The Detective’s Daughter – A Grave Obsession

imageKim in Baltimore trying to decide whether or not to turn on the heat before November.

imageSome people collect stamps or coins or baseball cards. I collect grave stones. Whether ceramic, plastic or cardboard, I can’t resist them. Every October I set up a little graveyard in front of my house. I have had a few of these items since the first Halloween I moved here twenty-three years ago. One of my most prized possessions is a small gate from a cemetery in Brooklyn, New York where my husband’s family is buried. His mother gave it to me years ago and, being a detective’s daughter, I thought it best not to ask too many questions as to how she acquired this particular piece.

As a child I loved to hear my mom’s stories of growing up in the caretaker’s house at the graveyard. She would tell me how on Halloween they never had trick or treaters because the neighborhood children were scared to come back there. Mom said that she was never afraid in the house, though she did refrain from watching spooky movies when they came on television.

imageWhen I was a teenager and went to sleepovers my friends and I loved to tell scary stories. A very popular one was about Black Aggie. Black Aggie was the name of a statue that was once in the Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville. Much to my disappointment the statue had been moved by the time I heard the tale. She was a great, mournful sculpture that rested at the Angus family plot. It was said that her eyes glowed red at the stroke of midnight. We girls would huddle together in my darkened basement chanting her name, daring something to happen. My friend Billie Jo told us if we went into a dark room and stared at a mirror while chanting Black Aggie, scratches would appear on our face when the lights came on. It would have taken far more Boone’s Farm wine than I could ever smuggle in to get the courage to try that one. Now that Black Aggie resides over in the courtyard of Dolley Madison’s house I’ll have to pay her a visit…after a couple of glasses of wine that is.

The Victorians enjoyed having picnics while paying their respects on Sunday afternoons. I, however, spent many a Sunday teaching my son how to drive on the narrow roads running through the graveyard. It was a safe environment where the most traffic came from dog walkers. We’d ride around for an hour or two discussing the various headstones and notice how some were always decorated for the upcoming holiday. I guess decorating a grave is not any stranger than decorating a house with graves.

There’s one cemetery I rarely visit, though, and that’s Louden Park. My dad is buried there. His site is marked with a small bronze plaque on the ground with the dates of his birth and death engraved in the center. It gives only the bare facts, just the way Dad wanted it. He never much cared for weddings or funerals, insisting they had too many things in common. Occasionally I ride over and sit in my car on the path closest to his grave. I keep the doors locked because it’s not in the greatest neighborhood to find yourself alone. The blackjack he gave me still sits under my driver’s seat and I finger it, wanting the reassurance of its presence; his presence. I don’t want to think of him here in the ground or remember the years leading up to his death. I want to remember the man who gave me this small weapon to protect myself. There is no comfort here for me.

imageThis weekend the graves are lined up out front and I’ve arranged my new passion, a miniature graveyard, on a table in my office. I have orange lights hung around the porch and a huge bag of chocolate ready for the costumed children who aren’t afraid to come up my walkway. I encourage them all to whistle as they pass.
Do you find graveyards spooky or fascinating?

24 thoughts on “The Detective’s Daughter – A Grave Obsession

  1. Growing up a friend lived next to a cemetery and we spent lots of time there during the day. But on the nights I slept over I was sure if I peeked out the window, I’d see a row of monsters staring in. When we live in Massachusetts I loved going to cemeteries and studying old grave stones.

  2. Graveyards make me happy. I know that sounds weird, but I visit a lot of them hunting for ancestors, and in Massachusetts I almost always find a few wherever I go. I feel like I’m honoring their memory, and I think they’re happy to see me. And (don’t tell) I pick up fragments of the old stones, because you can see the hand of the carver at work. I wouldn’t think of damaging a stone, but if it’s a casualty of a clumsy lawnmower, I’ll bring it home.

