These Famous Ladies Had Georgia on Their Minds (repost)

adventuresincemeteryhopping:

This is worth reading again, I think. :-)

Originally posted on Adventures in Cemetery Hopping:

There are plenty of famous men buried in Georgia, but the ladies often get overlooked. This week, I am featuring a handful of those enterprising women. Some you may already know about, but a few of them may surprise you.

Rome, Georgia is home to Shorter and Berry Colleges. Class A minor league baseball team the Rome Braves draw plenty of crowds. But did you know a U.S. President’s wife is buried there?

Woodrow Wilson was not a household bame when he met Ellen Axson at her father's church.

Woodrow Wilson was not a household name when he met Ellen Axson at her father’s church.

President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife was born Ellen Louise Axson. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her parents believed in the importance of a good education for both sexes, so Ellen became an intelligent, observant young lady who eventually studied art in New York City. She enjoyed painting throughout her life and even spent time…

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These Famous Ladies Had Georgia on Their Minds (repost)

There are plenty of famous men buried in Georgia, but the ladies often get overlooked. This week, I am featuring a handful of those enterprising women. Some you may already know about, but a few of them may surprise you.

Rome, Georgia is home to Shorter and Berry Colleges. Class A minor league baseball team the Rome Braves draw plenty of crowds. But did you know a U.S. President’s wife is buried there?

Woodrow Wilson was not a household bame when he met Ellen Axson at her father's church.

Woodrow Wilson was not a household name when he met Ellen Axson at her father’s church.

President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife was born Ellen Louise Axson. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her parents believed in the importance of a good education for both sexes, so Ellen became an intelligent, observant young lady who eventually studied art in New York City. She enjoyed painting throughout her life and even spent time at an artists’ colony.

Ellen met the future president at her father’s church long before he entered politics. After her father died and Wilson was offered a teaching position at Bryn Mawr College, the couple decided they were financially prepared to marry. They eventually had three daughters together.

Sadly, Ellen’s tenure as first lady was brief. Having suffered from Bright’s Disease (a deterioration of the kidneys) since the birth of her youngest child, Ellen died in 1914, only a year and a half after her husband was elected president. Her body was taken back to Rome for her funeral. She is buried at Myrtle Hill Cemetery.

First lady Ellen Wilson's body was transported through the streets of Rome after her funeral.

First lady Ellen Wilson’s body was transported through the streets of Rome, Ga. after her funeral. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Archives.

Ellen Axson Wilson is buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Ga. I was finally able to visit her grave many months after I originally wrote this post.

Ellen Axson Wilson is buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Ga. I visited her grave many months after I originally wrote this post.

One acclaimed Hollywood actress buried in Georgia was tops at the box office for years. Born Edythe Marrenner in Brooklyn, N.Y., Susan Hayward arrived in Hollywood in 1937 to do a screen test for the role of Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. While she did not get the part, she went on to star in films like “With a Song in My Heart”, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” and “I Want to Live” (for which she won her only Oscar).

Actress Susan Hayward got the nickname "Red" from the fiery color of her hair.

Actress Susan Hayward got the nickname “Red” from the fiery color of her hair.

After a failed marriage to actor Jess Barker, Susan met wealthy Southern real estate developer Floyd Eaton Chalkley in 1957. His Southern charm won her heart and they were married not long after that. They lived happily on their large ranch (which they called Chalk-Marr Farms) in Carrolton, Ga. for several years. Locals often saw them together around town.

Chalkley died in 1966 of hepatitis. Always a heavy smoker and drinker, Susan learned she had brain cancer in 1972. She died in 1975 and is buried with her husband at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cemetery in Carrolton. On their shared memorial plaque, she is listed simply as Mrs. F.E. Chalkley. A smaller flat stone with her name is placed off to the side.

Susan Hayward's grave is simple compared to  her flamboyant Hollywood image.

Susan Hayward’s grave is simple compared to “the Broad from Brooklyn’s” flamboyant Hollywood image.

Life at the turn of the century in the Deep South was far from easy for African-American women. Gertrude Pridgett knew this first hand growing up poor in Columbus, Ga. The product of a musical family, she eventually hit the vaudeville circuit, which was a booming business in a river port city like Columbus.

