Monday, October 28, 2013

Stories in Stone

Dick and I were watching a PBS special about cemeteries the other night, and seeing one filled with springtime daffodils gave me the idea to plant a few near some of the oldest stones in the little country cemetery where most of my family is buried.
According to a little publication by the Walworth County Genealogical society, Millard Cemetery, in Sugar Creek Township, was originally associated with the nearby Baptist church, which was first organized in 1842.  The burial grounds are located on what was originally part of the Francis Barker property - the settlement now called "Millard" was once named "Barkers Corners."  It can be found near the intersection of county roads A and O.
 So, the cemetery is just a little older than Wisconsin's statehood, which happened in 1848.  While the cemetery is still active, there are not too many burials each year.  Many of the old stones are worn, leaning, or broken.  Some lay flat, or have been engulfed by shrubbery.  But I think it's still a nice place, and I have enjoyed photographing the old stones, and researching the names on the oldest graves.

I suppose some people find graveyards to be sad, or perhaps spooky, but I enjoy them for their peace and quiet, and for the stories implied by the memorials.  Who hasn't wandered a cemetery looking for the oldest stones, for family members, for the memorials to children, to veterans, or to victims of epidemics or natural disasters?  I also enjoy looking for the carved symbols on the old stones.

Isaac Loomer's stone features a hand pointing upward, almost certainly symbolizes heaven, and the direction his family expected his soul to fly. Like many of the early stones from this farming community, the simple tablet, made from relatively easy to carve limestone or marble, has warm away and become difficult to read. There are more than 40 Loomer headstones at Millard.  The extended family originally was from New England, but many immigrated to Nova Scotia, and later homesteaded in WIsconsin.

Henrietta Buckley's stone features hands too, but this time clasped.  And her domed tablet stone also features carved grape vines.  The hands suggest both fellowship and a final farewell from earthly relationships.  The vines might represent Christ, or the Eucharist.
Here's another variant with an upward pointing hand, but also including carved obelisks. I wonder of Mr. Loomer was a Mason.
There are a couple upright stones that suggest a scroll, with the person's name, relationship and date of death.  Ann's stone tells us that she is the wife of J. McHugh, that she was 66 years old when she died, and that she will be missed at home.
Silas Weaver was only a year old, and his stone also resembles a scroll mounted on a based of carved brick, with the addition of a rose, suggesting innocence or purity.
There are many children's stones in Millard.  Some simply say "Baby" or like this one, part of the Bigelow plot, feature lambs.  There is no name, just the engraved words, "Baby sleep."
Warren and George Loomer died not very far apart, so their parents had one stone for the two boys.  I think I remember reading that they died of measles, something we rarely see these days.  This stone used to stand upright, but now lies flat on the grass.
Henrietta Monroe died when she was 23 years old.  The graceful curving top of her stone tablet is covered with carved lilies and roses, suggesting purity.
Another carved symbol I found on several stones is that of the dove, carrying an olive branch.  This might stand for peace, purity, or the soul ascending to heaven.
This nicely preserved tablet features the broken column, which stands for a life cut short.  William Kester was 48 years old when he died.
I know that tree trunks also often stand for a life cut short, although this is a family monument.  The name, Barker, carved into the trunk, says it all.  Members of the Modern Woodmen of America also sometimes used tree trunks, though I do not know if the Barkers were members of that fraternal organization.
James Bigelow's tall upright monument is topped with an urn, as are many of the other stones in Millard cemetery.  The graceful shape of the urn is partly decoration, partly a reminder of the return of the body to dust, and the immortality of the soul.  His stone also features a weeping willow, long a symbol of mourning and grief.
I was interested in how few crosses I found on the old headstones at Millard, despite the fact that the oldest burials were associated with the Baptist church.  This one, and another that was carved in the shape of a cross, but now is badly damaged.  Still, this carved cross clearly identifies the man as a Christian.  There are no angels on the graves at Millard, perhaps because they were too costly to carve.  The people buried here, were, for the most part, rural people.  Farmers, teachers, ministers, a doctor or two.  The stones that mark their graves are simple, not showy.  No ostentation for these folks. Many have nothing more than a name  - sometimes just a first name, and a date of death. Plain and simple, like the people themselves.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Who Are These People?

A couple years ago I gave my brother a CD containing all the work I had done to that point on my family family history project.  His bewildered response was, "Who ARE all these people?"

Good question.  I've taken every grandmother and grandfather back as far as I can, included all their brothers and sisters, spouses, children, and then brought them as close forward to now as I can.  The result for me has been a gradual revealing of a multi-generation saga mirroring the history of our country.

