Tag Archives: Spotlight On

The Secret Garden…

Treasures from Highgate Cemetery

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


Filed under Spotlight On, Symbols, Travel

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Vietnam Veteran Interment Ceremony



Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight On

Sharing Saturday: What it takes to guard the tomb


I thought I’d do something a little different for this week’s Sharing Saturday post. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to become one of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, well here you go.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sharing Saturday, Spotlight On

A little mid-winter creepiness

Lebanon Circle_Highgate

Visitors to West Cemetery portion of Highgate Cemetery will recognize these photos showing view from the top and the bottom of the stairs into the Circle of Lebanon mausoleum. For more photos that really give a more full overview of what the Circle looks like, check out this Google photo collection.

Circle of Lebanon_HG


Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight On, Travel

The graveyard at Graveyard Vineyards

Graveyard Vineyards 2

I promised you some symbols for January and what better way to start things off than by introducing you to a really neat place I visited down in Paso Robles, CA; Graveyard Vineyards.

Paso Robles, CA (about 40+ miles from Hearst Castle) is making its mark as one of the places to visit for wine. If you prefer boutique wineries to big, sprawling corporate ventures, Graveyard Wineries is about as boutique as you’re going to find. After all, few wineries can claim their own historical cemetery.

Graveyard Vineyards 1

According to the website: “This landmark began back in the 1860’s, when the surrounding area of land was the town of Estrella and the original landowner donated an acre of his property for the new First Presbyterian Church. Once the church was built, the landowner’s wife passed away and was buried next to the church, creating the “graveyard”. Many towns’ people followed suit until the church burnt down in 1896. Neither the town of Estrella nor the church lasted, but the little graveyard continues on to this day. It is now named The Pleasant Valley Cemetery and is cared for by community volunteers just as in the 1800’s.”

The actual cemetery is rather small, but just about all the stones are well-preserved, including the carvings. I chalk that up to the dry, hot weather. There were several interesting examples of symbols I’ll share throughout this week – here’s one of the better known ones out there.


And no, this symbol does not mean, “pull my finger”.

Rather, it symbolizes the hope of heaven, of going to a better place.

When you do get around to visiting the tasting room at the top of the hill (and you really should), don’t forget to look down at the flagged walkway leading into the main area. It’ll give you a good idea of just how devoted some of the vineyard’s followers are. I particularly like the brick on the upper left that was given by the local homicide department.


Oh, and as far as the wine goes? I recommend the Paso Tombstone White and Red. If you love dessert wines, then you absolutely cannot go wrong with a chocolate port-styled concoction aptly named Deliverance.

Wine and cemeteries. What more could you want?




1 Comment

Filed under Snapshot Stories, Spotlight On, Symbols

Spotlight On: The Monuments’ Man

Monuments Man

Gravestone conservation and historic stone preservation has become the art and science of preserving all we can of our heritage carved in stone.

By conserving historic gravestones, we help preserve that stone for future generations and for ourselves see a glimpse of the past.”  – Jonathan Appell, Monuments’ Conservator

Back in September, BTG posted an article about how the local residents in Demersville, Montana wanted to preserve and restore the pioneer headstones in their local cemetery.  Not content to just pull weeds and dust things off, they called in Jonathan Appell, a monuments conservator who travels all over the country offering cemetery preservation planning, headstone cleaning, and training workshops to local cemetery groups.

BTG caught up with him as he was driving through Wyoming to find out more about what he does and just how he became a Monuments’ Man.

Q: What’s your official title?

A: I’m a gravestone conservator.  

Q: How long have you been doing the preservation/restoration workshops?

A: I’ve been doing this full-time for about 14 years.

Q: How did you get started?

A: I’ve got a diverse background. I attended violin making school, did some woodworking, making cabinets, building houses, etc.  I got into monument business because of a friend who needed someone who could be responsible for site work and construction. In 1987, I became a grave-digger and then went on to become a cemetery contractor. This included excavation and other related things, such as foundations under modern monuments. Then I started doing repair work because I had the equipment to properly handle it. Eventually, I went on to training and field work and got more interested in historical work.

Q: Where have you offered your seminars?

A: All over the country. I’ve traveled to 30-odd states.

Q: What’s the difference you see between East Coast and West Coast preservation awareness?

