Sunday, November 30, 2008

Old Catholic Cemetery Portageville, NY

Have you ever wanted to peek in somebody's diary? Here is your chance. The following are three excepts from my diary/journal of a trip I took to Western New York last year.

I went to look for my family at the Old Catholic Cemetery but they weren’t there. That is a cemetery that looks like an old cemetery. It is on a hill a mile from the church. As you stand there you can see over the town. It is not taken care of. Many stones are tilted this way and that. Most stones are lying flat, with the inscription side buried in the ground. There are only a few that are standing upright. I read a transcription of the cemetery that was done in 1932. The author said “it is a well kept cemetery”. Too bad it is not now. There are a couple of homes across the road. They are nice homes that are surrounded by very large yards. I thought to myself: “Too bad someone there doesn’t make a hobby of keeping the cemetery beautiful”. In all honesty, I probably wouldn’t either. I would want to but I would try to get my husband, Dave, to do it instead. I would rather write about the people that are buried there. And sit next to their graves and talk to them.
Later I learned that Mary and John Carroll are buried in another cemetery about a mile from town. It is called the Assumption Church Cemetery. The locals refer to it as “Irish Hill.” Mostly the canalers are buried there. They came to work on the Genesee Valley Canal. Many also worked on the railroad. In the cemetery there is a monument for the Ryan family that illustrates everyone on Irish Hill:
“In memory of the Irish who populated this area during the building of the
bridge and the Genesee Valley Canal, bringing their faith with them.”
A couple pages later….
Then we went up to the new Catholic cemetery. When John first told me about it he said “bring your boots and we will climb Irish Hill”. I had in my mind that we would have to climb some old hill that was over grown with vegetation, but it was a wonderful walk. John had been having fun with me. In fact the whole area is very pretty. This cemetery was started after 1901 when the other cemetery became too full. It is very well kept; all the stones are very pretty. Many graves had flowers on them showing that someone still honors them. My new friend showed me the graves of his parents and his other family graves. They were close to my family by several yards. They probably knew each other. But of course they knew each other. This was a small town, they went to the same church, they were all Irish.
The Carroll stones are nice, embellished monuments. I asked if they had some money for such stones. John said it didn’t matter if they had money or not, these Irish folks would have a nice stone. I was wondering where John and Sarah were buried. I assumed it would have been in Castile where they had to live after the Park took their house away. I was glad to see that they were buried right next to their family. John was buried next to his wife, Mary, to whom he was married to for a short time. The church records don’t reflect their marriage. Perhaps they were married in her hometown. I don’t know where she is from or her maiden name. She died in 1918; we thought perhaps she died in the flu epidemic.
I felt so close to them there. I have tried to learn about them from official records but to see their graves mean a lot. Although they have been gone for a long time, it seemed like something concrete to verify they did once live makes it real.
Another day, several pages later...........
I took Sheila up to the old Catholic Cemetery which looks like a real old cemetery, the kind you see in movies about ghosts. The stones are falling this way and that, and many have simply fallen flat to the ground. Then we went up to Irish Hill. I wanted to visit the Carrolls and McCarthys again. Sheila got out with me and took my picture at their graves. I introduced Sheila as my new family and the Carrolls and McCarthys as my old family. In some weird way I felt like we all were bonded. And we are all family through marriages. And that is for another story.
My work was done in Portageville, New York. I didn’t know what else I could do so we took a quick spin around town once again then got on the road to go home.
The town is a part of history now, just as though you closed a book. The people that built it, the canalers, railroad men, saloon and inn keepers are all on Irish Hill. No matter how much money you have to spend it will never be the same as when the Carrolls and McCarthy’s lived there.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Indian Cemetery

I found a ribbit at the cemetery!! But there was no grass, or shade from trees. There was a lovely background of mountains. And many children buried under simple stones at the Sherman Indian School Cemetery. Each grave had artifical flowers on it.
Almost every stone had the symbol of the Sherman Indian School engraved, but not a name. There was a larger monument that listed many names of people associated with the school that died after 1901.
I learned that at one time Indian children were sent (removed from their homes) to this school to assimilate in American society, taught a trade and were expected to behave like the white man. Because of U. S. Bureau Policy and some misunderstandings children that died were not allowed to return home, so it was here that they were buried.
There is a black iron fence that is locked so I could not walk around inside, but my little camera fit nicely between the fence posts and I took some good pictures.
There is a Indian tradition for the Southern California tribes that on May 3rd flowers are placed in all the Indian cemeteries thus all the plastic flowers still there six months later. This is called Indian Flower Day.
It was a short visit but I said a prayer for all the little children and left.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ft. Rosecrans Cemetery, Point Loma, California

