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One for the genealogists


Halloween is fun.

Between trick or treating, anticipating unique costumes (I once saw someone dressed as a flower pot), house decorations, long-suffering pets in cute getups and children double-whammied by excitement and sugar highs, what’s not to like?

And while I don’t write about ghosts or vampires, this year will be a little different as I’d like to quote a funny anecdote. It comes from one of the most helpful reference books on my shelf; Sharon DeBartolo Carmack’s, Your Guide to Cemetery Research.


Zombies In The Cemetery Continue reading

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Mount Pleasant memories


Writers and artists have somehow always known cemeteries are a place of inspiration. Seattle-based writer Stacy Carlson, author of Among The Wonderful, shares her particular credo about Mount Pleasant.


There’s a blue-green house shaped like a barn on West Bothwell Street that’s half a block from a T-intersection.

It’s a T because instead of another block of tidy houses, the Mount Pleasant Cemetery breaks the grid with its amoeba-shaped expanse. I don’t know exactly how big, or how old the cemetery is. I don’t know anybody buried there. But if it weren’t for Mount Pleasant, half a block from the house where I grew up, I never would have started writing fiction.

My friend Shannon and I roller-skated all over our neighborhood. We started out in the alley behind Shannon’s house. We didn’t try to learn how to skate backwards or do any fancy twirls. We went for speed.

Starting at one end of the alley, we simply raced each other to the other end and most of the time, Shannon won. But the pavement in that alley was a rough grade, and we dodged jagged potholes, giant cracks and more than once ripped up our knees, elbows, and faces. After a while we moved to a patch of smooth cement on a quiet street a couple of blocks from my house.

It was a short-lived victory: one night coming home from work my dad spotted us skittering out of the way of his car. We were banished from the streets. Continue reading

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Snapshots: World War I Tank Corps


Fascinating discoveries can be found on military headstones. While detailed research is warranted for an individual’s personal story, googling the regiment or a subject like tank history, often turns up some unique items.

George E. Stober

George E. Stober: Sgt 319th Company Tank Corps

The WWI trench warfare stalemates probably did more to develop the idea of tanks from drawing board to reality than anything else. In a nutshell, the tank was intended to bring the firepower of artillery and machine guns across the morass of No Man’s Land while providing more protection than a purely infantry unit could carry

However, the drawbacks could be significant. Traveling only at about walking pace and vulnerable to direct artillery hits, the interior of the tank was also heavily contaminated with carbon monoxide and other fumes from the weapons. Additionally, internal temperatures could reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

It wasn’t until 1917 whan General Pershing finally requested that 600 heavy and 1,200 light tanks be produced in the United States. A total of eight heavy battalions (the 301st to 308th) and 21 light battalions (the 326th to 346th) were raised, but only four (the 301st, 331st, 344th and 345th) saw combat.

Below is some World War I tank footage:




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Snapshots: Mysterious family crests


Below is an unfamiliar carving that looks very much like a Finnish family crest. It was found on a Woodmen of the World headstone dedicated to David Lunden, born 1875 in Finland. Lunden later emigrated to the US to find work in the Black Diamond coal mines.

unknown fraternal organization

On November 6, 1910, an explosion rocked the Lawson Mine, causing a slope cave in. Sixteen miners were killed that day, including Lunden who was working as a fire boss. Records show that most of the miners earned less than $4/day for their work.

Blog post_Lunden crest




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Decoding the kanji stones


Japanese kanji-style stones

Japanese kanji inscriptions


In the September 24th posting on Weathering, vandalism & maintenance, I wrote about some cleaning options that could be useful for most cemeteries, with the exception of Auburn Pioneer. In this particular site, the lichen and moss add a unique Buddhist zen aesthetic to the delicate cement markers. Rather than destroy both the marker and the writings, the caretakers would prefer finding someone to copy the old kanji inscriptions for translation before it disappears forever. 

Kristy Lommen, one of the webmasters for the Auburn Pioneer cemetery website, is working with a Japanese translator on doing just that. She discusses the challenges and progress further in her guest post below. Continue reading


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Stones & Bones presentation schedule

The following dates and locations have been scheduled for Stones & Bones: Discovering secrets in King County’s oldest cemeteries.  All events are free and open to the public.

Date:                     October 16, 2009
Time:                    11.00am – 1.00pm
Location              Bellevue Regional Library

Date:                   October 18, 2009
Time:                   3.00pm to 4.30pm
Location:           4326 – 337th Pl SE, Fall City
With:                   Fall City Historical Society &  general public

Date:                     October 31, 2009
Time:                    10.30am – 12.00pm
Location:            Seattle Public Library, Main Location, Microsoft Auditorium
 This event will be hosted by the Seattle Public Library’s Special Collection

Date:                     November 5, 2009
Time:                    4.00pm – 5.30pm
Location:            13020 Newcastle Way, Newcastle, WA‎
With:                    Newcastle Historical Society & general public

Events are sponsored in part by 4Culture, Allied Arts Foundation & Seattle Public Library Special Collections


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Weathering, vandalism & maintenance: Part V


Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Weather, vandalism and maintenance are the three biggest challenges facing old Pacific Northwest cemeteries. Unlike the granite headstones that are seemingly impervious to practically anything except an earthquake, sandstone carvings do not endure rainy winter seasons very well. In many cases, intricate carvings are melting away while marble is only slightly better at handling industrious molds and lichens.

Black Diamond Coal Miners' Cemetery

Fall City Cemetery

Black Diamond Coal Miners' Cemetery

Black Diamond Coal Miners' Cemetery

Naturally, the original wooden markers stood little chance of enduring the local climate. Most rotted away after only a few years’ time, leaving little trace of the burial site while ground heave from occasional frosts, have left their mark on the later plots. Continue reading


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Carvings and symbols: Part IV


Names and dates are important facts for any researcher but on a headstone, the variety of carvings and symbols can build out a more complete story.

