Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Great, Grandfather Oak of Magnolia Cemetery

 “Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.”  -Lawrence Block

  Back in 2013 I took a world wind tour of Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. I happened to notice a very large tree that made me take pause... but after all, I was there to see gravestones, so I continued on without spending much time viewing the tree.

As a collector of all thing cemetery related, I located a postcard some time later that featured Magnolia Cemetery. 

To my surprise, it portrayed the same giant oak that I had stumbled upon the year before. The postcard had been published at the turn of the 20'th century and was postmarked 1908.   

The card referred to the tree as the "Old Oak" of Magnolia Cemetery.  It estimated the tree's height at 40-60 feet while branches spread some 100 ft. outward from the tree. The trunk was quoted at over 20 ft. in diameter. 

How had I overlooked such a gem within a cemetery?

In 2016 I made plans to once again visit Magnolia cemetery and this time I wanted to pay homage to this spectacular specimen. 

More than 100 years after the postcard of this amazing ancient oak was mailed, there I stood in front of it, once again.  But this time, I had done some research on the tree.

The oak had definitely grown even larger. The horizontally reaching limbs, easily seen in the old postcard,  are so large and heavy now that they lay spreading across the ground. The current bough spread is estimated at 117 feet, the trunk circumference is approximately 25 feet and the trees height is 60 feet plus. 

To get an idea of exactly how huge this fabulous oak is, look closely at the picture on the left. That is me standing just to the right of the tree!

 Aging gracefully hasn't been an easy process for the old Grandfather Oak, as it is nicknamed.  In 1989,  Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina. The oak was quite badly damaged.  Mead's Tree Service was quickly called in to save the tree, if possible. Years later now, the tree is flourishing. One has to look in the back of the tree for the signs of the hurricane's wrath.

 So, by now you must be wondering... just how old is this tree?

Magnolia Cemetery was founded in 1850. Before there was a cemetery here, these grounds were the estate of Col. William Cunnington a close friend of Gen. George Washington, who had on occasion, attended dinner parties here. No doubt taking notice of the massive oaks and magnolias alike.

Estimates of the tree's age put it somewhere near 800 years old, some argue possibly  even older!

The photo to the right was taken in 1898 by Clarke Studio just after a snow storm. 

It looks identical to the postcard that took me on my journey back, proving yet again, you never know what treasures you will discover inside America's Great Cemeteries.


Monday, December 15, 2014

What Cardinals in the Cemetery Told Me

No matter where I look I can find a different superstition regarding the Cardinal but during my research one meaning in particular really hit home with me...

Throughout time people have read into all kinds of things as omens. Little messages that would give insight concerning a decision to be made or a glimpse into an uncertain future. Birds were seen as obvious carriers of such messages. After all, birds could fly high up into the sky, a mystical realm once untouchable by humans.


A black bird may be seen as a bad omen, an owl may even mean death was on it's way. But the cheerful red cardinal meant something all together different, it became the topic of many a Victorian Christmas card. 

The Christmas connection was an obvious one. The cardinal’s very name is derived from the high-ranking clerics of the Catholic Church who wear bright red robes. 

So what does it mean to see a cardinal you ask? Let me share my own personal story and my incredible cardinal experience.

After many years of marriage I found myself going through a divorce. It was a dark, scary and uncertain time, as I had married young and really didn't know anything else. But, I was tired of being the other woman. I kept my mind busy with all of my cemetery research. Each day I would post a cemetery photo online with an explanation of the art and symbols used on each.

One day in particular, a person I didn't know at all, responded with an exhaustive history behind the person on one of my stones. After that, with each photo I posted, this person responded with even more insights. Eventually we began to talk and came to realize that our lives were so similar that we were practically the same person. We had both worked as D.J's our mother's had both made wedding cakes for people, and that in addition to each being Civil War buffs, we were also both EMT's that were associated with fire departments. The only difference was that we lived in different states. I felt as if I had found my soul mate, that piece of me that had always been missing...

