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Posts Tagged ‘chestnut grove cemetery’

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I’ve written before about the use of sleep as a euphemism for death. One of the most common iterations of this metaphor is the simple epitaph “asleep in Jesus” that I’ve found on a tombstone in nearly every cemetery I’ve visited. It is, I suppose, intended to add an additional layer of comfort – not only is your loved one not dead, but merely sleeping, but he or she is sleeping safely in the arms of the Christian savior and son of God.

Bates

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All that’s beautiful in woman
All we in her nature love
All that’s good in all that’s human
Passed this gate to God above.

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Phi Beta Kappa is probably one of the best known collegiate honor societies in the United States. It was founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, making it the first Greek letter fraternity for college and university students, the oldest liberal arts honor society, and one of the oldest undergraduate organizations in the country. Ohio Chapter Alpha was founded at Western Reserve College in 1847 (from the University archives).

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Philbin (2)

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I’ve written about draped urns before, but I haven’t written about the symbol of drapes or curtains all by themselves. Most people who study cemetery symbolism agree that the depiction of draperies on a tombstone is a symbol of mourning. Into the 20th century, it was customary in the United States to put out black drapes (not just as curtains, but over mantlepieces, furniture, and other decor) during a period of mourning.

Spayd detail

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Everyone has aesthetic preferences, and we’re coming up against one of mine. I don’t find the urn (sometimes draped and sometimes not) to be a particularly visually interesting symbol, and that is why it is so underrepresented in my photographs. Douglass Keister comments in Stories in Stone that the urn is a good candidate for the most commonly used funerary symbol of the 19th century. Based on the cemeteries I visit and their 19th century origins, I should have many more photos of urns that I do, but I just don’t usually feel compelled to press the shutter button.

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The urn itself represents a vessel for holding ashes or cremated remains. Keister points out this makes the urn an odd choice for a popular symbol, as cremation was a much rarer practice in the 19th century when the urn enjoyed its heyday as a symbol. The urns we are looking at are carved representations rather than functional urns. When it is present, the drape may represent “the veil between earth and the heavens” (Keister 137).

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According to the “this day in history” calendar I check when I am looking for inspiration on what to write, today is the anniversary of the incorporation of the Boy Scouts in the United States.

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Douglas Robert Mason is buried in Chestnut Grove Cemetery in Ashtabula, Ohio.  His tombstone has a large Boy Scout symbol engraved in the center and then notes “Pack 14 Plymouth, Oh.”  I haven’t been able to find anything on Mr. Mason or a Pack 14 in Plymouth, but I am going to have to guess that he was a devoted Scout Master or other volunteer to have the Boy Scout emblem as the centerpiece of his memorial.

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I last took a look at the cemetery symbolism of the upright fist with the pointer finger extended in Going Up. I wanted to share some more photos that I have found of this symbol, since it is one of the most common to find in Ohio from the 19th century.

Matilda Escott and her daughter Caroline died in the 1860s, and the finger points upward to heaven, where the remaining family no doubt believed they ascended. They rest in Fort Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg, Ohio.

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In Ashtabula’s Chestnut Grove Cemetery, we find Martha, whose surname I could not read. Her family wanted visitors to know that she was heaven-bound.

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Alice Stork’s body rests in Oxford Cemetery, Ohio, but her parents placed a marker with this symbol, showing that her soul was elsewhere.

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Today is the anniversary of the Ashtabula Bridge Disaster. On this date in 1876, a train plummeted into a ravine outside Ashtabula, Ohio, after the bridge it was traveling on collapsed. In the Cleveland area, you can visit a trio of gravesites related to this tragedy.

The bridge that collapsed was the creation of two men, both of whom were implicated as negligent in the tragedy but never faced any legal consequences. Amasa Stone was the architect. His own suicide several years after the accident has been attributed to it, but it is not clear what precipitated his actions. He rests in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

Stone

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Charles Collins was the engineer. Officially, the story is that he committed suicide after testifying about the accident, but evidence pointed to his death being a homicide. His family mausoleum is within site of the marker for the unidentified victims of the disaster.

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Those victims of the tragedy who could not be identified (the train cars plunged into icy water from significant height, and then caught fire from the lamps and stove inside) lie under this monument in Chestnut Grove Cemetery.

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Fate, they say, is a cruel mistress. The ghost of Charles Collins may be more acutely aware of that than most. Charles Collins was the chief engineer for the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway – the man who helped Amasa Stone design the fatal bridge and who inspected it very soon before the accident. In the ensuing investigation, he was heavily interrogated about his role in failing to prevent the disaster. And, the newspapers reported, one day after testifying, Charles Collins returned to his room and put a gun to his head. And that is how the story has come down to us. One of the two primary villains of the Horror was conveniently dead, and the public seemed to feel that his blood was some small payment for the destruction he caused.

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In fact, investigators at the time saw all the signs of a homicide rather than a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But at the time, allowing Collins’ death to go down on the books as a suicide resulting from his feelings of guilt was the more politically expedient choice than attempting to identify the murderer of a highly unpopular man.

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Collins’ family laid him to rest in the mausoleum in quiet Chestnut Grove Cemetery, mere miles from the disaster that seems to have precipitated his death. And then in 1895, the monument to the unrecognized dead was placed in the cemetery in the exact same section, almost next door to the Collins’ mausoleum. Cemetery visitors occasionally report a repentant, weeping man wandering that section. If ghosts do exist, it appears that Charles Collins can never escape his culpability for what happened outside Ashtabula in that gorge on a freezing December night. He and those who his negligence killed seem destined to haunt the same piece of hallowed ground, their fates permanently entwined.

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