Most of the people I find were farmers, teachers, or ministers, though there are most of the occupation a person might think of.  There are shop keepers, railroad people, doctors, photographers, career military folks and bankers.  Some traveled west on the Oregon Trail.  Sometimes they have connections to fame, as in the man who was chaplain of the senate when Lincoln was President, and who spoke at his funeral.  But most are unremarkable, so far as I can tell.

Which isn't to say that their lives are not interesting. This week I stumbled across a sad and common story, of a woman who was born in Ontario in 1839, who then moved with her husband and family to Illinois to clear land and farm.  While they were in Illinois, her fourteen year old daughter, Sarah, took ill and died.

I found the girl's photo, and the letter her mother wrote to her sister, expressing her anguish over the girl's death.  Suddenly the list of names and dates transformed themselves into real people, and their lives resonating across time.

Here is the letter.  I added end punctuation to help make the story easier to follow.  This letter helps me to begin to understand who some of these people are.  This is from Annie Gaulte Dumond to her sister Esther.

December 1, 1877
Sunday afternoon
Dear sister,

I now improve the present opertunity of wrighting to you. we are all well at present—thank God for his goodness to us. Thomas health is very good so far. I  wish I could see you all and have a long talk with you. I don’t know what aild me all the time I was at Mothers. I felt so sad all the time I felt as though I had great burden resting on me all the time times. I think it was a presentiment of Sarahs Death.  Oh if you could of seen her when I come home. She held out her hand and says Oh Ma. I kissed her and ask her not to get excited she says to me I am beter now and of course I will not. she says,  Maw what ailes you you look aful. oh you lost your tooth. then she sayes,  how did you leave them all I told her but I notest no tears come to her eyes.  she was past that.  but I did not think she would die so soon.  on that Monday before they Dispatched for me she wanted to  go to school but her pa would not let her for she had not ben well for three or four dayes and on the wedensday they dispatched for me they thought she was a dying.  all day she had a congestive chill that lasted all day and on Monday after I got  home she had another but—it did not last over ten  minuts—the Doctors sayed it was all caused from her bowels.   

She was sensiable of every thing. the fever never raised to her head it was all in her bowels. the Doctors Don all they could. the Monday tusday before I come Minnie was washing most all Day and Mrs. Rosbough and an other woman was wating on her and her father never left her bed side and she locked a round at them and her father says, what Do you want? Sarah she sayes, I want Minnie. She come to her but she could not keep from crying.  she Put her armes about Minnie’s  neck and says, Dont fret, Dont fret.  Minnie Dont leave me  I am so lonesome.

Oh Esther, I have wept untill I can hardly weep any more.  I go some times and sit by the lone grave of My Darling child and I  think I must see her or I cannot live, but I have to bare it. I could of given Sarah up when she was a baby and so small and delicate but, have have her to grow up and bloom into womanhood all most and then be taken away it seems to hard, almost-more than I am able to bare.  but we are told that god will give us grace sufischent for every trial and for this I am Praying. Oh Esther how near we ought to live for what is this world but a world of sorow and tears and partings here with Loved wones.  Oh Esther, I hope you will be spared that painefull trial of taking your Dear child by the hand when it is all ready cold with the chill of Death and bid then a long farewell on this earth, but I am living in hoope of meeting her soon where parting will be no more.

No more at present from Your Loving sister Annie M. G. Dumond

P.S. wright soon and let me know all the news.  give our love to Joney and Sarah let me know how babe is.  kiss the belly  for me and send me its Picture.  tell hanah to send Minnie her Picture her and her sister Minnie and we will send ours. Joney sends his Love to the boyes. right soon. they wanted to know how long Sarah was sick. Just 10 Days.  She was very poor. her litle cheeks was sunk in so much

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Beauty, Close to Home

There is something poignant about clear blue October days like today.  There is still warmth and color, and everyone knows there is a limit to the shirt sleeve days left in the year. The hummingbird has left for the year, the robins are still hopping through the grass, but are silent.  The monarch butterflies are feeding in preparation for their long journey south.

I decided to take a walk at our local botanical gardens this morning, and take advantage of the sun and warmth.  Many of the annual flowers are finished and have been dug out, but color can still be found in the hardy butterfly bushes, sumac, mums, marigolds, pansies and flowering kale.  This statue of a wood nymph, is a favorite of mine.

I spotted a lazy bumblebee on these glorious marigolds.  They were a splash of autumn color, inter-planted with red and gold coleus.  

I don't always appreciate pots, chairs, and trellises painted in bright colors, but somehow in autumn, they look just right.

The garden features lots of natural wood benches, places to sit and contemplate the flowers and trees, and listen to the birds.  Most have a saying carved into the back, and this one, from Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold spoke in particular to me today:

"We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

One can only hope.