Just about a year later, I took this man to the cemetery where I had taken the gravestone photo on which he had first commented. I wanted to show him the stone that brought us together - firsthand. Being in that cemetery was like our relationship had come to a complete full circle. 

To my shock, he got down on his knee, right among the stones, and proposed to me.  The two photographs I use in this blog were taken in that very cemetery. 

As we were leaving I noticed the male cardinal sitting on a stone and then his female, just a few stones away. You couldn't miss them, and what their presence meant, spoke volumes.

Cardinals are monogamous birds whose relationships with their spouses are harmonious, romantic and musical. The male and female sing duets, calling similar songs to each other. They really are one of  Nature's super couples.

Native American lore says if a cardinal crosses your path or attracts your attention, and you're single, there may be a romantic relationship in your near future. If you're already in a relationship, you may experience renewed romance and courtship.

I can't help thinking that this was an omen directed right at me, telling me that I was finally on the right track. That I had found... The One.

If that wasn't enough, these amazing little birds are red...  and red is the color of the root chakra, the energy center associated with stability, survival, and security. The issues I had been struggling with the whole year prior.

It was all right in front of me sitting on top of gravestones in a Cambridge Massachusetts cemetery. Two little red birds reassuring me that I had indeed found my Happily Ever After....

This blog posting was specially written for my Hero.
Merry Christmas to my love,

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Classical Architecture in the Cemetery - Greek Columns

Believe it or not, in this day and age, some of the most impressive examples of classical Greek architecture are readily found in the cemetery. In fact every photo in this blog was taken in a single cemetery. Do you know what you are looking at when you view one of these impressive mausoleums?

Here is a basic Greek Architecture Primer for the cemetery enthusiast.

The ancient Greeks were primarily known for two main types of structures. The temple and the theater. The height of their building reign consisted from 900 BC to about 1'st century AD, although elements of the design has remained consistently through the ages in Italy.

Not just for mausoleums, here we see a monument showing Greek influence.
 The architectural style can be broken down into three orders, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. You will see examples of all three used frequently in the modern mausoleum design. Oddly enough, you will not see these styles used in funerary use from the same time period in Greece. The ancient Greeks did not allow burials within city limits. Graves were found along the sides of roads leading into cities and consisted of rock piles. 

The use of Greek architecture reappeared during different time periods around the world. The first revival was during the Renaissance period. Again it emerged during the mid 18'th century during the Neoclassical movement. Here in the U.S. between the late 1800's to the turn of the 19'th century, architects became smitten with the clean lines and column of  Greece during the age of Greek Revival.  This is the time period you see most often represented in our American cemeteries.

Examples of the three style orders.
 As you can see by the diagram to the left, there are many parts to the post and lintel design attributed to Greek architecture. So complicated was their understanding of engineering, they used mathematical formulas that could compensate for optical illusions.. In an age without equipment which used internal combustion engines or precision lazer  tools they created some of the most enduring buildings in human history.
Me? I'm lucky if I can hang 2 pictures and get them straight.

 We'll keep this simple and focus primarily on the choice of column designs.

The Doric Order

Arguable the most simple and least decorative example of the Greek columns. A circular cushion rises from the top of the column to the square abacus on which rest the lintels. They are also graced by fluted columns. The columns end at the bottom straight, with no further adornment.

A refinement of the Doric Column is the entasis, a gentle convex swelling to the profile of the column, which prevents an optical illusion of concavity. 

The Ionic Order

Represented by voluted capital, in which a curved echinus (or molding) of similar shape to that of the Doric Order, but decorated with stylized ornament, is surmounted by a horizontal band that scrolls under to either side, forming spirals or volutes similar to those of the nautilus shell or ram's horn. The base is finished off in simple molding.

The Corinthian Order

The latest style in Greek column design and the most ornate. Characterized by rows of acanthus leaves above which rose voluted tendrils, supporting the corners of the abacus. The acanthus leaf is a common element in funerary design and the topic of an upcoming blog.