Double-headed eagles…

32 Degree Mason, Lakeview Cemetery

32 Degree Mason, Lakeview Cemetery

Knights in weathered armor…

Knights of Pythias, Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Knights of Pythias, Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

…olive branches and oak leaves, scallops and axes. All of these are mysterious symbols to visitors unfamiliar with the metaphors.

During the late 1800s, the Pacific Northwest offered a unique opportunity to start fresh in one of the last frontiers. Civil War veterans, Scandinavian fishermen and loggers, Welsh miners, Japanese farmers and others, placed their bets and came west.

Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Yet while this was their chance to start over for something better, it did not mean the traditions or familiar language of one’s homeland were forgotten. Continue reading

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The stones share a few secrets – Part III


A visitor pays respects

A visitor pays respects

Cemeteries attract all sorts of visitors, although some are more surprising than others. The same can be said about old tombstones. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new comes along.  In King County, it’s common to see a nod to both the rustic pioneer and classic Victorian. (See The Secret Garden  for a traditional English Victorian  cemetery).

One of the more striking sights are the tree stump monuments, courtesy of the fraternal organization called Woodmen of the World. Joseph Cullen Root started the group in 1890 after he was inspired by the idea of woodsmen clearing the forest for their families.

Comet Lodge Cemetery

Comet Lodge Cemetery

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Six cemeteries in the spotlight – Part II


Any cemetery enthusiast will readily agree that highlighting just a few cemeteries out of so many can be an almost impossible task. And while only six King County cemeteries could be chosen for the indepth Stones & Bones articles, several other fascinating places will be highlighted when symbols, inscriptions and unique stones are discussed.

#1: Woodinville Mead Memorial Cemetery

Annie's Rose

Annie's Rose

At one time, this area of King County was so heavily forested that tree stumps could be used as shelters or temporary housing. When logging was in full swing, the summer skies were overcast with a pall of smoke from the many forest fires and land clearings.(1) However, as the land was gradually cleared, news of the rich soil spread and farmers began moving into the area, soon outnumbering the original loggers.

In 1871, Ira Woodin and his wife Susan, settled down in this northern part of King County to pursue their logging and farming interests. In 1878 and in 1910, the Woodins deeded land from their homestead to the Woodinville Cemetery Association. Today, the cemetery quietly stands next to a busy road leading out to State Route 522, lovingly overseen by devoted volunteers.

#2: Lakeview Cemetery

Denny family grandeur

Denny family grandeur

Home to almost virtually all the original Seattle pioneers, Lakeview Cemetery exudes a Victorian aura few would expect from a Pacific Northwest cemetery. Continue reading

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Discovering secrets in King County’s old cemeteries


Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Newcastle Coal Miners'

Cemetery issues shot to the forefront of American consciousness when headlines broke the Burr Oaks scandal this past summer. Body dumping and plot re-sales for extra cash shocked locals and veteran police officials alike who were at a loss to fathom how all this could have happened without anyone noticing.

More shocking was the glaring realization that the vital links to a community’s past had disappeared into a back lot pile of broken stones and bones.

Tolt Cemetery

Tolt Cemetery

Families typically assume that a loved one’s interment spot is a given for time eternal – or for at least as long as the endowment funds last. But the reality is that families die out, move on, or simply lose interest in visiting the grave of a relative no one can now remember. Aside from intrepid genealogists or local historical societies, headstones are lost, become overgrown or fade away into the dirt.

Out of sight, out of mind. Continue reading

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The Pacific Northwest is not known for its kind winter weather and cemetery headstones are all too familiar with its vagaries. Weeks of rain, floods, high winds reaching up to 90 mph in some years, even snow. Any headstone not made out of granite can expect to be worn down rather quickly and certainly the original wooden crosses would not have lasted much more than a few seasons.

But sometimes, we give nature a helping hand. Below are a few of the sights that are all too common these days.

It ranges from spray paint…

Auburn Pioneer Cemetery

Auburn Pioneer Cemetery

To the broken, in-ground stones….
Newcastle Cemetery

Newcastle Cemetery

To those missing for decades…
Saar Pioneer Cemetery

Saar Pioneer Cemetery





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Wash a stone, restore some history


Steven Willis (before cleaning)

Steven Willis (before cleaning)

One of the biggest challenges facing cemeteries today is how to properly clean and restore old headstones to their original beauty. Recommendations can run the gamut from, “Give them a good bleaching,” to wire brushing.

Others simply aren’t sure, preferring to leave the stones as they are rather than run the risk of further damage.

However, Karen Bouton, Saar Cemetery Project Coordinator and member of the South King County Genealogical Society, has spent many hours successfully restoring headstones in Saar Pioneer Cemetery with a simple, yet effective method that’s explained in her guest post below. (All photos were provided by Ms. Bouton).

Steven Willis (after cleaning)

Steven Willis (after cleaning)

Thinking about cleaning an old headstone?

I thought about it too and was scared to death that I would ruin the delicate sandstone material but since so many headstones in the Saar Pioneer Cemetery were quite unreadable, I had to do something. Continue reading


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The ghost town of Bodie, California


The lonely road back to civilization

The lonely road back to civilization

Gold is a funny thing.

It will drive a human being to live far out on a desolate, arid plateau baked by summer heat, frozen by zero degree winter temperatures and blown apart from vicious blizzards and 100+ mph winds. Keeping warm means lighting a fire with expensive, imported lumber and, due to the gold’s remote location, probably everything (food, liquor, clothing, wood) has to be brought in over a long, dusty trail, making the camp one of the most expensive and dreariest places to live.

All this for an opportunity to strike, gamble, or steal it rich.

Bodie, California started out pretty much like most mining towns. In 1859, a prospecting group that included former New York State resident, W.S. Bodey, found gold in the desolate California wastelands east of Tioga Pass.

By 1876, 30 miners were living in the Bodie mining camp. Four years later, there were 10,000. Continue reading


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Snapshots: Japanese zen


Even with the overcast skies and occasional raindrops, the visit to Auburn Pioneer Cemetery (now home to some of the original Japanese settlers of King County) yielded some nice photos, especially the jizo guardian deity statues. This particular story is very sad and can be found here.

