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.