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Author: Jennifer Hotes

Raised downriver from the Hanford Nuclear Reactor, Jennifer finds her bliss raising two children in the Pacific Northwest. She writes and illustrates and when time permits walks the dog.
Dead Space?

Dead Space?

 

Overlook of Mountain View Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Laine Riley

Built for Mourners

Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California was established in 1863. Designed by renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for his design of Central Park in New York, it was created as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement in which burial grounds had a park-like feel. Olmsted wanted Mountain View to be a sanctuary, not a park. He went so far as to design hedges that surround family plots to create tiny green ‘chapels’ for mourners. Cemeteries, Olmested believed, were for thoughtful contemplation, not play. You can read more about it in the East Bay Times.

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.

Black Dahlia’s grave is a popular stop for Mountain View visitors. Photo courtesy of Laine Riley

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. 

When it was built, there were no public parks. None. Not anywhere in Oakland. Now there are two major parks in the northern part of the city, but none with the views and greenery that makes Mountain View special. No wonder people enjoy the grounds all year long. Here’s another reason visitors come…to enjoy the holiday light show! Really? Yes. The head of customer management for Mountain View had a desire to brighten up the long dark winters in Oakland, so more than a decade ago, she created the holiday light show. It includes three mourning trees, where family members place ornaments in honor of their dead loved ones. Its a fantastic idea.

One complaint has changed everything.

Lush, tranquil and historic. Photo courtesy of Laine Riley

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.

Nearby Chapel of the Chimes, photo courtesy of Laine Riley

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. 

Nearby Chapel of the Chimes, photo courtesy of Laine Riley
Seattle’s Potter’s Field

Seattle’s Potter’s Field

The King County Hospital was located near the intersection of Corson Avenue and Lucile Street in Seattle’s Georgetown. Courtesy of HistoryLink.org.

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. 

So what happened to their remains in 1912? Some say they were cremated and the ashes were scattered in the nearby Duwamish River. Others though claim a darker fate; that the dead were thrown in the river without cremation or ceremony. I don’t know the truth, but Seattle’s Georgetown district is known to be haunted. From the Georgetown Castle to Sarah the menacing red-head to the church full of restless souls, KOMO news has a great article on the area. Read it, if you have a few minutes.

Ingo Singh

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?”
A photo of the area in the early 1900s courtesy of Seattle P-I.

This gritty district of Seattle was filled with taverns, houses of prostitution, and a perpetual fog of soot and sawdust due to local industry. If you want to see more photos of the area at the time, refer to Seattle P-I’s website here. 

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? 

Now, King County is doing something different with the remains of the unclaimed dead. NPR did a story about it. After cremation, a small boat with a handful of volunteers sets sail on the Puget Sound. Prayers and words of love are spoken to the wind and ashes are scattered over choppy waters. It’s beautiful, but I also feel sad about it. Maybe we should raise a collective monument on the shores of the Puget Sound? I’d like to leave them flowers.

 

 

 

Sister Bermudes Died on Christmas Day

Sister Bermudes Died on Christmas Day

Sister Vincentia Bermudes died on Christmas

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. 

Mission Santa Barbara fountain – over 200-years old

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. 

Did you know?

People lay peanut butter and banana sandwiches on Elvis Presley’s grave – as well as teddy bears – because he loved both. Visitors leave fresh roses on Marilyn Monroe’s grave. And someone left a container with braids of human hair on the grave of a middle-aged man in Georgia. The author of that blog couldn’t find out the story behind that strange offering…but it is worth a read! 

Interesting. 

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).”

 

 

 

A Visit to Bayview Cemetery

A Visit to Bayview Cemetery

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Named, ‘Angel Eyes,’ locals swear tears fall down her stone cheeks
The ‘Deathbed’ grave is both stunning and nerve-wracking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.   

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She grieves for the children buried all around her. What a moving tribute.

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

p.s.

If you still want to know more about this amazing location, I found a fantastic blog about it when I was trying to research Edmund Gaudette for reader, Jan. Enjoy!

Crossbones Cemetery – Londoners Refuse to Forget Them

Crossbones Cemetery – Londoners Refuse to Forget Them

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.

Names written on ribbon, offerings of love tied to the fence

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.

The commemorative plate, posted on the gates of Crossbones Cemetery

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?

Sending you my love. 