In 1904, Gertrude met and married minstrel show manager William “Pa” Rainey. Together, they toured the country at various shows and with tent performers. That’s when her fame began to grow and she took on the name “Ma” Rainey that would stick with her for life.

Ma Rainey's life of poverty and hard work was reflected in songs like "Bad Luck Blues" and "Trust No Man." Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ma Rainey’s life of poverty and hard work was reflected in songs like “Bad Luck Blues” and “Trust No Man.” Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ma enjoyed a successful recording career with Paramount Records for five years. She collaborated with other well-known musicians such as Joe Smith, Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong. But just as she was getting to the top of her game, Paramount dropped her, claiming that her rough around the edges kind of music had gone out of style. She retired to Columbus and died there in 1939. She is buried in Porterdale Cemetery.

I have a special appreciation for Ma because unwittingly, I crossed paths with her past in my younger days. As a member of my high school chorus, I performed on the same stage she did at Columbus’ Springer Opera House. A year later, I had the good fortune to attend a Broadway production of the play about her life, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Ma Rainey's music... Photo courtesy of Ronald Self.

Ma Rainey’s music earned her the nickname “Mother of the Blues”. Photo courtesy of Ronald Self.

Perhaps the most well known female Georgian is author Margaret Mitchell. A headstrong young woman, she loved hearing stories about the Civil War from Confederate veterans. She dropped out of Smith College after the death of her mother in order to run her father’s home where he and her younger brother still lived.

A bit of a rebel herself in her youth, Margaret Mitchell treasured the Southern history shared by Confederate veterans.

A bit of a rebel herself in her youth, Margaret Mitchell treasured the stories told to her by Confederate veterans.

During her first rocky marriage, Margaret began writing for the Atlanta Journal’s Sunday magazine to make ends meet. After her divorce, she married former suitor and editor John Marsh, and left her job to recover from a series of illnesses. While convalescing at home, she wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning novel Gone With the Wind in 1936. The book and eventually the movie made it financially possible for her to support a number of philanthropic interests for the remainder of her life.

Margaret Mitchell was killed in 1949 when she was hit by a car while attempting to cross at the intersection of Peachtree and 13th Streets in what is now Midtown in Atlanta. She is buried with Marsh at Oakland Cemetery, where thousands of visitors trek to visit her grave every year.

These four women made their marks on the world in many different ways. But in the end, they all chose to make Georgia their final resting place.

While I’ll never be famous like these female icons, I hope to do the same some day.

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The Empty Cradle: Children’s Gravestones and Their Symbolism

I spend a LOT of time in cemeteries. They are usually older ones with stone markers, not the modern ones with bronze plates flat on the ground so the maintenance crew can mow around them more easily. I do visit a few of those for Find a Grave. Over the past two years, I’ve noticed another difference between the two.

Old cemeteries often have a lot more graves for infants and children. And it’s truly sad.

One of my favorite haunts is East View Cemetery, which has a number of children’s graves. Two of them always tug at my heart and feature little shoes and socks on top. To find two of them in the same cemetery is rare, so I think they may have been created locally by the same stone mason.

Little Brenda only lived a handful of months before she died. The shoes on top of her grave always get to me.

Little Brenda only lived a handful of months before she died. The shoes on top of her grave always get to me.

I’ve wondered if little Brenda Darlene Starr had the nickname of “Twinkle” because of the Brenda Starr comic strip that started in the 1940s. In it, top reporter Brenda Starr had a child named Starr Twinkle, with husband Basil St. John. I don’t know why little Brenda died but it’s clear she meant a lot to her family.

James Michael Harper only lived two days. Like Brenda Starr, the cause of his death remains a mystery.

James Michael Harper only lived two days. Like Brenda Starr, the cause of his death remains a mystery. He’s also buried at East View Cemetery.

The inscription on the back makes this little boy's death all the more poignant.

The inscription on the back makes this little boy’s death all the more poignant.

There’s another style of children’s grave that is no longer common but when I see it, I am always struck by it. Some call it the “baby on a half shell” style because it involves a carving of an infant or a child resting inside a seashell of some kind. The style was popular from the 1870s into the 1920s, and Sears and Roebuck even offered them in varying sizes in their catalog. Annette Stott wrote an excellent article about them that goes into further detail.

