making the search for a plot space all the more challenging.

Lack of space has given rise to a funeral plot black market. Last month, the New York Times reported that:

“With the fall of the Soviet Union, the government deregulated and privatized much of the funeral business in Russia. This has led to an explosion of private funeral agencies. Funerary agents largely operate free of oversight, and can easily take advantage of grieving families desperately seeking a burial plot.

The number of agents, licensed and not, exceed the number of people who die daily in Moscow.

The agents are often in cahoots with the police and hospital staff members, who tip them off when someone dies — for a fee, of course. They have been known to show up at the deceased’s residence before the ambulance, pressing and cajoling grieving relatives.”

Read the full article here.

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