Jizo family

And some close up shots from the statue on the left…

Jizo statue 

Jizo stone closeup

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Cemetery etiquette, please…


Flickr photo: Rubber Slippers

Flickr photo: Rubber Slippers

This morning, I stumbled over an article from BBC Magazine discussing the lack of cemetery etiquette being seen more frequently in various graveyards. Since I can spend several hours at a particular site, I admit to having a more tolerant view of picnicking as long as whatever is packed in, gets packed out.

However, modeling shoots during a burial service and parking for sports events do seem a little much.

Read the full article here.

What do you think?


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Where do we go from here?


The overgrowth at Highgate Cemetery, London

The overgrowth at Highgate Cemetery, London

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times this morning, discussing the impact of vanishing Jewish burial societies. As the community members grow older and eventually pass away, there are fewer people available (or willing) to coordinate the administrative and burial traditions.

Right now, New York’s Office of Miscellaneous Estates has stepped in to handle these details, giving the remaining members a sense of relief that they will be placed at rest in their respective cemeteries. Yet ultimately, the longer term question of who is responsible for these and other abandoned cemeteries, hangs unanswered.

There’s certainly no dearth of interest in cemeteries. Type “cemetery blogs” into Google and hundreds of links pop up, proving a fascination with lopsided monuments and intriguing carvings. Visiting is fun. It’s informative, a link to past history whether or not it’s my own. It’s a chance to give someone life again by saying his or her name aloud.

But then I leave. Continue reading

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Cemetery research: Three valuable reference books


Flickr Photo by BDegan

Flickr Photo by BDegan

Researching and writing about cemeteries requires good sourcing, to say the least, and on my reference bookshelf there are three books I cannot do without:

 • Your Guide to Cemetery Research by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack;

The American Resting Placeby Marilyn Yalom;

Stories in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography by Douglas Keister

Your Guide… is one of the better overall introductions for would-be genealogists or those simply interested in a fine afternoon of cemetery wandering.

The first three chapters explain various death records, how to locate elusive graveyards and the subtler aspects of dating a stone by its rock composition. Chapter 4 explains accurate recording and photography of older stones while Chapter 5 delves into the meanings of the obscure symbols so often found on older stones.

The remaining chapters touch on the general history surrounding cemeteries, a perspective on various burial customs as well as preservation challenges currently facing many sites. Other helpful appendices, such as an historical medical glossary for causes of death (catarrh, ague, King’s evil) and a time line of disease in America, round out one’s  understanding.

However, as far as cemetery visits go, the mother-son team of Marilyn and Reid Yalom took the ultimate road trip when tracking American historical demographics through 250 U.S. cemeteries. Continue reading

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Canada’s plein air art galleries


Flickr photo: duluoz cats

Flickr photo: duluoz cats

Old Canadian Cemeteries: Places of Memory by Jane Irwin, photographed by John de Visser

In her Acknowledgments section, Ms. Irwin notes two reasons why cemeteries are fascinating.

Cemeteries are set apart from the mundane pressures of our everyday lives, they have an inherent power to provide a brief respite from temporary concerns and a chance to see our own life in a longer perspective.

Her second observation warns that, “Searching out favorite themes…may develop into a kind of addiction,” comes too late for this writer, as finding new carvings has turned into a serious hobby, not unlike bird watching.

Luckily, Old Canadian Cemeteries indulges both of these cravings.

Beginning with the chapter, Changing Burial Traditions, one travels from the 7,500 years-old burial cairn in L’Anse Amour in Southern Labrador to the ghost town graveyards in Ancestral Ties to the six Lawson grandchildren at the Old Burying Ground, Halifax to multicultural Ross Bay Cemetery in Exploring Canada’s Historic Cemeteries. Eventually, the reader brushes up on Canadian history in National Memory.

Irwin also writes on stone inscriptions, the highlight being the Puzzle Stone in Ontario’s Methodist Rushes Cemetery, created in 1865 by Samuel Bean for wives Henrietta and Susanna. It’s meant to be read in a circulating, outward pattern.

Ultimately, the best chapter is Old Canadian Cemeteries, A Visual Tour. Here, the photos speak for themselves through various shades of light and weather. They are best reflected in a shot of the Holy Sepulchre cemetery in  Ontario, where rows of white, cowled figures silently stand guard over their assigned memorial stones.

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Snapshots: A Scandinavian Logger


The simple, clean lines of the Scandinavian culture are readily seen in Crown Hill Cemetery, Ballard, WA.  But wander around for a bit and a number of surprises will appear, scattered throughout the rows of simple, flat-lying stones.

Here is an overview of one beautifully carved stone, along with a closeup:

      Rust_cropped       Closeup_CrossCarrying

Below is an example of a Woodmen of the World stone (with a dove and olive wreath) memorializing one of the many Scandinavian loggers who lived here. 


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Snapshots: The chess player

Sometimes, it’s not just the historical stones that catch the eye, but a more recent one. Here is a beautifully understated memorial for young a chess wizard.

Chess player_websize

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Snapshots: The Village Blacksmith

This past weekend included a visit to the Woodinville Memorial Mead cemetery. Originally a logging community, Woodinville turned to farming with these roots still seen today in the local wineries and Red Hook microbrewery.

One of the more interesting finds in this cemetery, was a blacksmith’s anvil memorial stone for Johan P. Koch (1877-1952).

Approaching the memorial layout…the anvil can be seen in the left side, behind the main stones.

approaching anvil_websize

And closer views of it…

Blacksmith's anvil Websize        Blacksmiths anvil_up close Websize

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Soapy Smith: Con Artist Extraordinaire


Soapy Smith

Photo courtesy of Sabine Ludwig

Soapy Smith is one of the most well-known and amoral criminal masterminds of 19th century America. An accomplished con artist from the age of 19, he eventually rose to command a gang network of criminal activity through a combination of wit, charm, and weapons.

Jefferson Randall Smith II was born November 2, 1860 into a wealthy, educated Southern family. His grandfather was a plantation owner and his father was a lawyer. However, the after-effects of the Civil War broke the family financially, causing them to move to Texas for a fresh start.