Little Leo Smith lived from July 4, 1885 to June 16, 1887. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery in Union City, Ga.

Little Leo Smith lived from July 4, 1885 to June 16, 1887. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery in Union City, Ga. His sister, Ruby, who lived an even shorter period of time, is buried next to him.

Leo Smith's younger sister, Ruby, is buried beside him. This time, the family chose a flower motif instead.

Leo Smith’s younger sister, Ruby, is buried beside him. This time, the family chose a flower motif instead. Sorry the picture’s a little blurry.

Where did this shell motif come from?

During the Victorian era and into the turn of the century, the image of childhood was an innocent, fragile one. Artists such as Margaret Tarrant, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Walter Crane, and Randolph Caldecott used playful images of children, babies, fairies, and elves to illustrate nursery books and children’s tales. So it seemed a natural progression to use such images in gravestones for these little lives sadly cut short.

"The Sea-Babies Cradle" by illustrator Margaret Tarrant, 1908.

“The Sea-Babies Cradle” by illustrator Margaret Tarrant, 1908.

The sad reality was that children often died during this era with surprising frequency. In 1880, almost 22 of every 100 children born in the U.S. died before they reached their first birthday. Ten years later, that rate was 15 percent. In 1900, more than one in every 10 infants still died before the age of one, not including stillbirths.

Mary Ruth Britt did not reach her fifth birthday. She is buried in Friendship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Tucker, Ga.

Mary Ruth Britt did not reach her fifth birthday. She is buried in Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Tucker, Ga.

Another popular gravestone style is the figure of a child as an angel or a cherub. Pictured above is Mary Ruth Britt, who died at the age of four for reasons unknown.

Another cherub leans against a tree on this marker. Louise is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga.

A solemn cherub leans against a tree on this marker. Louise Inman is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga. She lived less than a year.

However, the most common symbol by far on the graves of children and infants is the lamb. It signifies the innocence, purity and sweet nature of childhood as few other images can. To some, it also signifies the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. You can still see them today on many graves, some being more elaborate than others.

The grave of M. Rufus ? has two symbols. The tree stump signifies a life cut short while the lamb symbolizes the innocence of childhood. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery.

The grave of M. Rufus Thornton has two symbols. The tree stump signifies a life cut short while the lamb symbolizes the innocence of childhood. He is buried in Shadnor Baptist Church Cemetery.

Sometimes the lamb is carved into the stone itself, as you can see in Mary Nell Driver’s grave below.

Mary Nell Driver's life was brief but she is surely not forgotten. She is buried at Flat Rock Baptist Church Cemetery on the border of Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport outside of Atlanta, Ga.

Mary Nell Driver’s life was brief but she was surely loved by her family. She is buried at Flat Rock Baptist Church Cemetery on the border of Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport outside of Atlanta, Ga.

Sometimes I do come across some unique child/infant graves that tend to defy the usual symbolism. That is definitely the case at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, S.C. Blake and Rosalie White had eight children but five did not make it past childhood. Little Rosalie Raymond White was one of those five.

The style of Rosalie's grave is known as a "cradle grave" because of the resemblance to a baby's bed. She is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

The style of Rosalie’s grave is known as a “cradle grave” because of the resemblance to a baby’s bed. During different seasons, various plants are placed in it. She is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

Few children's graves feature a death mask of the deceased, but Rosalie's does.

Few children’s graves feature a death mask of the deceased, but Rosalie’s does.

Another child’s grave that I came across also features a casting but it is of the child’s hand, not his face. I think the simplicity of it is touching. It’s also made of white bronze (zinc), which is a style and material I admire. I have never seen one like this before or since.

Little Louis Johnson is buried in

Little Louis Johnson is buried in Largo Municipal Cemetery in Florida.

Unlike most of the others, I was able to find out a little bit about Louis’ family. His father, Louis S. Johnson, was the second mayor of Largo, Fla., and was a successful businessman. He owned the Largo Hotel. Son Lloyd Johnson was born in 1918 and went on to become a CPA, and one of the original city commissioners for nearby Indian Rocks Beach (where we were vacationing when I visited this cemetery).

The small hand of Louis C. Johnson.

The tiny hand of Louis C. Johnson.

