Good thing he returned to New York soon after Mountain View Cemetery opened, because within years, the grounds became much more than a local cemetery.
A cemetery for the living
For the last century it has been a gathering place for the living. Yes, people still come to mourn, but others walk their dogs, learn to drive, picnic, party, sketch, attend movie viewings sponsored by the management, go on first dates, view Christmas lights and so much more. Olmsted would be shocked. But, as one commenter on an article titled, “Dogs running loose on graves draw ire at cemetery,” from East Bay Times, said, “Below ground – for the dead, Above ground – for the living.” It is a tug of war for this green space.
But then someone complained. Looking to purchase a family plot, Mr. Lau visited Mountain View. He was irked by dogs running over the top of graves and kids playing baseball. He says in the article that he didn’t want dogs pooping on him after death. Well, hmm. Seems Mr. Lau has metaphorically pooped on the visitors to Mountain View. Because as a result of his complaints, Mountain View management has posted rules throughout the property on sandwich boards. It’s caused many to bristle. And like all issues, it is more complicated than it seems. Not black, not white, but gray.
Mountain View rules may not make sense to us, but they are there for a reason.
In a future blog, I will take you to a Washington state cemetery that has become a popular place for Muslim burials. Muslims cannot touch dogs. In fact, if a dog brushes against their clothes, they must wash them multiple times in order to please God. So, now imagine that they are buried and later a dog is allowed to run across their gravesite? Awful, right? So the rules that Mountain View has about keeping dogs on leashes and off of graves is reasonable. We just need to take the time to understand why the rule is important.
If we walk in kindness, the living and dead can coexist at Mountain View. Obey the posted rules and enjoy the property accordingly.
Known by two names, King County Hospital Cemetery or Duwamish Poor Farm Cemetery, depending on your search engine, Seattle once had a Potter’s Field. When the cemetery was exhumed in 1912, there were 3,280 people buried here. A little less than 800 of those lost souls had known names.
One of the most remarkable graves at the cemetery was for Ingo Singh, a member of the Sikh religion. His grave was dated 1908, a decade before anyone else of the Sikh religion was known to settle in Seattle. Historians wish they knew his story. So do I. From Wing Luke Museum’s website:
“What brought him to Seattle? How long had he been here? On September 4, 1907, Bellingham witnessed the “Anti-Hindu Riots” with a mob of approximately 500 men attacking Sikhs and forcibly removing them from town. Could Ingo Singh have fled Bellingham and headed south, staying in Seattle rather than continuing on to California, like many others? Or maybe he was heading north from California when the Anti-Hindu Riots took place and decided to stay in Seattle instead?”
The Duwamish Poor Farm Cemetery held over 3,000 souls, that’s 3,000 stories we will never hear. What we do know is that many died without any family to claim their bones. They mostly died destitute, and King County put them to rest. Or did they?
On a recent visit to Mission Santa Barbara, I came upon the grave of Sister Vincentia Bermudes. She died on Christmas in 1863 at the age of twenty. The base of her grave was covered with coins and dollars, as was a nearby tree stump. Why?
I was curious.
After a day of hard research, I was left with more questions than answers. Why did people leave coins? Were they hoping she would put in a good word with God on their behalf? Was there some urban legend associated with her grave? I still don’t know. In fact, I might never know.
Though, I did find a few interesting facts about burial customs as I did research on Sister Vincentia Bermudes’ grave.
First, Mission Santa Barbara is haunted. I knew this from my own visits. From cold spots to weird EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) to feelings of unease, my daughters and I are convinced. If you want to watch someone’s ghost hunting journey here, I have a link for you.
I also learned that coins are typically left on the graves of soldiers. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, the coins signify a fellow soldier’s connection to their dead friend. A quarter is the most significant offering; it means they were with the soldier when they died. This tradition dates back centuries, possibly to fallen Roman soldiers. Fellow soldiers left coins to pay for their voyage over River Styx.
I wish I could tell you the story of Sister Vincentia Bermudes; how she lived and died, but I came up empty. I hope the sentiment etched into her gravestone has come to fruition; “May she rest in Peace(sic).”
Nothing draws me to a cemetery like dark rumors and two of them persist about graves at Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham, Washington. On my recent cemetery walk, I found the two rumor-riddled resting places I was seeking and much more.
The statue of ‘Angel Eyes’ is simple to find. The locals allege that she cries real tears. I visited her mid-day and found the carving to be beautiful and found it curious that black tracks seemed to start at her tear ducts and run down her face. They were mostly likely due to our nasty Pacific Northwest weather.
Then, though it took me longer to find, I discovered the ‘Deathbed’ grave. Set within a carpet of fall leaves, it seemed to lovely a spot to cause the death of anyone. Here’s the story. According to locals, if you lie above the grave and say the name on the grave three times, you will die in three days. I didn’t lie on the grave. That felt disrespectful. But, I did get goosebumps when I came close.
I continued to walk the cemetery and near the top of the hill I found the most beautiful sculpture. The weeping woman sits in the center of the children’s cemetery and embodies everything we feel at the loss of a child. A visual poem, she is beautiful and heartbreaking.
Please get out there and visit a cemetery soon and let me know what you discover.
As always, I love you and hope you have a wonderful week. J
Traveling through London with my family, I stumbled across a book, HAUNTED LONDON. During an hour of down-time in the hotel, I read it cover to cover. Inside the author mentioned a place called, Crossbones Cemetery. A quick Google search and I found out it was a stone’s throw away from our hotel. I was determined to see it for myself. Click here to book a haunted London walking tour!
