Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cradle to Grave

I've said it before and I'll say it again...I do love a good cemetery or obituary. I like to think of obituaries as little tiny biographies, highlight reels of past accomplishments and interests. While I don't go to the obits section first like my old piano teacher, Mrs. Mackey did, every now and then I look through the printed obits in the NYT, London Times or Boston Globe. (For the record, Mrs. Mackey was the organist at church as well, so she had to know when she needed to reschedule a lesson because of a funeral gig.)

I found this recent obit in the Boston Globe to be of interest. Janice Snow lived to be nearly 100 and saw so many of the high and low points of the 20th century. She saw the world evolve in airline travel, mechanization, civil rights...the whole gamut of the last 100 years.

There are, I think, real little gems to be found in these overlooked columns of newspapers. Even if the remembrance is someone we knew slightly, often there is a surprise in the person's military experience or history...a tidbit we'd never have known if a thoughtful family member or journalist hadn't brought it to light. And as interesting as the celebrity obituaries are, I'm usually more intrigued with those regular people who have lived across the decades of the past 100 years--their experiences are almost always enlightening. Some were in dangerous and pivotal roles in our various wars, others worked tirelessly on domestic issues (read as raising a family and working hard.) There are the noted scientists, musicians and sports heroes who are largely forgotten, but renew our interest when we read over the highlights of their lives. 

And as for cemeteries, well, just call me a fan. I know, we'll all end up in one sooner or later, but the great monuments and small headstones alike fascinate me. I've had some wonderful times in the cemeteries of Paris, London, Boston and NY. I'd bet most people who are interested in architecture or sculpture are also drawn to some of the incredible works of art that can be found in cemeteries around the world. 

I made a wonderful trip to the Kensico cemetery last fall. Among the highlights there are the graves of Tommy Dorsey and Lou Gehrig...but it was some of the forgotten names, those with grand and interesting monuments that really caught my eye. Here's the blog entry...The Bells of Valhalla

Last winter, when I was in Montreal for all the Canadiens celebrations, we of course visited Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery. It was a cold December day and there were snowflakes floating around us...it couldn't have been a more perfect afternoon. Like some of the great American cemeteries, this French-Canadian jewel is making the most of it's spectacular views and surrounds, welcoming visitors and mourners alike. Mount Auburn and Forest Hills are great that way as well sponsoring tours, art events and nature walks. The above photo was taken that afternoon in Montreal, as were the photos below. 
There are a few small (and some tiny) cemeteries that I've driven by for a couple of years now and just have to stop at some afternoon. One is a 19th century close to the Connecticut-NY border called the Milltown Cemetery. There are a couple of very large above ground mausoleums that are quite spectacular when viewed among the other very quiet stones. Two other 18th century burial grounds are on my more traveled routes and I'm hoping to explore them in the near future, so photos are sure to follow.

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