There are a number of other styles of child/infant graves but these are the ones that I’ve come across in my almost two years of cemetery hopping. Some are more elaborate than others, while some are small and simple.

Regardless of style, they remain a poignant reminder of a life that never had the opportunity to reach its full potential. A whisper of what might have been.

A nameless infant's grave rests in the corner of the Coming Street Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

A nameless infant’s grave rests in the corner of the Coming Street Cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

Blood on the Badge: Murder in Gwinnett County

Today’s entry is a re-post of a piece I did in May 2013 about a 1964 triple homicide in Gwinnett County, Ga. It was a heinous crime that rocked the county for years. Since I first posted it, I’ve talked to a number of Gwinnett residents who still remember it well and how shocking it was at the time. It remains so today.

Remember the saying “like looking for a needle in a haystack”? Sometimes cemetery hopping can be like that in reverse. Something rare is sitting right under your nose and you weren’t even looking for it.

As part of my Find a Grave efforts, I took on the task of photographing many of the graves at Sugar Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in north Gwinnett County. Most of the graves are already documented because of my dedicated Find a Grave friend Wesley, who referenced the cemetery book that lists everyone who is buried there (along with the dates). However, his wife is in a nursing home now so photographing graves is not something he can do. I asked if I could take it on for him and he gave me the green light.

Homespun Restaurant is an awesome meat-n-three. Try the country chicken if you ever visit.

Home Spun Restaurant is an awesome meat-n-three. Try the country chicken if you ever visit.

Sugar Hill Baptist Church Cemetery is a large, well kept cemetery situated across from the town’s impressive city hall complex. A small park with a gazebo is across the street and a community center is next door to the cemetery (where I parked my car). Close to 1,500 graves make up the cemetery. I’ve made several trips to take pictures but I’m not quite done. Eating lunch at the nearby Home Spun Restaurant (a meat and three) after these photo sessions makes visits even more pleasant.

It was during one of these trips to Sugar Hill that I photographed a very simple flat stone marker with the name Ralph K. Davis on it. His death was on April 17, 1964. It was located in a decent sized gravel square with the Davis monument behind it. It is rare for me to find a family plot with only one grave in it so as usual, I got curious and began digging for information.

It didn’t take me long to feel my breath catch in my throat.

Ralph Davis' death was much more dramatic than his marker indicates.

Ralph Davis’ death was much more dramatic than his marker indicates.

Ralph King Davis was an officer for the Gwinnett County Police Department. Today, the county is a sprawling mass of homes, businesses and interstate highways. The population is incredibly diverse. But back in 1964, Gwinnett County was a rural backwater somewhat trapped in time. Catching moonshiners was still a going concern for law enforcement. To make matters worse, some lawmen were known to have gotten their hands dirty by taking part in such crimes themselves.

On the evening of April 17, Davis and his partner, Jerry Everett, were giving a ride home to an ill fellow officer, Marvin Jesse Gravitt. En route, they got a suspicious activity call at a home on Arc Way, which was a dirt road connecting Beaver Ruin and Pleasant Hill Roads at the time. What started out as a routine response quickly became something that would make headlines across the country.

Retired former Atlanta police officer Mackie Carson recently wrote a book about it called Judas Deputy. He kindly gave his consent for me to quote from it.

Gwinnett police officers Marvin Jesse Gravitt, Ralph King Davis and Jerry Everett got more than they bargained for during a routine call. Photos courtesy of Mackie Carson.

Slain Gwinnett officers Marvin Jesse Gravitt, Ralph King Davis and Jerry Everett. Photos courtesy of Mackie Carson.

People think chop shops (garages where stolen cars are “chopped up” for parts that are then resold) are a modern phenomenon but not so. In 1964, a number of car theft rings were operating in Gwinnett County for that very purpose.

Thieves would purchase a car from a salvage yard, then steal a similar car and strip the stolen car of its parts. The parts then would be put into the salvaged car — which had no “hot” vehicle ID number.

According to Carson, the “finder’s fee” for stealing a car was $25, and rose to $100 if you took it out of the county. As a result, it became a very tempting crime to commit.

It was this kind of activity the three officers stumbled upon that April night. They found three men beginning the process of stripping a stolen Oldsmobile for parts. One of the thieves, in an attempt to flee, threw the Oldsmobile in reverse and sped back down the road only to be blocked in by the police car. When Everett was examining the inside of the Oldsmobile, the other two thieves came into sight. They were armed and took fatal control of the situation.