The Crossbones Cemetery holds somewhere around 14,000 women and their children, but you will not find a single tombstone here. Sanctified prayers were never uttered over these bones. Once treated as London’s castaways, it is the cemetery of the forgotten. Women of the night or Churchill’s geese for the orange hoods and white cloaks they were required to wear, these women were seen as too steeped in sin to warrant niceties like church rites and grave markers. That was two centuries ago.
Modern Londoners are atoning for the mistakes of their forefathers. On numerous occasions, developers have attempted to morph the property into a parking lot or some other profit-churning venture. It’s always been fought and defeated. And now, well, what’s happening leaves me speechless.
Once a month, Londoners come together at Crossbones Cemetery. They are reclaiming the dignity of those buried within the gates. Researchers are unearthing the names of the women and children. Then, they write those names on pieces of ribbon and tie them onto the surrounding fence. Slowly, they are remembering, honoring and reclaiming lost souls.
I visited the cemetery two years ago with my older daughter. My younger child would have nothing to do with our field trip. As I tied our flower offering to the fence, I stood in awe. There was an overwhelming sense of peace at Crossbones. And love. And forgiveness.
This week, not because it’s nearing Halloween, but because history lives and breathes in these sacred spaces, walk a cemetery. Take a photo. Tidy the leaves off of a grave. And maybe utter a name etched into a tombstone. Who knows what this simple act will do for you or the person buried beneath your feet?
Those that know me best, know how much I love cemeteries. The graves hold the remains of people that lived, struggled, met some challenges and failed at others. It is the story of us. The tombstones themselves not only bare names, but hold history, culture, politics, tragedy, and love on their carved faces.
Tomorrow my new blog begins. I will share a tombstone with you, and more important than that, I will tell you the story of the person buried there. Tomorrow I begin to show you how the dead still live, still teach and still force us to confront complicated issues.
Nothing is black and white. Maybe that’s why most tombstones are gray.
Steeped in history and symbology, cemeteries make for an amazing place to visit. As I researched my first novel, I walked upwards of thirty cemeteries across the west coast of the United States. I learned about burial customs, religious rites, epidemics and cultural difference, all from walking through headstones.
Each grave holds a person, and that person had a story. I plan to use this blog be a voice for the dead. I will snap a picture of a grave, research the person buried beneath and share their story with you here. I hope you enjoy the journey we’re about to go on together, and it inspires you to visit your local cemetery.
Does receiving a compliment make you squirm or cringe? Yeah, me too. And I’m sure the rest of the world agrees with us.
But, what if we said a simple, “thanks” and then stowed those kind observations away to examine later when we were alone?
Can you remember a recent compliment someone gave you? Maybe it was that you were funny, that you showed initiative, that you hit a homer with that work project, that you looked sharp, whatever comes to mind. Now, take those words and imagine they are a marble. Weird, right?
Now find a quiet place where you are safe and alone. Pull out one of those word marbles and examine it. Hold it in your mind and try to find the grain of truth in it. And now, here’s the really tough part, sit with that truth until it doesn’t feel ill-fitting. Then, tomorrow or next week or next month when your confidence feels low, take out that marble and remind yourself of your strengths.
Sounds strange, right? Let’s practice together.
The compliment: “You gave an amazing presentation.”
The reaction: Squirm, cringe, blush, and a mumbled, “Oh, it went on too long…thanks, though.”
The marble: I gave an amazing presentation (which I know is the truth because that person has no incentive to lie to me AND I spent ten plus hours making that presentation…well…great!)
The quiet analysis: I worked hard and it showed. My hard work was acknowledged by someone I respect.
See? Not so painful. In fact, next time you start the prep for another challenge, that marble may give you the confidence to start strong.
The best antidote to the distance you feel from your tween or teen is truth. Lie and that distance will grow exponentially.
My youngest daughter is thirteen. Last night she told me some stuff. I guess I should put “stuff” in capital letters. When she was through talking, she said something I will never forget. And I thought I better pass it along to as many people as possible.
Her exact words were, “Mom, you’ve always been authentic with me and that’s why I can tell you anything.”
Yes. I’ve told both of my daughters the truth. Sometimes they’ve asked about it. And sometimes it’s just felt right to share. They know about my uglies and mistakes and personal bloopers. And no. I’m not going to share my stuff with you. 🙂
I was raised to be real. Thanks to my father, Gary, one of my biggest role models, I am rarely filtered. And when I became a parent, I watched other parents with admiration and scrutiny. Park visits, malls, school events, and friendships – like NSA – I was always watching. And what I noticed is that many parents weren’t real with their kids. Their children asked them questions and parents didn’t answer honestly. I was struck with how destructive that could be to their relationships. That’s when I set my intention to be real. If my kids asked, I’d be open and upfront.
My unfiltered self has been well-catalogued on my thirteen-year-old’s social media threads. And her friends think I’m goofy and crazy. And yet, her friends hug me when I see them at school. They sit in the backseat of my car as I’m driving them places and speed-gossip loud enough for me to hear.
Recently, kids at my daughter’s school have struggled with depression and they’ve talked about it in earshot. And I’ve found myself sharing some of my stuff with them, too.
Those are important conversations. These are important people. And they deserve to see the people they love and respect in bright, glaring lights – not as perfect adults that were perfect, law-abiding, parent-obeying, abstaining teens.
And I’ll leave it at that.
As always, I love you and hope you have a kick ass week. – Jennifer