At the age of 19, Smith got his own fresh start in Forth Worth when he began his career as a con man known for his soap shell game and the 3-card monte (which is simply another version of the shell game).

Shell games can be traced back to the Middle Ages where it was often played with thimbles. In the 19th century, it was a popular county fair distraction played with either peas and three shells or balls and cups. The object of the game was to bet where the pea had been hidden. If the guess was correct, the person would win double the money initially put down.

However, due to the expert sleight of hand ability of most shell game players, the bet placer would never win.

Note: Keep in mind that sleight of hand ability shouldn’t always be considered bad. In 2006, David Copperfield confused a would-be thief by claiming he had no wallet on him at the time he was being mugged. Sleight of hand allowed Copperfield to hide his wallet elsewhere. Continue reading


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Snapshots: Mysterious brotherhood symbols

Currently, I’m hard at work researching and photographing various cemeteries here in the Pacific NW for my Stones & Bones… project and one of the most enjoyable aspects is coming across a highly detailed carving. This example was found at the coal miners’ cemetery in Newcastle, WA.

While its representative group is familiar enough (The Knights of Pythias), I’m not seeing too many examples of this level of detail.

At least not yet.

I still have a few more places to visit and am looking forward to sharing what I find.


Close upA

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Denys Finch-Hatton: Last of the Edwardians


Aviation pioneer and big game safari leader, Denys Finch Hatton was the quintessential Edwardian gentleman living in the romanticized era of large hats, garden parties and African safaris that occurred between Queen Victoria’s death and World War I.

Finch-Hatton is best remembered by his portrayal in Isak Dinesen’s book, Out of Africa, and by his connection with Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly east to west across the Atlantic Ocean. An aristocrat (his father was the 13th earl of Winchilsea) and educated at all the right schools (Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford) Finch-Hatton moved to British East Africa at the age of 24 and began indulging his love of big game hunting.

Later on, he would parley this experience into acting as a professional guide for wealthy big game hunters.

Yet safaris weren’t the only notable adventures to be had. Aviation was finally starting to come into its own after WWI and by 1929, it was estimated that out of every 100 airplanes owned in Great Britain, the majority of them were DeHavilland Gypsy Moths.

Finch-Hatton’s Gypsy Moth came in handy not only for scouting out potential trips for his clients but for also seeing the African landscape in a completely new way. 

And then tragedy struck. Continue reading

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Soquel Cemetery: Generations of Metaphors



Soquel, California (pronounced “so-kell”) is a quiet town off the Northern California coastline, rooted within Spanish land grants dating back to 1776. Located approximately 70 miles south of San Francisco, most beach tourists driving the winding Highway 1 route to Santa Cruz beach spots rarely give it a second thought. However, those opting for the quieter, redwood tree-lined back roads have an opportunity to see this town first hand.

To the left and on the hill from the main four corners is a beautiful New England-styled church. Straight down the street is the unique Porter Memorial Library built in 1912 while to the right, is the Ugly Mug coffee house. But it’s the spot just outside of town at 550 Old San Jose Road that draws the most interest from fans of Skip Spence and genealogists tracing family history.

cemetery sign_SP

Photo by Shelly Peters

Continue reading


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Saving Ancient Catacomb Frescoes the Viennese Way


Recently, The Benefits of Technology discussed how modern innovations help researchers either find lost sites or recover important data that was considered long gone.

This past weekend, the BBC reported another fascinating development and this one hails from the Vienna Academy of Sciences.

Rome has over 40 Jewish and Christian catacombs tunneling more than 100 miles in and around subterranean Rome. However, due to structural concerns, the Vatican only allows public access to approximately 1,600 feet of these treasures. Other catacombs can be accessed only by special permission.

Over the past three years, a team of 10 scientists have been mapping the largest one, Saint Domitilla, via laser scanner. The scanner looks deceptively like something one would find in an astronomy store but has a more complex programming. Continue reading

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Stones & Bones

A community’s roots can be seen in its oldest cemeteries and Seattle, Washington is no exception. Places such as Comet Lodge, Crown Hill, Auburn Pioneer, Saar Pioneer or Newcastle Cemetery, patiently wait to tell stories to those willing to poke through the overgrown, scruffy weeds.

I’m pleased to announce that both the Heritage 4Culture Special Projects and the Allied Arts Foundation have awarded grants to produce Stones & Bones: A Photo-Documentary of King County’s Historic Pioneer Cemeteries. The project will explore ongoing preservation efforts in approximately six pioneer cemeteries. Additionally, I will interweave poignant human interest stories, intriguing carvings, senseless vandalism and if you’re lucky, a ghost story or two.

In the early fall, Beyond The Ghosts… readers will have the opportunity to see the results. Slide shows, in-depth articles on the profiled cemeteries and interview podcasts are just a few of the proposed offerings. I’ll start dropping hints on what to expect in the Upcoming Articles post scheduled for late August.

For local readers, there will be three presentation slide shows planned for local residents. Times, places and dates for these free talks will be announced at the beginning of September.

Some interesting items have been discovered so far and I look forward to sharing them later this year.


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The Nation’s Longest Graveyard


Imagine an deep economic depression. Add in heightened political animosities and incessant war-mongering. Top it off with a spicy dash of blatant religious persecution. Now extend an irresistible offer for free land, 320 acres to be exact, in wide open and fertile spaces. Perhaps there’s even a little gold to be found on that land.


A chance for a Do Over in tough times.


But like all free offers, there’s a catch.


Almost 2,000 miles of heat, dust, cholera microbes, impassable mountains, frostbite, hunger and fast moving rivers lie between you and those 320 acres of Fresh Start. And even before you can take that first step to freedom, everything you own must fit into a box measuring only four feet across and twenty-one feet in length. And that’s without calculating in the necessary food, water and ammunition supplies. And did those real estate agents happen to mention most of your traveling would be via foot?


Yet almost 200,000 people did just that.