The next morning, the bodies of all three officers were found in the nearby woods, handcuffed together with their own handcuffs. They had been shot dead execution style with their own weapons. The Oldsmobile was nearby, torched to destroy evidence.

Alec Evans, Wade Truett and Venson Williams were arrested for the triple murder. Truett got immunity for his testimony against Evans and Williams.

Alec Evans, Wade Truett and Venson Williams were arrested for the triple murder. Truett got immunity for his testimony against Evans and Williams.

The ultimate irony is that one of the killers was one of their own, a former Gwinnett County deputy sheriff named Alec Evans. He had even been an ATF agent at one time. The other two, Venson Williams and Wade Truett, owned a garage together in South Carolina and had helped Evans steal the Oldsmobile the previous day.

Gwinnett deputy sheriff Jerry Griswell was one of the first to arrive on the scene the next morning. He never forgot what he saw. “A waste of three fine men,” Mr. Griswell said in a 1989 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

According to many witnesses, Evans swore he would find the officers’ killers, even going so far as to visit the Everett family more than once to assure them the murderers would be caught.

Later that year, with no one yet suspecting his role in the murders, Evans was arrested for running illegal moonshine and sent for a short stint in a federal prison in Michigan. He was eating lunch with the other inmates when he was informed he would be going back to Georgia.

Evans, along with Williams and Truett, was arrested for the murders. Evans was convicted and given a death sentence that was later commuted to life in prison. At age 86, he is still incarcerated. Williams (now deceased) served 25 years and was paroled. Wade Truett, also now deceased, was given immunity for his testimony against Evans and Williams. He served no prison time. Carson says Truett was the only one of the trio who did not shoot the officers.

Jerry Everett, only 28 when he was killed, came from a strong law enforcement tradition. His brother, Kelly, was the former Norcross police chief. Another brother, George, was a Doraville police officer.

Brothers Randall and Roger Everett owned and operated Everett’s Music Barn in nearby Suwanee and the store is still a magnet for bluegrass music lovers. It has roots in the tragedy. Those paying condolences to the family would return to hold impromptu bluegrass jam sessions on the Everett family’s porch. The brothers and their friends felt the music was a form of therapy amid their grief. Randall and Roger have since passed away, but the legacy of their music continues.

While many living in Gwinnett today have no idea what took place on a dark country road in 1964, memories of the triple murder linger. Long-time residents remember three police officers being cut down by a gang of thieves, one a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They walked blindly into a crime in progress and paid with their lives.

According to Carson, Ralph Davis’ neighbor, George Kelly, remembered his last conversation with him. Davis told Kelly that he was seriously thinking of leaving law enforcement because of the danger involved.

Sadly, he never had a chance to do so.

Dum Dum Da Dum: The Story Behind Chopin’s Funeral March

Recently, Caleb Wilde (of Confessions of a Funeral Director fame) featured the Top 20 Pop Songs Requested at Funerals list based on requests made at 30,000 services during 2012. Compiled by The Co-operative Funeralcare of England, the list has a decided British bent to it. Here it is:

1. Frank Sinatra – ‘My Way’
2. Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli – ‘Time To Say Goodbye’
3. Bette Midler – ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’
4. Eva Cassidy – ‘Over The Rainbow’
5. Robbie Williams – ‘Angels’
6. Westlife – ‘You Raise Me Up’
7. Gerry & The Pacemakers – ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’
8. Vera Lynn – ‘We’ll Meet Again’
9. Celine Dion – ‘My Heart Will Go On’
10. Nat King Cole – ‘Unforgettable’
11. Tina Turner – ‘The Best’
12. Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton – ‘I Will Always Love You’
13. Monty Python – ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ (Caleb didn’t think this song would make America’s top 20).
14. Luther Vandross – ‘Dance With My Father’
15. Louis Armstrong – ‘Wonderful World’
16. Daniel O’Donnell – ‘Danny Boy’
17. Eva Cassidy – ‘Fields Of Gold’
18. Righteous Brothers (and various) – ‘Unchained Melody’
19. Westlife – ‘Flying Without Wings’
20. Eva Cassidy – ‘Songbird’

A lot of people like having Ole Blue Eyes' song, "My Way" played at their funeral. I think I'd prefer "The Best is Yet to Come" instead.