Makoto Okamura – Wanted to Help Developing Nations

Makoto Okamura – Wanted to Help Developing Nations

Tombstone of Makoto Okamura, courtesy of NHK Documentaries

Makoto Okamura was born in Japan and was educated as a  traffic and urban planning engineer. His career goal was to serve developing nations to improve their infrastructure. His work took him to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A Life Cut Short

On July 1, 2016, five ISIS terrorists stormed a popular bakery and killed twenty-two people, seven were Japanese nationals, including Makoto Okamura. He was 32-years old and engaged to be married. 

Makoto Okamura, courtesy of NHK Documentaries

Grieving Parents Speak Out

Makoto’s parents want his story to be told again and again. On the one-year anniversary of the Dhaka terror attack, they spoke about their son to NHK Documentaries.They were the only family that accepted the invitation for an interview. Here’s the link to the NHK documentary.

 

 

Their Greatest Fear Was Assuaged

Makoto Okamura, courtesy of his Facebook page

Though nothing will ever completely erase the Okamuras’ pain, they found a small bit of comfort, thanks to the crew from NHK Documentaries. You see, until the NHK crew came to their home, the Okamuras believed their son was tortured before he was killed. Their greatest fear was that Makoto faced his death alone. That wasn’t so. During the making of the documentary, NHK heard of a man that helped one of the victims. They tracked him down and interviewed him. When they showed the young man pictures of the victims, he identified Makoto as the man he was with during the attack.

A Guilty Heart

The man that was with Makoto is a Bangladesh citizen. At the time of the attack, he worked at the bakery. That night, he heard the gunfire and hid inside the walk-in fridge. As he closed the door, a hand reached out to him. A voice asked for help. That was Makoto. The two hid together in the fridge for hours in hopes they would survive. At times they did squats to keep from freezing. Other times they held hands for comfort. Hours later, ISIS terrorists forced the door open and ordered both men to lie on the ground. ISIS killed Makoto, but spared the Bangladeshi when he was able to recite a verse of the Quran.

Makoto still haunts his thoughts.

He wishes there was some way he could have saved Makoto. He lives with great guilt.

But, Makoto’s parents are grateful he was there, and that Makoto didn’t die alone. It is a small thing that is everything.

The Tombstone

Seven stars for the Japanese victims and a paper crane for world peace

When the Okamuras had Makoto’s tombstone carved, they asked that it include a paper crane to symbolize world peace. Seven stars hover above the crane and stand for Makoto and the other six Japanese that were killed that July evening.

 

 

The conji read, “death by terrorists” and have stirred controversy in Japan

They had words carved into the stone that have caused some controversy. They say, “death by terrorist.” The Okamuras felt those words were important. They want people to remember their son and why his life ended. This was a big deal because such proclamations are frowned upon in Japanese culture. You don’t dwell on the negative. You avoid speaking about unpleasant things. That’s why writing “death by terrorist” on a tombstone has stirred such polarizing feelings in the country.

 

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One final note:

The police shot and killed the five ISIS terrorists. When authorities attempted to return their remains to their families, they refused to claim ownership because they had brought shame to them and their religion. The terrorists were buried in a potter’s field without markers.

 

In-depth article that focuses on victims:

http://www.thedailystar.net/dhaka-attack/who-were-the-victim-dhaka-café-tragedy-1249711

New York Times story on the attack and victims:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/04/world/asia/dhaka-victims-were-a-diverse-group-of-global-citizens.html?mcubz=1

Japan Families Fly to Bangladesh in Shock:

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bangladesh-attack-japan/japan-victims-families-head-to-bangladesh-in-shock-after-attacks-idUSKCN0ZJ0GS

 

Tombstone Stories Debuts Tomorrow

Tombstone Stories Debuts Tomorrow

Tombstone in Lakeview Cemetery, Seattle, Washington

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.

<3  Jennifer

 

Tombstone in Boulder, Colorado
Welcome to Tombstone Stories

Welcome to Tombstone Stories

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.

 

Take a Compliment!

Take a Compliment!

 

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.

If marbles aren’t your thing, try a gumboil approach!

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.

#TuesdayTruth – Be real with your kids.

#TuesdayTruth – Be real with your kids.

The best antidote to the distance you feel from your tween or teen is truth. Lie and that distance will grow exponentially. 

Straight outta the 70s – a photo of me as a kid that’s filtered

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