Between 1841 and 1869, the Oregon Trail was traveled by settlers looking to escape the economic downturn, missionaries seeking to proselytize, Mormons escaping persecution, gold-seekers, the Overland Stage line and eventually, the Pony Express.(1) The four to six month journey spanned over half the continent as the wagon trail proceeded west through territories and land later to become six U.S. states: Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Extensions of the Oregon Trail became the main arteries feeding settlers into six more states: Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Washington, and Montana.(2) Continue reading


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Tales From The Crypts



Spanning over 350 miles in length and still possessing original sections of bone-rattling cobbles, the Appian Way was once famous for displaying the crucified remains of Spartacus’ army. While still popular, visitors instead choose to see another type of remains called the catacombs.


Catacomb of Vigna Cassia, courtesy of PCAS

Under Roman rule, it was illegal to bury the dead inside city walls. But while the Romans cremated their dead, early Christians did not have this option and faced the problem of finding land for burials. This problem was solved by digging deep within the soft tufa rock prevalent around Rome, allowing tunneled layers of rectangular niches to be easily carved out. Experts have estimated that at one time, there were approximately thirty-six active catacomb sites up to 90 miles in length and holding between 500,000 and 750,000 remains.(1)


After Christianity became the official state religion in 394 A.D., the need for catacomb burials  slowly declined (2) and site locations were forgotten until rediscovery in the 16th century. Today, there is a continual swarm of tourists visiting any one of the three major catacombs on Via Appia: St. Callixtus, San Sebastiano and Santa Domatilla. Continue reading


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Dr. Paul Wallace: Archeologist, Intrepid Hiker & Bard of Mummy Tales



It’s a faint trail steeped in ancient mystery that winds through almost twenty miles of rugged, Greek mountain terrain. A bone chilling downpour inaugurates the first hour of this fourteen-hour trek and the only equipment carried, is a flashlight and some water. The only guide through the weathered landmarks is a book written in 440 B.C.. The reason for this seemingly mad jaunt? The opportunity to traverse the Anopaia Pass just as it was done at the Battle of Thermopylae, a betrayal famously revisited in the recent movie, “300”.  


Thermopylae may have raged over two millennia ago but the romance of outnumbered Spartans desperately battling against a greatly superior Persian force still marks it as a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.* Discovering the 2,500 year-old path and hiking it at night as the Persian army did, was an adventure Dr. Wallace simply could not let slip away and in 1980, he published his findings in The American Journal of Archeology.


Dr. Wallace’s specialty is Greek and Latin literature but it wasn’t until he became a Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens that a deep fascination with archeology took hold. Visits to dig sites and mapping expeditions through ancient hills, accompanied by his faithful Herodotus, gave insights on archeology’s continuing importance for the next generation. Back home at Dartmouth (and later at the University at Albany/SUNY) he began offering general archeology courses rich with slide shows, mummy anecdotes and exacting tests. Eventually, word of mouth boosted course popularity to the point where his classes had to be held in some of the largest lecture halls on campus.


Later, these same insights illuminated a possible solution to a very old riddle. Continue reading

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Don’t Hold Back Now…Serious Funny Bones

Epitaphs aren’t just funny or sad – they can also be quite damning. In our time where cost and legal actions prohibit lengthy soapboxing (no small mercy considering what Bill Clinton or Rush Limbaugh would say), earlier tombstones felt no such need in that pre-litigious age.

This Funny Bones posting showcases some of Janet Greene’s more sobering finds from her book Epitaphs to Remember: Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones.

Located in Wethersfield, CT

“Here lies interred Mrs. Lydia Beadle, aged 32 years and,

Ansell, Lothrop, Elizabeth, Lydia and Mary Beadle,

Her children the eldest aged 11 and the youngest 6 years

Who on the morning of the 11th day of December, 1782

Fell by the hands of William Beadle

An infatuated Man who closed the horrid sacrifice of his wife

And children with his own destruction.”

 Located in Pelham, MA

 Warren Gibbs, died by arsenic poisoning Mar. 23, 1860

Aged 36 yrs. 5 mos. 23 days

“Think my friends when this you see

How my wife has done for me

She in some oysters did prepare

Some poison for my lot and fare

Then of the same I did partake

And Nature yielded to its fate.

Before she my wife became

Mary Felton was her name.”

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Making a (Permanent) Statement


Interpreting the Stones

© 2009 by G.E. Anderson


Going, but know not where…*

Phineas G. Wright

Died 1918, aged 89


A cemetery is where life’s final declarations are made. Whether it’s political, historical, or nose-thumbing, tombstones and their inscriptions can show a range of non-conformity surprising to most visitors.





Some declarations are easily interpreted, such as the bird lover,




the deep-sea diver, or even the hour glass of time.




Yet, while the implied, “Time Flies, Remember You Must Die,” is a reminder of finite earthly life, hourglasses also have a less obvious implication. They can be inverted, thus symbolizing the cyclic nature of life and death, heaven and earth.** Pushed further, an hourglass can even represent reincarnation.



And then there are carvings so old, a reference guide is required to read them.  Two examples from Sunnyside Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery established in 1865 on Whidbey Island, are shown below.




The handshake symbol can represent a few meanings. If the hands and sleeves can be differentiated, where one is masculine and the other feminine, this is a symbol of matrimony. If the hands appear gender neutral, the representation can be taken as either an earthly farewell or a heavenly welcome.**


The second example dates back to when flowers and vegetables had a language all their own. Here is a rather motley arrangement that makes sense only when the meanings are revealed. Corn represents fertility and rebirth, the ferns are a symbol of humility, frankness and sincerity while bellflowers show constancy and gratitude**. All come together to symbolize the particular character and personality of one now gone.







Some of the more poignant memorials in any cemetery are for children. Typically, a lamb, cherubim, or an empty chair holding small shoes can indicate the loss of a child while in the Jewish tradition, those children who do not live to their naming, are marked by simple stones.


lakeview-cemetery-baby-lamb14    baby-young6


Other examples can seem a little too morbid to modern eyes, such as this fallen bird memorial dedicated to 9-year old Edward Ellison Ebey in Sunnyside Cemetery.