  3. I can see memorials to family members back to the early 1800s all in one place in my old home town, so naturally I visit when I go there, but my real fascination is with sixteenth century effigies of women. Most are the typical hands folded in prayer type, but there are some startling exceptions. Google images of Elizabeth Russell, one of Queen Elizabeth’s maids of honor who died in 1600, and you’ll see what I mean.

  4. My family isn’t one for visiting graves. Just never saw the point. The dead are dead, better to focus on the memories. My favorite cemetery is the one in Key West, my favorite gravestone there, “I told you I was sick.”

    • I love reading clever epitaphs. My husband visits his mom’s grave frequently and is miffed that I don’t feel the need to visit my dad more often. My dad is with me all the time, so I don’t see the point in visiting his grave,he’s not there. Why would anyone (the dead, I mean) want to just stay at their grave? I think they stay with the people and places they loved in life.

      • I’d like to think the dead linger in places they choose, although it’s a little hard to prove. When my father passed away, several years ago, his third wife was convinced that he wanted to be cremated and scattered somewhere (I think the whole thing was her idea). Technically he isn’t buried anywhere, although he has a tombstone in Syracuse NY, shared with his second wife (which might explain #3’s actions).

  5. Count me in as a fan, too. My grandfather was the sexton of the Catholic cemetery in my hometown, so I grew up romping around there, and all of us cousins learned to drive by backing through the twisty lanes, carefully avoiding gravestones. The public cemetery, which was much larger, was across the street, and we lived on the other side of it, so it was a shortcut to get to our grandparents’ caretaker house. My teenaged angst often led me to seek solace at the lovely pond near the WW soldiers’ graves.

    Now, in addition to our home in Cincinnati, my husband and I have a property in rural Kentucky, which includes a family graveyard (not our family) from the 1800’s. An elderly (but incredibly spry) local gentleman periodically calls to ask permission to go tend the graves.

    • I’m jealous! My childhood pediatrician’s office was directly across the street from a big cemetery (not near any town). My junior high school was also across the street from one (not the same one).

      The house I write about in Granby doesn’t have a cemetery, but behind the neighboring house (also built by a relative) there is a row of small plain stones in the back, with initials. I’ve never been sure whether those were for people or pets, but they’re probably 19th century. And my husband had a great-aunt in rural West Virginia, and there was a small abandoned family plot up the hill from the house.

  6. Here in California, we don’t really have any cool gravestones or cemeteries, so I’ve never really spent much time exploring. I’ve gone to my grandparent’s graves a couple of times, but that’s about it.

  7. Count me as another cemetery fan. One of the best things about my move back to New England has been all the cool new cemeteries I have found to explore. Back in northern Virginia, there were many small cemeteries, but visiting Arlington National Cemetery was truly fascinating and moving, too.

  8. I love visiting historic graveyards. We have some amazing cemeteries in NYS Capital Region, Oakwood in Troy the resting place for Uncle Sam; Albany Rural Cemetery, Vale in Schenectady. We have a Shaker graveyard at the orginal settlement where Mother Ann Lee is at rest and a National Cemetery in Saratoga (just to name a few.) But the most amazing are the little family plots scatterd in places where they “shouldn’t be.” We have one in a mall parking lot in Rotterdam. An a few along side the Northway and highway (alt.) Route 7. The stones are so old it is hard to even read the names. But they are tended well and it shows the wonderful history of our area.

    • I love coming across family graves in unexpected places. When my husband and I were first married we took walks in the woods behind our house. One day we found an old broken down building and behind it were several graves. I took a cutting from a rose bush that grew alongside the building and it still flowers every year at the house where we now live. You can discover so much history by exploring these places.

  9. The house I lived in as a child had an historic graveyard basically in our back yard. I had friends who wouldn’t spend the night because it was too scary. But I find the stories told in old cemeteries to be absolutely fascinating. There’s a cemetery in Little Compton, RI that boasts a stone on which the epitaph reads “In Memory of Elizabeth who should have been the Wife of Mr Simeon Palmer who died Aug. 14th 1776 in the 64th Year of her Age.” What a story that must be.

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