and epitaphs." - Shakespeare
I love graveyards, especially the old ones steeped in history with graves no longer watered by fresh tears. It's strange, but the moment I walk through the gate into a cemetery, all noises except for bird songs become muffled, as if I've gone back in time to another world. The people buried there, if their stones have an epitaph, come alive for me, and I wonder about their stories. For everyone has a story. For instance, I wonder about Miss Polly, daughter of J & L Wolcott, who lies buried in a cemetery nearby. She died Spt. 2d, 1808, aged 19 years when Ohio was sparsely populated. Her epitaph reads:
Parents & friends Along Adue
I leave this wilderness to you
My body lies beneath this stone
The arrest of death you cannot shun.
I wonder what Polly was like? What caused her death? Some stones tell us more. On Mar. 12, 1871, John Taber Died of heart disease while on his way to worship Sunday.
Capt. Ezra Rawdon, formerly from Conn., died Sept. 16th, 1824 in the 64th year of this age.
He was killed by a kick from a horse.
God; who first gave man his breath,
Oft calls him back by sudden death.
My grandfather discovered an isolated pioneer cemetery when he was hunting in Windsor, Ohio, several townships north of us. He told us about it, and my family went looking for it. It was off a rutted dirt road between two paved roads. No houses were on the road, and it took a while to spot a faint path on the other side of a stream. Crossing the stream on stepping stones, we followed the path up the hill until it opened on an overgrown clearing in the woods. At that time there were no markers for the cemetery, only old gravestones; some still upright, many leaning and some lying on the ground. One that interested us was for Jon H. Higley, esq. He had emigrated here from Connecticut in 1804 at the age of 56 and was 69 years old when he died in 1817. That was considered an old man in those years. What caused a man of his age to relocate? Did he come with his family or with a friend like Capt. Parker?
A lot of people arrived from Connecticut because this section of NE Ohio is the Connecticut Western Reserve. With little or no money to pay soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War, they were often given land here instead. That was probably the case with Jonathan Parker, a Captain in the Revolutionary War and staff officer of Gen. Geo. Washington. He died Feb. 26, 1824, 88 years old. Others came to the Western Reserve for farming. Land was cheap in this wilderness where Native Americans still lived as well as bears, wolves and cougars. Today a local historical society maintains the graves in this cemetery, but sadly age has worn away the stones making them harder to read, and vandals have found this cemetery and destroyed others.
On top of a hill in the middle of an Amish field in Mesopotamia, Ohio, lies the Old Smith Burying Ground enclosed within stone walls and guarded by two large pines. The white stones are scattered and leaning haphazardly on a bed of meadow grass and wild flowers. One of the graves is for Henry C, son of Edmund and Polly Smith, who died Feb. 21, 1864, aged 20. From a history of Mesopotamia, I discovered he'd gone to fight in the Civil War less than 8 months before, becoming quite ill and died in a nearby hospital. His father brought him home to bury him. Such a sad journey that must have been for his family. His epitaph reads:
For _______ down of this wicked _______
And the honor of our rights,
liberties and the defense of our union
and national flag I offer as a sacrifice
to maintain that honor.
The blank spaces have been obliterated, making this a very good reason why it's important to record these old stones before they're lost by the ravages of nature, pollution and vandalism.
Old Smith Burying Ground
Occasionally epitaphs bring a smile. Usually this is either in defiance of the gloom of death, to attract the attention of visitors, alterations of meaning over the years, inadvertent wording, illiteracy or error on the part of the stonecutter. Or maybe an original tombstone replaced by the descendants of Martha caused the humor of Ezra Wildman's stone. On his stone, his name and those of his four wives; Matilda, Rose, Martha and Margaret are followed by a one line epitaph: Jesus Loved Martha.
I've visited many cemeteries over the years, often collecting interesting epitaphs. I've visited the graves of famous people like Emily Dickenson, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Jefferson and many others, but the graves that touch me the most are those found in my own area. So many stories lie beneath those stones. So many questions I'd like answers to. I have much more to write on this interest of mine, but I'll save it for another blog.
Do you visit old cemeteries? If you have, what has interested you?