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Posts Tagged ‘babies’

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Nearly everything in Trinity Church had a memorial plaque or inscription on it. Unsurprisingly, the baptismal font is dedicated to a little girl who died young. I wonder what it felt like for the parents of Mary Rochester to watch babies be baptized in the font with their daughter’s name on it.

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Susan Thompson

Susan, Daughter of A. & S. Thompson died Sept 12, 1814. Aged 5 years.
an infant son died Oct. ?

I’ve written about double stones before, where the stone looks like two tombstones with the same outline are mashed together to form one that is symmetrical. Usually, the writing on the stone is also done in this symmetrical pattern: if we could somehow magically slice the tombstones apart, each side would look like a perfectly normal single stone. This one is different, with the inscriptions for both Susan and her unnamed brother carved across the entire width of the stone.

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Baby Painter

Baby

There are few words I find more poignant on a tombstone than “baby” or “infant,” and the effect is strengthened when that word takes the place of the name. It isn’t, I now realize, always the case that the baby hadn’t received a name or been christened yet. The “baby” sometimes wasn’t a baby in the sense of being in the first year of life: some of the Collinwood school fire victims are listed as “baby” on their tombstones, and they were of school-age! Baby seems to serve as a shorthand, though, for all the lost promise that goes with the death of a child. Using that term as opposed to a name brings out starkly the feeling of a life cut terribly short.

Our Baby

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Morgan

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This unusual marker sits in the Chester Township Cemetery.

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Even more striking than the front is the back, which is to “The Three Infants” of the Painter family. The years listed are 1906, 1912, and 1923, presumably each infant died within the same calendar year in which he or she was born.

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Arthur R.

As I’ve posted about before, lamb statues in cemeteries are usually on top of children’s graves. To me, a lamb clearly symbolizes a life ended too soon. If you look at the final inscription on this side of this marker, the Christian symbolism of the lamb is emphasized with the epitaph “I am Jesus’ little lamb.”

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Our Baby

Grace

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When I walk through an old cemetery, the thing that strikes me first about life before the mid-20th century is the child mortality rate – there are far more graves of infants and children than we are used to seeing today. But the thing that I find harder to remember is that life expectancies were overall shorter and that passing safely through childhood was still not a guarantee of surviving to a ripe old age. These three stones at Historic Hopewell Cemetery struck me as I was paging through my Flickr collections.

The first is for an infant son of Samuel and Margaret Buck.

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Not too far away are this baby’s sisters, Sarah and Mary Jane. Sarah died just a month before her brother, at the age of eighteen.

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Mary Jane died two years later in 1849 at the age of 22.

Mary Jane Buck

Did the Bucks have any more children, or did their family line die out in 1849? I don’t know. I didn’t find markers for any more Bucks in the cemetery, so I don’t know if they all rest there in additional unmarked graves, or if they moved away, leaving three children buried in a rural Ohio cemetery.

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I might have skipped over this marker if Mike hadn’t called my attention to it.

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Etched on three sides, it is a monument to a beloved wife and child by a bereaved man, Samuel Perry.

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This stone is erected by the pious affections of the surviving husband and parent, Samuel Perry.

Based on the phrasing of the inscription, it seems that Mary Wallace Perry died in childbirth with the couple’s daughter.

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To the memory of Mary Wallace Perry & her infant daughter, who were removed from time to Eternity, August 22, 1812, the former in the 26th year of her age, the latter in the moment of birth.

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The final panel, the hardest to photograph due to the proximity of other monuments, reads:

If an assemblage of those amiable and endearing qualities that render a female the ornament of her sex could have warded off the arrows of death, she had not died.

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Most angels I have encountered in cemeteries are sculpted as fully grown adults. A child angel stops us, gives us pause.

The young angel I never tire of visiting in Lake View Cemetery is for a child. Mildred Schmitt was only 10 when she perished in the Collinwood School fire.

Mildred and Emma Schmitt tombstone (1 of 4)

In Union Cemetery in Columbus, the two child-like angels on either side of the Cooper stone seems to imply that Rose and Iris died as infants or young girls.

Iris Lee and Rose Mary Cooper

Baby Catherine Vaughan’s stone on the west coast of Ireland is marked by a small, chubby-cheeked angel.

Catherine Vaughan tombstone

Back at Lake View, the Namy angel has the look of a child. No child is noted as being buried here, so perhaps the family just liked the look.

Namy Angel

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Our Little Charles

Walking through a cemetery gives you a peek into a world that is now gone. I think most of us go through our day to day life assuming that people who lived a century or so ago were pretty much like us. It takes a bit of a jolt to realize that those people’s worldview was radically different from our own, to the point where it would probably seem alien to us. We are shaped very much by the world we inhabit.

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We generally assume today that a child is going to outlive his or her parents. We have eliminated childhood diseases that once ravaged populations. We have treatments and adaptive devices for many illnesses and impairments that cannot be cured to allow people to live full lives.  Infant and child mortality have been so radically decreased by modern medicine that it is a shocking tragedy when someone dies in childhood.

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Yet all the children’s graves, often topped with lamb statues, remind us that for our people just a few generations ago, death in childhood was much, much more common. Still tragic, still devastating, but a tragedy repeated over and over in home after home.   And so today, when I walk through the cemetery and see the stone lambs, I think of my friends and family and especially of my healthy nieces and nephews, and I am so very grateful.

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