Many people want to have Ol’ Blue Eyes’ song “My Way” played at their funeral. I think I’d prefer “The Best is Yet to Come” myself.

The list got me to thinking about how funerals and music have always been intertwined. One of the most famous pieces of funeral music isn’t even on this list. That would be Chopin’s Funeral March.

You know the one. DUM DUM Da DUM, DUM da DUM DUM DUM DUM DUM.

Polish composer Federick Chopin's Funeral March has been parodied a lot but it remains a powerful piece of music. This is a drawing of Chopin on his deathbed. Courtesy of Kean Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Polish composer Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March gets parodied a lot but it remains a powerful piece of music. This is a drawing of Chopin on his deathbed. Courtesy of Kean Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

I love classical music. From the age of 12 or so, instead of buying pop records, I was browsing the classical music section at Record Bar at the mall. Those of you old enough to remember Record Bar probably remember it was back in the far corner most of the time.

You know when you ask your parents for an album of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 for Christmas (and they buy it), you’re a genuine geek.

Chopin has always been one of my favorites, mostly because he wrote some amazing piano work. His nocturnes are especially dear to me. But I don’t think I truly appreciated him until I saw Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, an autobiographical film about Polish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. Chopin’s music is prominently used in the film.

Adrian Brody portrayed Polish composer amd musician Władysław Szpilman, who barely survived the Holocaust.

In The Pianist, Adrien Brody portrayed Polish composer and musician Władysław Szpilman, who barely survived the Holocaust. Chopin’s music is featured prominently in it. Brody won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal.

The story behind Chopin’s Funeral March is that he was moved to write it after the 1830 Polish uprising against the Russians. Then traveling through Western Europe, Chopin was worried about the fate of his friends and family he was forced to leave behind. He never returned to his homeland.

Clash between Polish insurgents and Russian cuirassiers on bridge in Warsaw's Łazienki Park. In the background is an equestrian statue of King John III Sobieski. Painiting by Wojciech Kossak, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Clash between Polish insurgents and Russian cuirassiers on a bridge in Warsaw’s Łazienki Park. In the background is an equestrian statue of King John III Sobieski. Painting by Wojciech Kossak, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The piece is actually the third movement in Chopin’s Sonata #2 in B-flat minor. It was apparently a very emotional expression of his angst because he found it difficult to play in public.

According to Chopin scholar Jeffrey Kallberg (in a 2010 NPR piece), “His colleagues said that he often played in salons, and the only way to get him to stop playing was to ask him to play the March,” Kallberg says. “He was so caught up in the emotions of it.”

When Chopin died in 1849, Mozart’s Requiem was played at his funeral service. But Chopin’s Funeral March was played later at his burial service in Paris at Pere Lachaise Cemetery. If I ever get to Paris, that’s going to be my second stop (after the Eiffel Tower).

Chopin's tombstone, featuring the muse of music, Euterpe, weeping over a broken lyre, was designed and sculpted by French sculptor/artist Auguste Clésinger.

Chopin’s tombstone features the muse of music, Euterpe, weeping over a broken lyre. It was designed and sculpted by French sculptor/artist Auguste Clésinger.

Chopin was only 39 when he died of tuberculosis. Chopin's death mask , courtesy of the Jack Gibbons Collection.

Chopin was only 39 when he died of tuberculosis. Chopin’s death mask, courtesy of the Jack Gibbons Collection.

Since that time, Chopin’s Funeral March holds a prominent place in history. It was used at the state funerals of President John F. Kennedy, Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. It’s been played at the funerals of Soviet leaders, including Leonid Brezhnev.

Chopin’s Funeral March has also been parodied often over the years. According to Kallberg, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

“Chopin’s march is modeled after a Rossini opera, La Gazza Ladra, and that served as the basis for parodies,” says Kallberg, who points to one such parody written by Charles Gounod. It’s also notable that one of Chopin’s friends, Charles Valentin-Alkan, wrote a piece called “Funeral March on the Death of a Parrot”.

Monty Python would have been proud.