Last week after my husband and I went to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, he told me he would not go to anymore cemeteries. Then yesterday he said “Hey, you want to go to Point Loma?” “Sure, why? “ “The veteran’s cemetery.” I don’t know why he changed his mind but off we went.
I was captivated the minute our drive took us near the military markers. I was born in San Diego, but I had never been here. I could barely wait to get out of the car. Imagine this: The ocean on two sides and military markers as far as you can see up and down rolling hills. As we walked among the stones, there was every branch of the military, every state represented, men, women, and children. We found out that there have been nearly 95,000 number of people buried there. Currently there is no room for casket interments but some for cremated remains.
As a burial ground it dates from the early history of California. The cemetery lies on two sides of a road. We walked up and down hills. I got as close to the ocean as I could, trying to decide which space had the best view. Then we crossed the street and went on the side that faces the bay and downtown San Diego. Now we start finding older graves. Not only were there military issued stones but several other markers of various shapes and designs mixed in. Both of us were reading so many and calling each other over to see our discoveries. Talk about HOPPING though the graveyard!!
Then a group of people came near to one stone I was standing at and one man started to tell a story, so I stopped and listened. He introduced himself and said he was a history teacher and this was some of his AP students. I asked if I could follow along. This man was passionate about San Diego history. We went to the Bennington monument, a tall granite monument, and he told about then men that were buried there. He pointed to the bay and said that the ship, the USS Bennington was docked there when the ship started on fire due to a boiler that burst. The captain had gone into town and was at a local bar drinking. The crew had just returned from maneuvers in the Pacific and need some R&R. When the captain was told of the ship on fire, he hurried to the harbor, but all he could do was helplessly watch his ship burn. The history teacher told in graphic detail how the men burned to death. So here, the men are buried within sight of where they died. That was so touching I wanted to cry.
I had to cheer up so we continued our walk looking at all the interesting stones. I saw some symbols engraved on the markers I wasn’t familiar with. Couldn’t wait to get home to look them up.
Along the road that divides the two sides bicycle riders are peddling in the beautiful San Diego climate. And walkers and joggers are enjoying their daily activities. San Diego is a very health oriented community. The ambiance is enhanced by the Pacific Ocean air.
Once at home I spent the evening on the internet looking up more information about Fort Rosecrans. I should have done that before we went. But this wasn’t academic, it was an adventure.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Veterans Day at Sunnyslope