Eleazer Albee

Died in Stanstead, Quebec August 28, 1864


He went into voluntary banishment from his

Beloved native country during the reigning terror

In the third year of misrule of

Abraham the First*


One frequently overlooked influence in any cemetery is its tie to area history. Whether it be the wide expansive fields at Gettysburg, the rare anti-Lincoln inscription noted above, or Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, a visit to the old section in any local graveyard is sure to turn up something fascinating and Seattle is certainly no exception.


Logging has long been part of this city’s past and several local graveyards reflect this heritage in the tombstones from Woodmen of the World. The organization was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Cullen Root after hearing a sermon about “…pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families“. One of the enduring physical legacies of this organization may be the number of distinctive headstones erected in the shape of a tree stump. It was an early benefit of membership and these headstones are found in cemeteries all across the nation and in the older cemeteries here in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, this practice was abandoned in the 1920s for being too expensive.**





The first example is located in one of Seattle’s earliest cemeteries established in the late 1890s, Comet Lodge. It is a realistic memorial cut to stand approximately five feet in height while the three below are more modern examples found in Lakeview Cemetery. They are considerably smaller and typically adorned with an ax, wedge and beetle (a heavy mallet), representing not only the tools of the trade, but also the metaphors for industry, power and progress. 


woodmen-13    lakeview-cemetery-woodsman3     lakeview-woodsmen-35



Comet Lodge Cemetery may demonstrate the physical difficulty of early life in Seattle but Bikur Cholim, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Seattle, offers a few symbolic visions of its own.


pitcher2     rams-head3     tree-of-life4


From left to right, one can see the Levite’s pitcher used to clean the hands of the Temple priest prior to services, to the ram’s head signifying the binding of Isaac (or the shofar, a horn blown to wake those from their complacency) as well as the Tree of Life.


And then the unsuspecting visitor encounters something vaguely familiar in a memorial to a Cohen…





Lynn Gottlieb, a gabbai at Congregation Beth Shalom, explains there is a certain point in an Orthodox Jewish service when a Cohen will stand to bless the congregation. The hands are raised to form an opening to direct the radiance of God downward. Most secular visitors are also familiar with this blessing, but in the radically different context known as “Star Trek” where Leonard Nimoy intones his famous line, “Live long and prosper….”


Of course, there are stones that need no explanations, especially in any city where prime real estate can be difficult to obtain. However, according to Helen Mathers, not all is lost. Her  memorial overlooks a sweeping panorama in Lakeview Cemetery and simply states: “A view at last.”



Note:  The author would like to thank Andrea Ptak, Lisa Costantino and Lynn Gottlieb for their suggestions, time and advice for this article



To see further examples of people making a permanent statement, check out The Secret Garden and another unusual cemetery story here. 



*Epitaphs to Remember: Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones by Janet Greene


** “Stories in Stone; a Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography” by Douglas Keister


***Modern Woodmen of the World.


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Funny Bones – Back By Popular Demand


The Funny Bone articles have garnered quite a lot of attention over the past months, and not just because of Halloween (although that did help some). Since there has been such a demand, I thought I’d post a few more, but through the context followed by Janet Greene in her book, Epitaphs to Remember: Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones.


The most eccentric epitaphs seem to fall within the early American pioneer and colonial times and this should not be surprising. Daily life could be hard, short, and brutal. Speech patterns would have naturally reflected the sawn down bluntness, offering no space for sophisticated phraseology. You were born, you lived, you married, had children (sometimes quite a number), and you died.


As the generations passed, life became settled and comfortable. Room was made for a more delicate  speech style that would reflect in a community’s gravestones. These differences will be seen in later articles.


Tombstone samples through 1775:



Rebecca Nurse, hanged in Salem in 1692 at age of 71, and later exonerated. This engraving  appears on a monument in Danvers, Mass


“Accused of witchcraft

She declared,

‘I am innocent and God will clear my innocence.’

Once acquitted yet falsely

Condemned, she suffered

Death July 19, 1969,

her Christian character even

then fully attested by forty of her neighbors.”


Dr. Isaac Bartholomew, died 1710 in Cheshire, CT


“He that was sweet to my repose

Now is become a stink under my Nose.

This is said of me,

So it will be said of thee.”


Marcy Hale, died 1719, age 38, Glastonbury, CT


“Here lies one whose

Life threads

Cut asunder

She was stroke dead

By a clap of thunder.”


Mrs. Jean Wilson


“Here Lies the body of

Mrs. Jean Wilson

Spouse of the Reverend John Wilson

Who departed this life April 1

A.D., 1752, Aged 36 years

She was a Gentlewoman of Piety

And a Good Economist…”


“Here lies the body of Mrs. Mary wife

 Of Deacon John Buel, Esq., She died

Nov. 4, 1768 at age 90

Having had 13 children

101 grandchildren

274 great-grand children

49 great-great grandchildren

410 total.

336 survived her.”



This may or may not be a real tombstone inscription as it’s reported both in Hatfield, Mass and Pownal, Vt.


“Here lies as silent as clay

Miss Arabella Young.

Who on the 21st of May, 1771,

Began to hold her tongue.”



Daniel Hoar, 1773, age 93, Concord, Mass


“By Honest Industry &

Prudent Economy, he acquired

A handsome fortune for a man

In Private Character. He enjoyed a

Long life and uninterrupted

State of health, Blessings

That ever attend Scriptural

Exercises and Temperance.


Here the last end of the Mortal Story…He’s Dead.”


(c) 2008 by G.E. Anderson

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Why Visit a Cemetery?


In my time spent researching cemeteries, I’ve noticed that there is an either/or reaction once people realize what I do. Either they find it incredibly fascinating or they look at me as if I’ve suddenly sprouted two heads. Why is it that cemeteries can draw in some people, yet repel others? After mulling this for a bit, I’ve concluded a few possible answers.