A: The East Coast is where this is all coming from, for example, the Association of Gravestone Studies annual conference. There’s more historic interest on the east coast (Massachusetts and New England) because the history line is longer. It’s spreading through Ohio and Pennsylvania, but it’s sparser out west. There’s an interest, but not as much because the history timeline’s not so long out here.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge toward preserving old historic cemeteries?

A: There are several challenges. First, the awareness of historic timelines, then there are different problems in different places, depending on the stones and the types of stones, and the climate. Arid states have lesser deterioration, whereas cemeteries in areas with moisture and pollution will have issues.

A specific example I see is in West Virginia where companies are doing mountain top removal that not only impacts local houses, but also local cemeteries.  

The long-term problem is that there are not enough younger people interested. My seminars attract an age range from middle-aged to the elderly. We need to somehow change this. This is hard physical work and many kids aren’t interested in it. Then there are the funding challenges—where’s the money coming from to keep all this up?

Q: How can people find out more about what your restoration seminars cover?

A: The best way to explain this is to direct people to the Lectures page on my website. There’s a detailed explanation on what I do that people can read up on in case they are unable to connect with me first hand. I’ve also posted several restoration videos on YouTube that people have found useful. In addition, check out the GravestonePreservation.info site that also has lots of helpful information.

For anyone wishing to contact Jonathan directly to discuss setting up a possible restoration workshop, he can be reached at (860) 558.2785, via email at historicstone@msn.com or through his Facebook page.


Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight On

Rescuing the Poor Farm Cemetery one dowsing at a time

Eagle Scout

Three cheers for Adam Lehechka who’s taken on quite a daunting Eagle Scout project.

Not only will he be pulling weeds, fixing the surrounding fence, painting the entryway sign, and raising $2,500 for a state historical marker at the Poor Farm Cemetery near Grand Island, Nebraska,  he’s also going to locate and mark as many of the unmarked burial sites as possible.

Using copper dowser rods.

The land was originally purchased as a poor farm (where people could work for room and board) in 1879. Eleven years later, a portion of the property was turned into a cemetery with burials occurring there until 1919 in unmarked graves. The property has remained relatively vacant since then.

Hence, the dowsing rods.

Dowsing rods have been used for centuries to find anything from treasure to water and this case,  unmarked burial site.  Here’s how Lehechka finds the sites:

Lehechka holds the copper rods loosely while walking slowly across the cemetery ground. If the rods cross, a grave is found. If the right rod crosses over the left, the body buried there is male. If the left crosses over the right, the body there is female.”

It’s unknown at this time just how many graves are in  the Poor Cemetery, but I do hope Adam sticks with it to the end. This is a huge project that’s certainly worthy of the Eagle Scout badge.

Want to read more/donate to the project? Check out the full article here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight On

Restoration Idea: Goats in the graveyard

Before goats

Photo courtesy of Goat Browsers

A couple of weeks ago, BTG showcased a fun article about a community that decided to use goats for clearing a vegetation-submerged cemetery.

Well, it appears that others are getting keen on these 4-footed weed whackers as the go-to solution that’s both environmentally friendly and economically practical. This week, the Gloucester Historical Commission of Gloucester, Massachusetts, announced that they’re also hiring some goats. The job duties are simple. Eat through the vegetation clogging the edges of the First Parish Burial Ground, one of the oldest Puritan cemeteries in the country.

Considering the costs involved with hiring a landscaping team to bring in the specialized equipment, goats are becoming a terrific clearing option for cash-strapped preservation societies. So I decided to catch up with Al Dilley, the owner of Goat Browsers, in Glasgow, Kentucky, for a little Q&A.

After goats

Photo courtesy of Goat Browsers

Q: Why goats?

A: There are seven good reasons why.

  1. They eat 8-12 hours a day.
  2. They like steep slopes and uneven terrain, areas that are difficult for regular machinery to reach.
  3. They’re browsers and enjoy snacking on such things as poison ivy, honeysuckle, wild rose, blackberry brambles, kudzu, privet, or Chinese wisteria, for starters.
  4. They’re quiet and won’t disturb the neighbors.
  5. They don’t burn fossil fuels, and their only emissions are natural fertilizer.
  6. They’re non-toxic and pose no threat to the local water supply.
  7. They’re fun to watch.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Restoration, Spotlight On

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlight On, Travel

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary, Spotlight On, Travel

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

1 Comment

Filed under Commentary, Spotlight On, Travel