Sunday, December 4, 2016

Canongate Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland

Canongate Kirkyard, located on the Royal Mile, is the final resting place of Adam Smith and Robert Fergusson, as well as many other less famous people. Above is the gravestone erected to Agnes Mouat, spouse to Robert Rutherfurd (the 18th- and 19th-century Scots were apparently fans of the gender-neutral designation "spouse"). There's a skull, a toppled hourglass, and what is presumably Agnes's spirit rising to heaven in the form of a winged head.

It's cool to visit famous people's graves, and to see the accumulation of offerings, but I like ordinary people's graves best. In Scotland, I'm most fond of graves that show the deceased's trade. The stone below was erected to the Society of Coachdrivers in Edinburgh, and shows a coach driving over a bridge. Edinburgh, of course, is a city built on hills and bridges between them.

I liked the looks of this unusual cut-out gravestone, commemorating an infant.

Adam Smith's grave.

Looking out the back of the kirkyard, you can see the Nelson Monument standing on Calton Hill.

St. Vigeans Churchyard, Angus, Scotland

I visited this little burying ground on a hill a little less than a year ago. The hill is thought to have been a Pictish religious center - several dozen Pictish stones and architectural fragments were incorporated into the 12th-century church, and have since been recovered and incorporated into the St. Vigeans Sculptured Stones Museum (which I did not get to see, unfortunately).

To me, of course, the most noteworthy aspect of the site was its friendly resident cat. Perhaps it was attracted by the fishes on one of the gravestones.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

South Leith Parish Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland

The South Leith Parish Kirk (or Church) has a 500-year history and some of the oldest - as well as most interesting - gravestones that I have ever seen. Like the Old Calton Burial Ground, its stones are thick and monumental. But the South Leith stones are notable for the frequency of trade symbols and other details relating to the occupation of the deceased. In contemporary graveyards in the United States, I have rarely seen occupations listed on gravestones, unless the deceased was a physician, ship's captain, clergyman, or politician. In Scotland, 18th- and 19th-century gravestones abound with bakers, masons, printers, carriage makers, etc.

The death's and cherub's heads in this cemetery are also incredibly plastic, even sculptural. Other features that are distinctive to Scottish gravestones (versus American): they use both sides of the stone (whereas Americans only use one), the stones are thick enough to allow motifs to emerge from the sides, and women are referred to by their maiden names. Men are also often referred to as "the husband of ...," a form of reference that I have never seen in the United States. Lastly, gravestones can be cumulative - i.e., space is left for additional names and details for family members who die after the stone is first erected.

One thing you may not have known about gravestones: they can provide clues as to how people spoke in the past. This stone commemorating Hannah Whyte, daughter of William Whyte, Shipmaster in Leith, who died at the age of 17, says she was "deeply regrated."

Another interesting find: this inscription featuring a poem I was always told originated in New England. Or did it? 

Old Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh, Scotland

What's better than an old graveyard? One that is situated in the shadow of Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags. I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but Scottish gravestones are different from American ones. They're generally bigger and thicker. They feel more architectonic and monumental. I attribute this to the fact that Scotland has extensive and easily accessible granite deposits. From a purely practical standpoint, stone was cheaper and easier to come by for Scottish people than it was for Americans of similar means.

That being said, graveyards in 18th- and 19th-century Scotland - as in the United States - represent landscapes of privilege. Old Calton Burial Ground is the final resting place of many prominent individuals, including philosopher David Hume, scientist John Playfair, and publishers William Blackwood and Archibald Constable. It is also the site of the American-Scottish Civil War Memorial, erected to Scottish soldiers who perished in the American Civil War. The "ordinary" people buried in the Old Calton Burial Ground and similar cemeteries were fairly well-to-do tradesmen, professors, and authors.

As for the motifs: the skull and crossbones is a fairly common find, and seems to have flourished roughly contemporaneously with the "death's head" in the American Northeast. However, the Scottish skull and crossbones is far less stylized than its American counterpart - perhaps attributable to Edinburgh's prominence as a center for science, medicine, and (most infamously) anatomy. In the years surrounding the Scottish Enlightenment, citizens of Edinburgh resorted to extreme measures to procure anatomical specimens for study.

Tillinghast Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island

Hey, blog. Long time no see. I've been busy working on my PhD program, but I haven't stopped thinking about or visiting graveyards. The Tillinghast Cemetery on Benefit Street in Providence, Rhode Island, is one of the more unusual graveyards I have visited. There are no gravestones, aside from the huge monument at the center commemorating Elder Pardon Tillinghast, the English progenitor of the Tillinghast family. He was born in Seven Cliffe, Sussex, England, in 1622 and migrated to Providence in 1643, where he served as the pastor of the First Baptist Church.

Providence in 1790, depicted by a Brown University student

In the 17th century, many of the families of Providence maintained their own family burying grounds on their properties between Main Street and Benefit Street (the area of first Euro-American settlement in the city). In 1710, with the founding of the North Burial Ground, many began to bury their dead in the large municipal cemetery to the north of the city and even moved bodies and grave markers from existing family cemeteries. By the late 19th century, most of the old family burying grounds had been obliterated, with the exception of the Tillinghast Cemetery. It contains approximately 35 burials, but only one marker.