Cemeteries used to be an integral part of community life. Now, this is no longer the case as people scatter farther away from their original roots than their parents or grandparents could have ever imagined (Gen Y notwithstanding). Carriage ways, or even walking paths and benches at particularly peaceful spots, were part of many cemetery designs. The Tikhvin Cemetery, located in St. Petersburg, Russia, is one such example. Today, except for places such as Arlington National Cemetery, or Pere Lachaise, cemeteries are the outcasts in a culture obsessed with perpetual youth.

Another deterrent would be Hollywood, where the more gruesome a film, the better – especially if a decent return is to be had at the box office. Horror films successfully tap into our collective subconscious fears of death, what lies beyond (or even beneath, for that matter). Just consider The Omen, Halloween, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or even, The Addams Family. For some, there is too direct a tie between horror films and cemeteries.

Although in all fairness, Hollywood shouldn’t be held completely responsible, considering what a well-written book can do to one’s sleep patterns. Continue reading


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Sabine Ludwig: Global wanderer


Breakfast time in Cuba

Breakfast time in Cuba

Exploring IndoChina, working in Hong Kong, interviewing Aung San Suu Kyi, a OSCE election observer in Azerbaijan, visiting Madagascar, on assignment in Benin, practicing pidgin Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, researching German emigration to Brazil, meeting with Letitia Baldrige in Washington, D.C., — Sabine Ludwig is one of those people who must be asked where she has not yet been in this world, while where she has been, evokes as much magical possibility as the Trans-Siberian Railroad journey that took her across 15 time zones, from Beijing to Moscow.

Ludwig is a freelance journalist, photographer and professional editor, who fell in love with the idea of exploring new cultures and from an early age, saved and planned to make travel possible. For years, she only shared her travel stories with a small group of friends and family. But over time, she noticed a growing trend of questions from these informal gatherings. Who are those refugee children? What is that Indian farmer doing? What’s the story behind the woman carrying a basket of clothing?

The growing level of interest eventually pushed her to discover whether she could present her stories and photos on a bigger stage. Hours of trip planning, thousands of miles and hundreds of pictures later, she is now the author of three books that chronicle her anecdotes to the general armchair-traveling world. Continue reading

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Cemetery Repairs in New Orleans


Before Hurricane Katrina happened, travel to New Orleans typically included a visit to one of the famous above-ground cemeteries, so integral to the culture of this low-lying city and nicely framed by this Studio Red Dot podcast.

A BBC slide show shows the damage from Katrina also affecting the above-ground cemeteries while concerns for outlying areas, focused on the below-ground cemeteries.

By 2005, no one really knew the full extent of what happened until Save Our Cemeteries, Inc., posted a webpage listing the destruction being cleared in various cemetery locations.  One in particular, Metairie, appeared to have weathered Katrina well enough with the location itself, rather than the actual tombs, experiencing the most damage.

Three years later, the ruins linger, although the voyeuristic demand for “disaster tours” thankfully seems to be dwindling.  What is not yet fully known, is how much more damage Hurricanes Gustav and Ike may have added - particularly in the cemeteries as these were not necessarily a cleanup priority in Katrina’s aftermath.

As of September, 2008, hurricane season is still going strong and it remains to be seen what will be the final outcome on these historical sites.


(c) 2008 by G.E. Anderson

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Snapshots: A First Wife’s Tale…


Cambria, California is a popular stopping point for tourists visiting Hearst Castle with many art galleries, antique stores and restaurants nestled in a beautiful outdoor setting.  Yet along with this historic town center, there is a special attraction few people ever get to see – Cambria Cemetery. Wander around here long enough and some interesting sociological observations can be found.  

The first photo shows the grave of The Reverend Henry C. Thomson, D.D., born in 1844, dying in 1928, listed with his daughter Amy Hatch Thompson. Buried to the left of the Reverend (with her stone hiding behind some plant leaves) is his loving wife, Laura M. Thomson, born in 1854, dying in 1919. However, a closer inspection of the second photo reveals something of a “Hmm….” factor.








This isn’t just the site of The Reverend Thompson and his beloved wife Laura.  Instead, there are three graves involved. 


Anna Ladd was also married to Reverend Thompson and was 42 years old at the time of her death (April 17, 1895)*. Of course it was quite common in the 19th century for men to marry two or three times due to high childbirth mortality rates or fevers, but this is not what gives the site double-take status. Here is what does.

Anna is the first wife, dying in 1895 while Laura is the second, passing in 1919. The photo shows the two wives buried next to each other but after looking closely at the dates of death, Reverend Thompson died in 1928; almost 10 years after his second wife Laura. Interestingly enough, he’s buried alongside of Laura - not his first wife, Anna.

Thus, it would appear that Cambria Cemetery seemingly provides evidence that a “First Wives’ Club” existed even in the 19th century. 



Cambria Cemetery

Cambria Cemetery Data



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More Funny Bones


 Below are some more eccentric headstone inscriptions from New England cemeteries.


Sacred to the memory of

Inestimable worth of unrivalled

Excellence and virtue, N.R., whose ethereal

Parts became seraphic May 25th, 1767.



She lived with her husband fifty years

And died in the confident hope of a better life.



First a cough carried me off

Then a coffin

They carried me off in.



The town was settled in 1748

By Germans who emigrated to this place with the promise

And expectation of finding a prosperous city, instead of which

They found nothing but wilderness.

Rev. John Starman  d. 1854, aged 72



In memory of Mr. Peter Daniels

Born Aug. 7, 1688

Died May 26, 1746

Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,

Lies Uncle Peter Daniels,

Who too early in the month of May

Took off his winter flannels.



Captain Thomas Stetson

Who was killed by the fall of a tree, d. 1820 a. 68. 

Nearly 30 years he was master

Of a vessel and left that

Employment at the age of 48

For the less hazardous one of cultivating his farm.

Reader remember,

Man is never secure from the arrest of death.



Elijah Bardwell d. 1780

Having but a few days survived ye fatal night, when he was flung

From his horse; and drawn by

Ye stirrups 26 rods along ye path,

As appeared by the place where

His hat was found and here

He had spent ye whole of the

Following severe cold night

Treading down the snow in

A small circle.  The family he

Left was an aged father,

A wife and three small children.