According to legend, the capital was invented by a bronze founder, Callimarchus of Corinth, who took his inspiration from a basket of offerings that had been placed on a grave, with a flat tile on top to protect the goods. The basket had been placed on the root of an acanthus plant which had grown up around it.


The Greek influence is everywhere in the cemetery! On your next visit look around and see how many of the three styles you can find. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Telling the Bees

Through the centuries bees have been a vital part of any farm.  

Not only did they give golden honey to their owners, they produced a wax that could be burned or used in balms and salves. Even the Egyptians recognized that honey could be spread on wounds and the bacteria within it had a healing value. Honey was sometimes referred to as the food of the Gods.

The bee was seen as a mystical creature. 

Any engineer could tell you that a bee does not possess  the aerodynamics which enable flight. Yet, they surely do fly. It was thought that bees were tiny winged souls that were capable of flying up to Heaven and back.

For this reason, great care was taken not to offend the bees within a hive.

A tradition dealing with death began in England and was subsequently carried with the Colonists to America. If a person on the farm were to pass, someone was required to inform the bees.  The carrier of the information would need to lean into the hive and whisper the sad news.

Once the bees had been respectfully informed of the death, a shroud would be applied to the hive. The hope was to not offend the spiritual bees. If this happened,  they may leave the hive which would be a great loss for the farm.

In some cases the hive would have to be moved for it's own protection. That way Death could not also find the bees and harm them. Furthermore, it may be prudent to turn the opening of the hive away, so that the funeral happenings could not be viewed by the bees.  That being said, during the funeral, the hive may be ceremoniously lifted a few inches and put down again at the same time as the coffin. Then an offering of food and drink from a beekeeper's funeral may be left by the hive for the bees, including the funeral biscuts and wine.

 John Greenleaf Whittier, wrote a poem about this folklore entitled, “Telling the Bees.”  Whittier’s poem is the story about a man going to visit his girlfriend – a beekeeper – who lived with her father at “Fernside Farm.”  The following three stanzas from the poem give detail.

“Just the same as the month before –
The house and the trees,
The barn’s brown gable, the vine by the door –
Nothing changed but the hives of bees.

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back,
Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened:  The summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Operation "Cemetery Sting" - Illegal to sell items.

For many years veteran grave markers, many of them made of bronze, have been taken off of graves and are being sold... on Ebay, in antique shops or flea markets and yard sales. 

Since it is hard to know how the seller has acquired such markers Ebay, one of the largest online sellers, has a rules in place on this subject.
EBay policy states that they are:

“…against cemetery theft and vandalism of our countries cemeteries and therefore prohibit the sale of such items…” 

A cemetery flag holder being sold for $30.00

 This GAR edition flag holder which commemorates the nation's 1776 founding, was found for sale in a New Hampshire antique shop. 

The sale of this item would result in a Class B Felony... the purchaser could be charged with receiving stolen merchandise.

Brand new cast bronze veteran's flag holder's can be purchased legally from online retailers for as little as $33.95. Lightweight plastic versions are found for under $15.00.

Individual states also have statuettes on the removal of cemetery items.

Found on Ebay and is a misdemeanor to sell.
The State of New Hampshire has an RSA's regarding cemeteries:

635:7 Unlawful Possession or Sale of Gravestones and Gravesite Items. – No person shall possess or sell, offer for sale or attempt to sell, or transfer or dispose of any monument, gravestone, marker, or other structure, or any portion or fragment thereof, placed or designed for a memorial of the dead, or any fence, railing, gate, plot delineator, or curb, knowing or having reasonable cause to know that it has been unlawfully removed from a cemetery or burial ground

 During the writing of this blog, this marker was found listed on Ebay, starting bid is $111.11

 Ebay has been notified of this sale.

On 29 May 2003 President Bush signed into law S. 330, the Veterans' Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003" (Public Law108-29). 

This legislation amended Title 18 of the United States Code to make it a federal felony to "injure or destroy . . . any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property commemorating the service of any person . . .in the armed forces of the United States. . ."

