Places to see: The Ghajn Lukin plague cemetery, Malta

XaghraCemetery

The mere thought of Malta, a Mediterranean country comprised of three populated and several unpopulated islands, and located south of Sicily, usually conjures visions of blue lagoons, Roman ruins, ancient knights, prehistoric temples, and even an underground grotto or two. And these are definitely there in spades, along with some fantastic food.

There’s also a plague cemetery for those intrepid travelers willing to make the trek out from the main island of Malta to Xaghra, on the island of Gozo.

200 years ago, an outbreak of bubonic plague ravaged the Xaghra community, claiming over 100 lives, and causing the country to impose a strict quarantine on the village for 40 days. Victims were buried in the Ghajn Lukin cemetery and eventually, forgotten. This summer, volunteers finally began clearing out the weeds and bushes that had taken over the old cemetery, and when they were done, the Victory Philharmonic Society held a commemoration of the quarantine lifting.

Xaghra

While this locale definitely ranks up there as one of the more, off-the-beaten-track places to get to, keep in mind that Xaghra is also home to another interesting burial site, the Xaghra Stone Circle, which dates back to 3000 – 2400 BC, the Giant’s Tower (Ggantija), a Neolithic temple complex allegedly home to a fertility cult, and some various underground grottos.

And of course, the beaches and lagoons aren’t too shabby, either.

Blue lagoon

 

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Places to see: Exploring the WWI cemeteries

WWI cemetery

Delville Wood Cemetery, Longueval, France

One hundred years ago  this past August, the royal families of Europe got into an argument–an argument so destructive, it ended up causing the deaths of millions and resulted in hundreds of cemeteries, both ornate and simple, across the Western Front.

Here is a fascinating video on how these cemeteries and memorial cenotaphs came about:

 

One British writer decided to visit a few of these places and detailed her findings in this terrific article.

“…Our group of 21, mainly middle-aged plus, included a father and his quiet, observant 14-year-old son who had a knack of finding fragments of weapons and ammunition. We visited battlefields, cemeteries, field stations, memorial parks, a magnificent museum and a clutch of quirky cafes, once houses close to the front line, now with an assortment of war memorabilia, often including trenches in the back garden. Our trip was moving, heart-rending, often shocking, sometimes light-hearted – but never depressing.”

The battlefields of the Western Front encompass a very large area, so if you’re planning a trip, make sure you figure out just where you want to go before making any reservations.

WWI Western Front

If you want to go, here are some possible tours to consider:

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The madams and prostitutes of Lynchburg, VA

the procuress

Now this is why cemeteries are so interesting!

Nancy Jamerson Weiland was doing some research on 19th and 20th century Lynchburg, VA sex workers for a novel when she realized there was a whole presentation in the making. Especially when it appeared that two of the ladies she discovered, may have been distant relatives.

So without further ado, on September 21, she drew a crowd of almost 100 people to hear her speak about the madams and prostitutes buried at the Old City Cemetery.

“Some of Lynchburg’s sex workers were entombed beneath monuments. Others were buried in potter’s fields, in unmarked graves. Weiland visited [various] graves and told of other families, and of the houses and “red light” districts that were part of the Lynchburg landscape. Many of the women were widows or single mothers, she said. Some took up prostitution after having a pre-marital sexual experience that led their families to throw them out of their houses.”

Isn’t it funny where a little research can lead?

Read the full article (with lots more anecdotes) here.

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Cute face. Bad ass vandal.

groundhog

My newsfeed is often littered with various stories about 2-legged, human vandals who think it’s funny to explode bombs or do doughnuts in the cemetery.

Note to the morons doing this: It’s disrespectful, criminal, and definitely not amusing. Any idiot can destroy.

Anyway, then there’s the rare article about a different kind of vandal.

Earlier this month, a man walking his dog in a Salem, NY cemetery, discovered a leg bone right outside a woodchuck den.

According to the article: “The curator of Bioarchaelogy at the NYS Museum in Albany also looked at the bone and advised it was an artifact consistent with having been found in the cemetery. She further observed copper staining on the bone most likely from a button. Authorities were advised it was not uncommon for woodchucks to wreak havoc on cemeteries, unearthing remains.”

Apparently, the woodchuck wasn’t going to let a little thing like a grave get in the way of his new home. After all, it’s all about location, you know?

Here’s a 2013 video from another cemetery in Cortland, NY showing damage from the holes (with the culprit making a lurking appearance toward the end).

 

Then there’s the one about missing headstone flags in 2012. In yet one more NY cemetery, (is it me, or is it just something about NY cemeteries?) a rash of flag thefts alarmed officials so much that they put up a camera to catch the bandit in action. Instead of catching some punk teenagers out for fun, they discovered the cemetery was home to a woodchuck with a taste for flags.

Yup, woodchucks and old cemeteries are just not a good combination. Almost makes one long for the good old days when all a woodchuck did was chuck wood.

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So many cemeteries, so little time

Living History performance at Saar Pioneer Cemetery

Living History performance at Saar Pioneer Cemetery

It’s that time of year again.

A number of historical societies are taking advantage of their history to whip up public enthusiasm for local pioneer cemeteries through any number of talks, living history exhibitions, and tours.