This is what I expected

But not so soon.

William Reese, 1872 – aged 21


(c) 2008 by G.E. Anderson 



Bevis Hillier. Dead Funny

Alfred Clemont Rush. Death and Burial in Early Christianity

The Peter Pauper Press. Comic Old Epitaphs From The Very Best Old Graveyards

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A Parting Shot…

This headstone is a fascinating story regarding embezzlement and injustice in Early American history.

The tombstone reads:

Caroline H.

Wife of Calvin Cutter, M.D.

Murdered by the Baptist ministry and Baptist Churches as follows:

September 28, 1838, age 33.

She was accused of lying in a 

Church meeting by the Rev. D.D. Pratt and Deacon Albert-Adams –

Was condemned by the church unheard.

She was reduced to poverty by Deacon William Wallace.

When an expert council was asked of the Milford Baptist Church, by

The advice of their committee, George Raymond, Calvin Averill and Andrew Hutchinson,

They voted not to receive any communication upon the subject:

The Rev. Mark Carpenter said he thought as the good old Deacon Pearson said,

“We have got Cutter down and it is best to keep him down.”

The intentional and malicious destruction of her character and happiness,

As above described, destroyed her life.  Her last words upon the subject

were, “Tell the truth and the iniquity will come out.”


The background storyline is fleshed out further in David K. Lesser’s Antiquarian Book Catalogue:

“Dr. Cutter underwrote the building of a new Baptist church; the minister embezzled the funds and Cutter was left holding the bag. When he attempted to bring the matter before the church, he knocked heads with “the Baptist Inquisition.” The pastor and council refused him a public hearing, proclaimed Cutter and his wife liars, and threw them out of the congregation.

 “They have represented our characters as very bad,” Cutter writes. “They have made many slanderous nods, shakes of the head, winks, and bold ascertains.” Weakened by the attacks, Mrs. Cutter’s health failed and she died. In the added slip, Cutter presents the resolution passed at a “large meeting of the citizens of Nashua and Nashville” which unanimously declared that the Baptist church and society had acted immorally. “The charges against the Baptist Church and Society are cheating, lying, keeping false church records, condemning persons unheard, destroying the character and life of Caroline H. Cutter.

Dr. Cutter [1807-1872] eventually gave up his local practice and began to travel as a medical lecturer; he later wrote a popular textbook, ‘Cutter’s Physiology‘.”


Other Sources:

The Peter Pauper Press. Comic Old Epitaphs From The Very Best Old Graveyards



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Funny Bones


A highlight in researching graveyards is the headstone inscription. Below is a selection of some of the more eccentric ones collected from New England cemeteries.


In memory of Mr. Nathaniel Parks

Aged 19, who on 21, March 1794

Being out hunting and concealed in a ditch

Was casually shot by Mr. Luther Frink.


She was very Excellent for

Reading and Soberness.

(Mary Brooks, d. 1736, aged 11)


Solomon Touslee, Jr. who

Was Killed in Pownal, Vermont July 15, 1846,

While repairing to grind a scythe on a stone

Attached to the gearing in the woolen factory.

He was entangled.   

His death was sudden and awful.


To the four husbands of

Miss Ivy Saunders

1790, 1794, 1808, 18??

Here lie my husbands, One, Two, Three

Dumb as men could ever be          

As for my fourth, well, praise be God,     

He bides for a little while

Above the sod.         

Alex, Ben, Sandy were the first three names,

And to make things tidy

I’ll add his – James.


Asa Whitcom,

A Pillow of the settlement.

(note: more likely, a Pillar of the settlement!)


Capt. Samuel

Jones’ leg which was

Amputated July 17, 1804.



Beneath this stone and not above it,

Lies the remains of Anna Lovett.

Be pleased, dear reader not to show it     

For twixt you and I, no one does covet   

To see again this Anna Lovett.

Left us May 17, 1769.

(c) 2008 by G.E. Anderson



Bevis Hillier. Dead Funny

Alfred Clemont Rush. Death and Burial in Early Christianity

The Peter Pauper Press. Comic Old Epitaphs From The Very Best Old Graveyards

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The Secret Garden…


Treasures from Highgate Cemetery

G.E. Anderson

© 2007 by G.E. Anderson

All Photos © 2007 by StudioG Photos



A 170 year old cemetery is not typically on a “To Visit While in London” list.  However, Highgate, a mysteriously overgrown and historically elegant cemetery should be a definite addition as it represents a unique view of Victorian tastes and social pretensions.


Curiosity is whetted by the some of the more fascinating tombstones such as Nero the Lion, protecting owner George Wombwell who was the English forerunner of Barnum and Bailey. His collection of exotic animals became a highlight of British town fairs in Victorian times. Over there is the column to scandalous George Eliot who deliciously shocked society by openly living with her married lover. Then shocking them all again by marrying a man 20 years her junior. Beyond that curve in the path is Elizabeth Siddal, the model for drowned Ophelia who is still so familiar today. And of course, bare knuckle prize fighter, World Heavyweight Champion Tom Sayers is here, watched over by his faithful dog.  



And there are so many more tombstones tucked away in various nooks and crannies of Highgate. But perhaps the most important question of how all of this came to be, should be answered first. 

Highgate was one of seven cemeteries established in Victorian times to accommodate a rising demand for burial plots. Traditionally, the dead were buried in and around the local churchyards that operated as the common focal point in smaller town society.  To this day, old family generational plots dotting the English countryside can still be seen.  However, during Victorian times something occurred that dramatically changed this aspect – something called the Industrial Revolution.  More jobs were to be found in the factories than on the farms, thus more people were migrating to the bigger cities.  More people in larger cities meant a greater strain on urban resources resulting in fewer available burial sites. As a result, burials beneath church floorboards, the re-use of plots, river-dumping and body snatching by medical students, became the norm. To counter these occurrences, seven cemeteries were established in and around London. Out of these seven, Highgate arguably became the most elegant and socially desirable of them all and today, the visitor finds many unique architectural treasures from the Victorian period.



 One of the most interesting features Continue reading


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