A growing obsession?

chapel at Woodvale

chapel at Woodvale

For those of you who don’t know this already, my father is a funeral director. In fact, when I was in kindergarten and first grade we actually lived in an apartment above a funeral home, kinda like the movie My Girl. While I’m pretty sure that whole experience is a big part of my fear of the dark, I definitely never developed any kind of adolescent morbid interest in death, graves, cemeteries, etc like one might expect. But as I got older, certain experiences piqued my interest. I can remember my high school trip to NYC-our plane flew directly over the city on the way into JFK and I have a very vivid memory of passing over a cemetery and seeing all the tall white headstones glowing in the winter sun and just being fascinated. Ever since I moved to Boston, I’ve had a growing interest in cemeteries. Boston is obviously much older than Portland (about 215 years) and that means it has some very old dead people buried there. I was completely agog at the sheer age of many of the graves (1661!), and enamored of the numerous cherubs, skulls, and angels that frequently adorned the tops of headstones, not to mention the old-timey spelling. There are burial grounds everywhere in Boston, not just the main cemeteries but also tiny ones tucked into unexpected places. Every time I turned around there was a new one-across from my bus stop, behind the pub, at the end the alley, etc. I assume

chapel at Extra-Mural
chapel at Extra-Mural

these were at once point adjacent to some church which has long since been demolished, but the surprise nature of these ambush catacombs only served to further intrigue me. In some instances, they were up and away from the street, supported by a retaining wall that held back what was once a hill. The one near my bus stop had a wall higher than I am tall and every time I passed I couldn’t help but wonder if there were bones right on the other side of that concrete. I mean, people are buried six feet deep, so if the wall is six feet high and there’s a tombstone right up against it, then it stands to reason that those remains have got to be practically bursting out of there. Right? Suffice to say it creeped the crap out of me, and this idea of imminent contact with someone’s mortal remains has been haunting me ever since. Then I met the Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland. Not as old as Boston, but about as old as it gets in the Willamette Valley-this cemetery is host to many pioneer graves. And it also has several crypts. Yes, I purposely selected the creepiest photo I could because this is how I envision every crypt I see, no matter how sunny the weather might actually be. All I can think about are those people in there, laying on shelves, crumbling away. *shudder* The fact that several of the crypts are roped off to keep people from getting too close to the collapsing structures only supports my delusions that there’s something threatening inside. I think my current attitude toward cemeteries can be described a mixture of captivation and terror. Kinda like a car wreck-you can’t help but look. So why do I keep going? I guess it has something to do with a growing fascination with how we remember our dead. Here in Brighton, we live startling close to several large municipal cemeteries, and lately I seem to always be wandering into one or another when I go out on an exploratory walk. It’s amazing to see how different the styles

headstone in Woodvale
headstone in Woodvale

and inscriptions are compared to graves of similar age in the US, and I find it an interesting look at the differences in what otherwise seem like fairly similar cultures. I am also struck by how peaceful these nearby cemeteries really are. Birds and squirrels prance about, blissfully unaware of what’s under their feet, and the trees whisper in a pleasant, non-ominous way. So far I’ve yet to visit a cemetery older than Lone Fir, I’m not sure where the dead were buried prior to about 1850, but for now I am enjoying my quiet walks and trying not to think about stumbling over any skeletal hands that might be protruding from the grass around the corner…

If you would like to see more images of Brighton cemeteries please check out my flickr page


About krisawayfromhome

Back at home, but still a bit uneasy. Cooking my way to salvation?
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