Old cemeteries


Certain businesses are putting their Christmas merchandise on display, so we know Halloween is near.  Not so near that there isn’t time to procrastinate in preparing for it; but when Rudolph, the Thanksgiving turkey, Frosty the Snowman and other harbingers of the holiday season are stepping on the heels of the Great Pumpkin, it’s time to keep your wallets out and keep moving along.


Or, it may just be me who feels this way.  Time may move intolerably slow for children, but for me, it goes by faster the older I get, and this is not an illusion.  This frustration with fleeting time may be why I like small, old cemeteries.  I’ve never seen any cemetery that was in a hurry.

On the surface, there may be things that draw immediate interest.  In a Wing, Alabama cemetery, the inscription on one tombstone testifies that the interred 12-year-old girl died from a rattlesnake bite.  In nearby Andalusia, another tombstone relates the deceased died February 30th.  In a small Texas town in the wild west, one tombstone praises a gunfighter with the solemn statement, “He never killed a man who didn’t need killing,” while another simply affirms, “He called Bill Smith a liar.”

A person wishes he could know the full story behind some of these inscriptions, but many stories are clear without inscriptions.  In one place, I saw the graves of a wife and husband nest to five smaller graves—their children, none who lived longer than a year.  No explanations are needed, for we know 150 years ago, life was often hard to hang onto.  Faith helped.  Cynical Ambrose Bierce recorded the tombstone inscription, “Here in the earth we prepare a place to lay our little Clara,” from Thomas and Mary Frazer.  They added, “P.S.—Gabriel will raise her.”

Every cemetery resident has a story buried with them, even if there is no one alive who remembers it.  Sadly, some of these are “could have done” or “should have done” stories, but the mere realization that (almost) everybody puts in something is comforting.  The inscription, PVT Charles Hampton, CO F, 5 ALA CAV, CSA, JUL 9, 1839-NOV 9, 1909, is on a simple but handsome tombstone down south, and you suspect he was a man of some accomplishments; but the unmarked tombstones around him?  These persons were perhaps known to brother Charles, and vital in their community, but the names are forgotten.  Don’t worry about it.  Sooner or later, oblivion catches all of us.

Cemeteries can be creepy, I guess, for some people.  I have seen graves that have collapsed, monuments toppled by vandals, evidence of drugs and alcohol and the like, and are persons probably reacting to latent fears of dying; but the cemetery residents do not complain.  We need to remember, cemeteries are merely places to put bodies, like keepsakes in a box.  Sooner or later, keepsakes are forgotten about and overlooked.

With Halloween approaching, some people will doubtless use graveyard motifs to set the mood for parties, and little ghosts, goblins and witches will haunt the neighborhood doors, threatening, “Trick or treat!”  It’s a great deal of fun, but do not be fooled.  It’s not death that gives Halloween its festivity, but life, expressed in silly antics by revelers on different sides.  One side thumbs its nose at the devil, and claims its victory in Christ to ridicule satanic forces.  The other side ignorantly swallows a demonic lie that looks harmless, but is in fact dangerous.  Remember, the devil’s greatest poison is to get you not to believe in him.  His 2nd greatest is for you to not take him seriously.

There is probably some way to tie these divergent thoughts together, but I will worry about it next week.  Thanks for reading, and subscribe to the online LCJ!

author avatar
Craig Hall
Publisher and owner of Heavener Ledger and leflorecountyjournal.com