Last weekend, the Friends of the Cemetery held an Evening of Mourning at the Center Cemetery in East Hartford, CT. Their talk focused on something dear to my heart, and something I’ve written on before; funny bones, er, epitaphs.

Funny epitaphs, sad epitaphs, and matter of fact epitaphs. What makes these so great is that Center Cemetery is tightly connected to colonial and Puritan history (founded in 1709) so you know you’ll hear some side-splitters. Read some more about it here.

On September 26 and September 27, the Fairview Cemetery in New Albany, Indiana, is holding its 4th annual Stories Behind the Stones. This year, the focus is on living history as actors dress up in period costumes to act out segments of the lives of some of the more interesting folks buried there. This place seems particularly fascinating as it covers more than 65 acres and has over 30,000 plots.

If you miss this year’s talk, don’t worry. The next few years promise to be even more fascinating.

“Plans for the next few years are already in the works, with each having a theme. Next year will focus on “Disease, Disasters and the Downtrodden,”  while 2016 celebrates the state’s bicentennial with “New Albany’s Influence On the State of Indiana”, and 2017 looks at influential women with “Ladies Night in the Cemetery.” Read the whole article here.

On September 28, the 6th annual, Stepping Among the Stones will be held at the St. Augustine Cemetery in Minster OH. This year, the tour will focus on the stories from the old family plots section of the cemetery. Want more information? Check out the Minster Historical Society page.

On October 4, the 18th annual Candlelight Cemetery Tour in Gallatin Cemetery, Gallatin TN will take place. There are 9 stops planned for each 20-person tour at various headstones where Actors in period costumes will re-enact the lives of that particular historical Gallatin figures buried in the cemetery. There is a fee. Read more here.

On October 9, there will be a moonlight tour of the Lone Oak Cemetery in Leesburg, VA.  Highlights will include stories about the original settlers in addition to a most unlikely connection; Annie Oakley. Yes, that Annie Oakley. Want to go? Lone Oak Cemetery is located at 306 Thomas Ave. in Leesburg, VA. Admission to the tour is free – donations will be accepted. Proceeds of the moonlight tour benefit the Lone Oak Cemetery. For more information, call 352-326-9085.

Gosh, after reading these announcements, it looks like I’m missing out on quite a lot of neat stories. I wonder if any of these groups would be willing to share their talks with the BTG… readers?

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Call the restoration expert

After the weeds are whacked, the woodchuck holes filled in, and the bushes pruned back to manageable proportions, it’s time to tackle the difficult part of cemetery restoration; the headstones.

While the first instinct may be to power wash and/or bleach the stones, either one of these choices can do more damage than good. Ditto for wire brushing. Then there’s fixing the actual stone, which may turn out to be sandstone, granite, marble, or not even stone at all (zinc carbonate, anyone?).

Faced with these challenges and wanting to do things right, the volunteers for Demersville Cemetery in Montana decided to bring in Jonathan Appell, a restoration expert to teach them how to re-set broken headstones and conserve the ones still in good shape.

According to the article in the Daily Inter Lake highlighting the cemetery restoration, “…Demersville is the earliest established formal cemetery in Flathead County (MT) and provides a free history lesson of the valley. It was started on land donated in 1890 by four families of the long-since-vanished riverboat town of Demersville, and sits about 2 miles from the original townsite. The gravestones are a who’s who of Flathead pioneers, with names such as Foy, Terriault and Coram carved in stone.

Many railroad workers killed during the construction of the railroad are buried there, including Japanese workers whose tombstones — in a far corner of the cemetery — have Japanese writing on them. A number of Kalispell’s early-day Chinese residents also are buried there.”

Considering the history of the town, it’s a worthwhile project.

To get a little taste of what Demersville volunteers got to experience with Jonathan Appell, check out the video below. To learn more about one option for washing stones, check out this popular post: Wash a stone, restore some history.

 

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Restoration Project: Parsil Family Revolutionary War Cemetery, NJ

Over in Millburn, NJ, a massive cemetery restoration project is currently underway.

Thanks to the combined partnership of the Rolling Hills Garden Club and the Millburn Township, the Parsil Family Revolutionary War Cemetery is slated to receive more than $20,000 in tender loving care.

Restoration goals include:

  1. Re-setting and bracing collapsed stones,
  2. Stone wall reconstruction,
  3. Entry gate repairs,
  4. Iron post re-settings, and
  5. Landscaping/soil work

Once these tasks are done, the garden club also hopes to plant a number of bushes and flowers within the site to highlight its attractiveness.

“The cemetery was originally owned by the Parsil Family, who had two of its family members fight in the Revolutionary War and two in the Civil War. Captain Thomas Parsil was killed in the Battle of Connecticut Farms in 1778, according to Petrucelli and Meyer’s research. Nicholas Parsil died in 1780 in the Battle of Springfield. Both men are buried in the cemetery. Edwin and Samuel Parsil fought in the Civil War, but research did not show whether or not they died in battle.

“We have two Revolutionary War and two Civil War soldiers buried there. Other towns do things to honor their soldiers. So Millburn should too,” said Sharon Petrucelli, historian and past-president of the Rolling Hills Garden Club.”

Read the rest of the article here.

 

 

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