Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Halloween Inspired Outing: LB Historical Society Cemetery Tour

Do pictures from a cemetery need a disclaimer to sensitive readers?

I myself have had problems in the past entering a cemetery. Though now, I appreciate them as peaceful spots that embody the comforts of those facing their own mortality, and want to have a nice place to "rest their head." They also provide friends and family with a physical marker to visit and pay their respects to a cherished life.

I had a very real fear of death from an early age. Not fear of dying (that's a more current phobia). No, I think my early fears centered more on the circumstances surrounding death and dying.

I can attribute this fear to three things. One, my Mom's career was in elderly convalescent care. She did not come home and give us a rap sheet of who passed on and who was next in line. But, I understood her job, and that the majority of people staying at her facility would not be leaving it alive. I could feel the weight on her heart to have to say goodbye to so many people she had grown to know and regard fondly. I know she often was the only one present at the bedside of people who passed, despite calling relatives to let them know the end was near.


It was difficult for me to visit with the patients individually if I accompanied my Mom to work. Some were barely coherent, or would sit for hours on end repeating a phrase or emitting a wailing sort of moan. The ones that were more lucid could carry on a conversation, but would sometimes mistake you for somebody else. But, the worst scenario for me was talking to the patients that would hold my hand very tightly, and look at me with a pleading look in their eyes.

I didn't know how to interpret that look. Were they lonely, and wished that their real grandchildren would come and visit? Or, were they scared to think about the short time they had left in this world, and wanted so desperately to capture the youth and exuberance of a young girl that had her whole life ahead of her.

This is not a therapy session. I regard my experience with the elderly as a direct influence on my sensitivity towards people and general compassion towards humanity in general.

The other two reasons I feared death are a little more light-hearted. In elementary school, I was an avid reader. I would read all the recommended books, and then start pulling books at random from the library shelves to read. One book I read was a summary of superstitions. Many were focused on death, like hold your breath while passing by a cemetery, or don't count the cars in a funeral procession.

I followed many of the superstitions in the book to the letter. I don't think the book even gave the rationale for the superstitions, just that you were or were not supposed to do certain things in certain situations. They seemed to make sense to me - I was a strange little kid. Though, I admit I still don't count the cars in a funeral procession.

The third reason I feared death came from my kooky elementary school again. It was second or third grade, and we went to a cemetery to do grave rubbings. I suppose this in itself is not an entirely uncommon thing. BT's college classmates did this with a group of schoolchildren as part of a Day of the Dead lesson. The "odd" part about it was that they hung the rubbings in our cafeteria for a couple of months. So, there we were, munching on our organic salad and carob chip cookies, looking at gravestones of, well, kids. You see - the most popular stones were the ones that had little lambs, baby blocks, or other toys etched in them.

I'm really starting to question my education.

The Long Beach Historical Society hosts an annual tour of two neighboring cemeteries the Saturday before Halloween - Sunnyside and the Long Beach Municipal Cemetery. This was the first year I made it to the tour on time (BT unfortunately had class). It was so interesting! Not only did the tour guide provide some general information about the two cemeteries, which span a time period from the 1870s to present (only for those that bought their plots years and years ago), but people were dressed up as some of the "residents," and told you their story. For example, here is Michael Julian - reincarnated, one of the founding fathers of the town of Julian, and the town's namesake

Telling my Dad about this experience, he thought it sounded rather creepy. This from the man that dragged us to countless Old West "boot hills" to look for dead cowboys (could this be reason #4 to explain the fear?) I was thoroughly entertained at the cemetery tour. Not all of the figures were prominent figures from history. Some of the more interesting stories were from "average" people who lived in historically significant times. Consider your own story, and what someone portraying you years from now would have to say.

* This angel was the subject of an Ansel Adams photograph. In this interview, you can see he regards the interpretations of his photo of the angel surrounded by oil derricks as quite silly. I could only find a thumbnail of the original photograph, which was taken from a different angle anyway. You can see there is one oil derrick in the background of my pic. The derricks are just as important to the history of Long Beach as the people buried besides them.


crazycatladymel said...

A. Wow, bloglines is really slow today. It took almost 4 hours for this post to show up.

B. I love cemeteries, during the daytime. We don't have anything like what you've pictured around here, though.

shanna said...

wow! i've got a thing for cemetaries! i love to walk through and read the old stones...we lived near a cemetary in ohio that was down the hill from a former asylum turned residence; that was a cool one. nothing as ornate as you saw but a lot of history.

jungle dream pagoda said...

Again,wonderful pics,my great aunt spent her final days in a rest home,we visited often and I remember that pleading look,but I also remember how funny she was. She wanted me to get another wheel-chair and race her down the halls (which I did),she was also quite glib,she insisted she was taxed for every entrance and exit from her room,when I ask why,she rather dryly and flatly replied "Revenue".

Heidi said...

Gorgeous photographs. And that "no exit beyond this point" has got to win for ironic photo of the year! Really, your composition and lighting really give the subject dignity.

Miss Bliss said...

Great pics, and great post. I too had a very strange elementary school, funny how those things come back now and don't seem to be as normal as you thought!

telfair said...

I'm not a bit religious but for some strange reason I am fascinated with cemetaries. We have a Quaker Burial Ground around the corner from us and that was a primary motivator for me to buy this house. I could spend hours there -- it's so peaceful. I loved your post and the pictures were so elegant and beautifully done.

Barb said...

Interesting. Julian is near me. I used to work for a pharmacy, and deliver drugs to convalescent hospitals. It was traumatizing in many ways, because the nurses just wanted to have everyone on Valium, and the residents would have wild mood swings. I'm convinced that a huge percentage of people labeled senile are actually suffering something as minor as a vitamin deficiency. It's so sad.