From this historical atlas of Providence, you can see that the Tillinghast Cemetery had become municipal property by 1875. This is the fate of most cemeteries that have been "abandoned" by the original owners, including the St. George/St. Mark's Cemetery.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stoney Hill Cemetery, Harrison

Stoney Hill Cemetery is one of the more unusual burying grounds I have visited. Because the site was abandoned for many years, it was absorbed into the forest. Only recently, through a dedicated restoration effort, have the hundreds of burial markers been reclaimed from the wilderness. Most of these markers are rough, unmarked fieldstones. The cemetery belonged to the African-American community known as Stoney Hill or "The Hills," which began around the time of the American Revolution, when the Quakers of Purchase Meeting manumitted their slaves and gave them 6.5 acres to live on in a rocky, hilly area of what is now the town of Harrison (at its peak, the area of "The Hills" covered 400 acres). 

At its height, Stoney Hill had several hundred residents, and between 200 to 400 individuals are thought to be buried in its cemetery. The community also had its own church and schoolhouse. The people worked hard as laborers, servants, coachmen, laundresses, and gardeners to the neighboring wealthy communities. Several dozen men from Stoney Hill enlisted and fought in the Civil War, including the one to whom this gravestone - now sadly broken - was erected (the marble marker is military issue, and you can just make out what I believe to be the letters of his company and regiment). 

Most of the people buried in Stoney Hill Cemetery were given simple, unadorned fieldstones. They may have been unable to afford more elaborate markers, but the lack of decoration may also speak to their African heritage and/or Quaker background. 

This marker is one of the few commercial gravestones we found. It was very difficult to see the inscription, but by waiting until the sun struck through the canopy just right, I was able to make out the words "Harvey Seymour / April 1, 1805 / March 10, 1904." I found Harvey Seymour in one federal census, in which he is listed as a laborer. The Harrison Public Library posted an article about Seymour in their digital collections, dating to 1903, which reads:
Mr. Harvey Seymour (Colored) Will Celebrate His Ninety-Eighth Birthday To-Morrow.
Always Lived in This Vicinity. 
Up in "The Hills," a former colored settlement north of St. Mary's Lake, near Silver Lake Park, just across the White Plains village line, to-morrow Mr. Harvey Seymour (colored) will receive all persons who wish to call and pay him respects on his ninety-eighth birthday. The venerable colored man was born in "slavery days in New York State." He was twenty-two years old when the laws of the Empire State made "all men free and equal" before the law. This was in 1827. He was born in King Street, Harrison, east of White Plains, and followed farming all his days. In early life he married, and, following out the old Biblical command of increasing and multiplying, he became the father of eleven children. Two of these still live -- Alonzo Seymour, of this locality, and Mrs. Mary Latham, of Troy, NY. The old man is still in vigorous health. Last week he sawed a cord of wood. His picture which was left yesterday at THE ARGUS office, shows him to be a bright and active man. It is his desire to shake hands with all who will call to greet him. He lives on the old "Alf" Martine place, near Purdy's grocery store. He says he can remember when White Plains had only one house west of Broadway and east of the Bronx River, and that was the old Jacob Purdy house still standing in Spring Street, near Mott Street.
The library also preserves a copy of Harvey Seymour's marriage record: he married Jane Halstead (a.k.a. Jane Gaul, after her stepfather) on February 25, 1835, in Grace Church. The couple's son, William Henry Seymour, served in the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Civil War. He survived the war, only to die of dysentery at home in 1866.

Twenty years later, Jane Halstead Seymour filed for a mother's pension from the federal government. Harvey submitted the following deposition as part of the application:
I raise home vegetables &c. on my patch of ground, which keeps us. I also raise potatoes and cabbage and turnips &c. for winter use. Also some apples. This, along with occasionally a few dollars I earn, and my son's help, is the way in which we have lived for years. 
I own this property, which has about one acre of ground. I don't know what it is valued at, but my son pays about $2.40 a year for taxes on it. Neither myself nor my wife have any other property of any kind from which we derive income. We own nothing in the world except this property.
For more information about the Hills, see the book Freedom Journey: Black Civil War Soldiers and the Hills Community, Westchester County, New York, by Edythe Ann Quinn.

Zar Cemetery, Chestnut Ridge

Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may remember my spring 2014 obsession with Chestnut Ridge, the lost hamlet. Long story short, this small community of shoemakers was settled sometime around the Revolutionary War, began to decline in the late 19th century with the encroachment of industrialization, and was finally bought out by Arthur W. Butler, a banker who converted the area into a sprawling estate. Virtually all of the farmsteads were destroyed, along with the Chestnut Ridge Methodist Church, and even graves were moved from the former hamlet into Oakwood Cemetery. However, one cemetery remains in its original location and is now part of a nature sanctuary.

The dated stones date from 1824 to 1915, but many of the roughly shaped fieldstones in the cemetery are likely older. Most of these stones are not inscribed at all. The stone above, inscribed with the initials E. A. M., is an exception. The "M" likely stands for Moore, a common name in Chestnut Ridge.

The newer stones are marble, such as this obelisk, located in the corner of the cemetery.

While the story of Chestnut Ridge is tinged with sadness - an entire community churned under the wheels of industrialization and Gilded Age splendor - it has a somewhat happy conclusion. Thanks to Butler's widow, Anna Foster Robinson Butler, the area that was Chestnut Ridge is now accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy it. The trees have reclaimed the old farmsteads and pretty much obliterated any visible remains of the old community, aside from the stone walls, which still jag through the forest, sometimes at impossible angles. 

It's a good place to go if you're interested in nature photography, particularly of wildlife. I was a little on edge as a bear was spotted in town a few weeks ago - not in the sanctuary, but on a residential street! But we managed to avoid the bears this time. Instead, we saw a red-winged blackbird and a red squirrel (photographed by my dad). Note the red theme - what could it mean?