Monday, May 30, 2011

On Hallowed Ground: A Memorial Day look at Cemeteries

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. Service Members who died while in the military service.[1] First enacted by formerly enslaved African-Americans [2] to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War – it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.
Memorial Day often marks the start of the summer vacation season, and Labor Day its end.
Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not. (Wikipedia - Memorial Day)

This is a day of pilgrimage in big cities and small villages all across the country.  Cemeteries will be filled with people cleaning headstones, placing flowers, connecting and remembering.  I see cemeteries not as sad and depressing depositories of the dead, but as vibrant places alive with personalities, infused with memories, steeped in unique beauty. 

I see them as outdoor galleries of fine art and folk art, ripe for photographing, which I do every chance I get, but always with the sense that I am treading on hallowed ground.

In honor of fallen soldiers, of friends and family no longer with us, of people whose lives we know only from symbols on a headstone, I offer these today:

The General - Gettysburg

The Copse of Trees - Gettysburg

Unitarian Church graveyard - Charleston, SC
A brother and sister sculpted in a glass casket - Conway, SC

"Here lies the body of Catherina Spano born 17 May 1853 died Oct 29 1900"  """"  Apalachicola, FL Cemetery

Old Cliff Mine Cemetery, Keweenaw Peninsula, MI

Myrtle carpets the ground at Old Cliff Mine Cemetery, Keweenaw Peninsula, MI

Decorated grave at Old Mission Cemetery, Brimley, MI

Old Mission Indian Cemetery, Hessel, MI

Memorials for sailors gone down with the Edmund Fitzgerald -- Whitefish Point, MI

When the time comes, I'll be buried in a plot in a small township cemetery in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. My parents and members of my mother's family are already buried there. Anything goes in that cemetery -- one of the reasons my husband and I chose it. People have installed benches and arbors and rocking chairs, turning their family plots into symbols and extensions of the lives that went before. Children's toys are scattered, as if the child has left them only momentarily.  Pictures, beads, notes and Lake Superior beach stone cairns decorate the sites.

It's the kind of place you would want to stop by and visit.

It'll suit me just fine.

(Please note: All photos are mine.  Please ask permission before using.)

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