Archive for September, 2010

In honor of Halloween, I’m planning as many posts as possible in October about the supposedly haunted, haunting, creepy and just plain weird in cemeteries. The reality (or unreality) of the supernatural is less the point of this endeavor than exploring the stories that we tell about it and what makes us feel a little uncomfortable.

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While visiting Lake View recently, I was visiting one of the newest sections and noticed a new variety of grave art I hadn’t seen before. The carvings on the monuments are not reminiscent of the kind of windows that might be found in a church or cathedral.


There is another style of monument out there that actually has stained glass incorporated into it, but this is a different take altogether.


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This is the most unusual grave offering I have found yet. Flowers are the most common of all. I’m used to the Jewish tradition of leaving a pebble or stone to signify that someone has been to the memorial. I’ve seen toys and figurines, usually on the graves of children or teenagers. But running shoes are a new one. I walked by the grave more than once in case it was simply a matter of someone using the bench to change shoes, since a lot of people do walk around Lake View. But after several hours, no one had been back to claim the shoes, so I’m going to guess that they were left there for the deceased. I am guessing she (gender guess on shoe size and style) must have been an athlete, maybe a walker or jogger.

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This time last week, we looked at bench style monuments called exedra. Let’s look at a few more of these from Lake View.



McKisson Monument

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When you visit a cemetery, you may see small rocks or pebbles set on top of monuments. This stems from a Jewish tradition. The predominant interpretation of the practice of leaving small stones on grave markers is that it originated in a time before modern burial and tombstones. The body would be prepared and wrapped, and then buried, but the arid heat of the Middle East, it was difficult to bury bodies deeply. A cairn of stones would be built over the burial to prevent animals from disturbing the grave. Leaving rocks at each visit would not only serve as a signifier that someone had visited, but would literally build and maintain the memorial. Even though the funerary practices have changed, the ritual of leaving a stone has survived and in some cases grown. I know a number of cemetery visitors who have left stones on graves who are not Jewish or even familiar with very much of Jewish religion and culture.


I found both of these heavily covered markers in Lake View last fall.

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Luckily, I’ve made it to Lake View again and am able to return us to my favorite kind of crosses for our Friday regular feature (up until this coming month, where I’m going to work on creepy stuff and probably leave the crosses alone for a while).

The Breens have a lovely cross carved into their marker.



The Wilson-Lenihan cross is a little more subtle in its Celtic-ness, with the strong lines of the arms of the cross and then a lightly textured swirling pattern on the ring.


The Fritzsche cross stands above a family plot blanketed in ivy.




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The more I walk around cemeteries, the more amazed I am at how cemeteries defy our expectations. Grief, we are told, is an individual process – everyone experiences it differently. Particularly in modern American culture, the individual is prized – embrace what makes you different from everyone else. And so the legacy we leave in our tombstones is often assumed to be unique. But in fact, our memorials and our mourning follow particular patterns – we do things the way other people around us do them. One of the ways this becomes truly evident is when the same marker is used in two different sections of the same cemetery.

Well over a year ago, I found this marker for Flora.


Then a few weeks ago I was walking through Lake View again and found an almost identical marker.


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The National Typographical Union was a labor union for the printing industry, founded in 1852, later becoming the International Typographical Union. The Cleveland local was recognized in 1860 and as such became the oldest trade union in Cleveland. As evidenced by this memorial marker, mortuary benefits were available to members. The union merged with the Communication Workers Association in 1985, bringing its existence under the Typographical Union name to an end.

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If you look at the vast majority of tombstones, there isn’t much information there. So anything that is on there must be important. Particularly in older graveyards, there is a significant emphasis on place – place of birth, place of residence, or place of death.

In Erie Street Cemetery, we are provided almost a map of movement westward with the grave of Esther Clampett, formerly of New Jersey and then Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

To the Memory of Esther

The Kepplers were immigrants from Germany and France.


Immigrant John Cubben was born on the Isle of Man.


Does place hold the same significance for us now, in a world where I could visit the places listed on all three of these markers in a matter of days with an ambitious flight itinerary and money for the tickets?

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