Seller beware The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and The Sons of Spanish American War Veterans have set up committees to keep a watchful eye on online for these markers. These groups also canvas antique shops, flea markets and pawn shops looking for the markers.

Click Here  for a recent story dealing with an arrest on just this subject.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Photo Journal of a Civil War Soldier's Funeral.

"Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on."  

~Edward Thomas

On a somber, rainy May 8 in 2010, we buried our beloved Elihu Legro. A man who proudly served his country and his state in the 6'th New Hampshire Infantry all while serving his God as a minister of the Methodist faith.

I remember the day he enlisted  in 1861 as a private.  Of course that wasn't enough for Elihu as he also asked to serve on the medical staff. 

He was beloved by his men and was so promoted to Lieutenant in 1862. 

He became gravely ill shortly thereafter with disease and was called back to his Lord on the first day of the new year 1863. 

What a comfort it was to see medical officers who served in The Great Cause marching along next to clergy, both there to honor Elihu.

It seemed as if the whole state had shown up for Elihu's reburial.

A fife and drum band led the procession, followed by a detail of the 6'th New Hampshire.
Elihu was carried in a handsome horse drawn hearse which was procured all the way from North Berwick, Maine. Following the hearse was the New Hampshire National Guard's Honor Guard as well as many ladies in mourning and clergy who tried their best to comfort the grieving ladies. Also in the procession was Governor's Horse Guard and groups including the Son's of Union Veterans, the Masons, and VFW members.

It was a sight to behold to see his widow and child. What a great loss it must of been for his family to endure.

Elihu's widow looked appropriately mournful dressed in her widow's weeds. She will mourn her husband in this way for the next full year.

I could not help becoming choked up to see such a fine man be lifted from the carriage in a pine box.

The Honor Guard looked so very smart dressed in their uniforms. They performed their solemn duties while patriots watched on, holding  flags.

The New Hampshire Regiment stood at attention, their hearts heavy.

A bugler stood at the head of the open grave. The soldier's constant companion. Always there at the beginning of a campaign and now standing as a silent century at the close of this soldier's battle.

The flag Elihu had fought so proudly to preserve was laid with honor on top of his casket.

The ceremony opened with some words of thanks to those who had turned out to honor Elihu's memory. 

Though Mary couldn't be with her husband when he died in a Washington hospital, it would have given her a measure of comfort to see the hospital steward there in attendance.

Elihu's contemporaries did a brilliant job with the unfolding of the flag.

Had he been there, I know Elihu would have been proud to see those glorious stars and stripes folded with such pride and precision.

A token his widow would  forever cherish.

Mounted Calvary members saluted as the flag was presented. 

Arms were presented and the sharp percussion of fire pierced the melancholy air.

As quickly as the firing began it seemed to end, only to be replaced by a heart wrenching rendition of Taps

There was scarcely a dry eye left in the cemetery. 

With the program completed the soldiers lined up and took their leave. The somber tunes that were played by the fife and drum band on the march in, were now replaced by a somewhat more lively dirge.  Ladies who had laid  flowers made sure to take one home to press into their Bibles. These would serve as a final remembrance, a token of the day. 

For a few hours Rochester, New Hampshire had seemed to step back in time as it honored one of it's sons with what arguable may very well be the State's final Civil War Soldier's funeral.

For more information on why this reburial took place in Rochester New Hampshire in 2010 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Inverted Torch Symbol

The Inverted torch is a true symbol of the cemetery. In fact it is probable that you will not see it used in any other place.

As a funerary symbol the torch is symbolic of a life.  As a torch is inverted the flame will be extinguished, hence a life ended...

This type of image is called a mortality symbol. Even those who were not literate would understand the message.

Often we see the inverted torch with a flame that remains burning. The flame is then said to be symbolic of the soul.

Though the body may fail, it is believed that the soul will continue on.

Therefore even after the torch has been inverted, the flame continues to burn, just as the faithful believe that the soul continues to exist even after death.