There is a large celebration on Memorial Day at our cemetery, but not on Veterans day. Kathleen and I decided to go over there and set up a table complete with snacks, flowers, and handouts, in case anyone wanted to talk, and we could tell them of the Cemetery Stroll next year, which will be dedicated to Veterans who are buried there. We both thought “What are we doing? Nobody will be there but us” But a driving force encouraged us to go We really thought we would just sit there all day and visit.
It turned out to be a magical day at the cemetery!! Our first visitor was one of the administrators of Sunnyslope as well as many other cemeteries that go out past Palm Springs. Then the caretaker, whom we love and depend on, Eddie, came over. We told him that we decided to do Veterans next year. Immediately he said “Hey! How about these people?” He pointed to two graves that were just feet from our table. They are flat stones, which are usually not as interesting, but immediately they sparked interest. Two separate stones, one each for the man and one for his wife. The fellow fought in WWI, the wife was in WWII. Eddie said that the man would close the gate at the cemetery every night, because he lived across the street. He pointed across the street and said ”in that house on the corner” Right then we knew they were possibilities. Then Eddie gave the best piece of info…The man was a clown for Barnum and Bailey circus for 30 years and she was his assistant. Of course it all has to be researched, but we got our first names for next year!
Eddie said he would be thinking about others for us.
Not too long after that, a couple came over to talk. They both had the day off and decided to start doing genealogy at the cemetery. We talked for a while then asked “what are the names you are working on?” One was a family we had just portrayed at the last Cemetery Stroll, a couple weeks ago. And Kathleen had all the research in the trunk of her car. Can you imagine being handed a stack of research two inches high, while you just happen to be in the cemetery, when two ladies just happen to be there with the right info!! She was jumping up and down!! And so were we.
Several people drove by and we had nice talks, passed out a postcard with our information on it so they could submit ideas and soldiers stories to us. Then Eddie came over again and said “I have something to show you.” He took us the far end of the cemetery and told stories about many other people. He pointed out stones I hadn’t noticed before. We couldn’t write notes fast enough. One story he told was a man had it in his will that his family must spend X amount on his funeral or none of them would get anything from his estate. He has a lovely stone and a nice marble bench. And there were fresh flowers at his marker. Now I want to go to the courthouse and get a copy of that will.
Later in the day I was walking around with my camera and a man came up, got out of his truck and pulled a bagpipe out. I started to take a picture and he questioned me with his body language. I went over and said I just wanted to take a picture, are you here to see a loved one? “No,” he replied, “I just wanted to pay tribute to my fellow soldiers” Oh! My heart sung a few notes, and then he played as he stood in front of the soldiers’ monument. Myself and many silent citizens were his only audience, and we got a show! I asked him about the songs: it was a medley of Minstrel Boy, each armed forces song and ending with Amazing Grace.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Finally I got to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery! For so long I wanted to go. I took my parents because I thought they would like it. Many old time movie stars are buried there, including Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr., Jane Mansfield, Mel Blanc and Rudolph Valentino. As we wandered around consulting a map (I had to pay $5 for it) I kept thinking that in one more generation these movie stars that were once so well known won't be known. My son, who is 22, has no idea who these folks are. And my parents, well, the names brought back so many memories. My mom mentioned several times that her mother just loved Tyrone Power and thought he was the cat's meow. And how Charlie Chaplin make them laugh so much.
The cemetery was so much more than I thought. So many nooks and alleys to follow!! It was very crowded with "silent citizens". There is a very large Russian section, a larger Jewish section. They are so much fun to wander through and see all the names that are odd to my ears.
Of course it is the history I like best. It is what I call a "rescue cemetery." For a time the cemetery was not cared for, the endowment money wasted. Some families actually paid to have their loved ones moved, one family being Max Factor's. By 1996 the property was bankrupt. In 1998 a fellow named Tyler Cassity save it from a uncertain future. He bought the property, invested millions, and made it desirable place to visit and rest forever.
It is free ,just like any other cemetery, to wander through, but it took a $5 map, a kind lady, and a $15.00 guide book to find our way around. Worth every penny!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Corona's Sunnyslope Cemetery

By George, we want a cemetery fence! On October 26, 2008 Corona Sunnyslope Cemetery Stroll took place for the 13th year. In the past we did the stroll as a community project. This year we kicked off a project to raise money for a iron fence. Our cemetery currently has a chain link fence and the only cemetery in town deserves better.
All the citizens of the cemetery that we portraied had the name George or DeGeorge or Georgianna or Georgia. As I wrote my script and learned about the person, the gravestone becomes alot more meaningful than it did as I once casually ambled by.
The one George that most people will now reconize is Judge George Freeman. He has a simple flat stone and it is slightly worn. As the researcher dug deeper and reviewed this judge's court cases, she discovered that one of the cases he tried was the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, which the movie, The Changling, is based.
This is a reminder that all the people buried at Sunnyslope, or any other cemetery, have their own stories to tell..
For transcriptions of Sunnyslope Cemetery go to this page and scroll down to Sunnyslope:

For stories of silent citizens that have been done go to and click on Sunnyslope:

My first post

The motto I go by is this: Cemeteries are Historical Treasures. I love cemeteries, best of all, those small ones you see as you're driving across country. It is always an experience to pull over to the side of the road, jump out of the car and wander around a unfamiliar graveyard. The imagination runs wild.
Grave Yard Rabbit is such a perfect name. I do hop around when I get in a cemetery. It is hard to be reverent. When I showed a freind the blogs she said "You found you own people!"
A Member of The Association of Graveyard Rabbits