Charles-Valentin Alkan was a friend of Chopin's. Was he parodying Chopin's Funeral March when he penned "Funeral for a Dead Parrot"?

French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan was a friend of Chopin’s. Was he parodying Chopin’s Funeral March when he penned “Funeral March on the Death of a Parrot”?

Beetlejuice, Loony Tunes and even comic duo Abbot and Costello have parodied the famous dirge. A 2002 TV ad for Pilot Pen’s erasable ink pen featured it. You can even download it to use it as your ringtone.

I’ve always wondered if any funeral directors have done that. Probably not a wise PR move.

I’m not sure yet what music I want played at my funeral. Definitely “I’ll Fly Away” and “Old Rugged Cross” because they’re close to my heart. I have a running list that I add to from time to time.

And while I do like Led Zeppelin a lot, “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t on it.

StairwayToHeaven

Locks of Love: Victorian Mourning Jewelry

This is a repost of an article I wrote in November 2013. Enjoy!

In 1947, a woman named Frances Gerety coined the phrase “A Diamond is Forever” for DeBeers. She may have been right but for the Victorians, hair was more eternal (and affordable) than glittering gems.

Mourning jewelry, or jewelry worn when one is mourning the loss of a loved one, has been around for centuries. But the Victorians truly embraced it when Queen Victoria took mourning to a new level in the 1800s. Last year, I wrote about how the death of her beloved Prince Albert initiated a very detailed code of dress for ladies. The Queen was partial to mourning jewelry, especially if it was made out of jet (which is not a true mineral but actually a very old form of decayed wood).

In the third season of PBS' popular "Downton Abbey", Lady Mary follows the dictates of society by wearing jet jewelry in her time of mourning.

In the third season of PBS’ popular Downton Abbey, Lady Mary follows the dictates of society by wearing jet jewelry in her time of mourning for her late husband. Photo courtesy of PBS.

The curious practice of making mourning jewelry from human hair became very popular. In other words, jewelry that literally contains hair from the deceased. This might seem incredibly bizarre (and to some, downright creepy), but the act of keeping someone’s hair as a memento of them was quite normal. The hair could be placed in a locket or even in an elaborate piece of jewelry.

It may seem like a strange way to remember someone but it’s actually quite practical since photography was not affordable for most people. Hair has chemical qualities that enable it to last for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. (Contrary to popular belief, hair does NOT continue to grow after someone has died.)

This 18th-century locket contains the hair of George and Martha Washington. It was sold at James D. Julia Auctions in August 5, 2009 for $7,475.00.

This 18th-century locket contains the hair of George and Martha Washington. It was sold at James D. Julia Auctions in August 5, 2009 for $7,475.00.

Of course, not everyone could afford jewel-encrusted lockets like the one pictured above. More often, it was simply a lock of hair stashed behind a painted miniature or inside of a ring. The jewelry’s owner knew it was there but didn’t necessarily flaunt it.

Since photography wasn't fully utilized at that time, Victorians took to incorporating the hair of the deceased into their mourning jewelry.

Since photography wasn’t fully utilized at that time, Victorians took to incorporating the hair of the deceased into their mourning jewelry.

However, the Victorians took hair out of the darkness and into the light. Rings, pendants, pictures, wreaths, you name it and they did it.

Located in Independence, Mo. (not far from Kansas City), Leila Cohoon operates the only hair museum in the U.S. to truly feature this art form. She says that often, a family member would collect hair from several generations of relatives and weave the hair into a wreath. More often than not, the wreath included intricate hair-woven flowers and were shaped like a horseshoe, always pointed up to keep luck in the family. Her museum features hundreds of examples of hair art. You can find them up for bid on eBay from time to time as well.

This framed wreath is made out of hair from the ladies listed inside of it. Photo courtesy of Leila' Hair Museum.

This framed wreath is made out of hair from the ladies listed inside of it. Photo courtesy of Leila’s Hair Museum.

The Northampton Historic Museum and Education Center in Massachusetts has a fantastic virtual exhibit of Victorian hair art. They do a better job at explaining the history behind it than I can.

For mourning accessories, jewelry items made from the hair of a deceased friend or loved one became hugely popular. Pamphlets featuring hairworking patterns assisted Victorians with creating their own hair jewelry, if they so desired. The jewelry designs are surprisingly complex and varied for consisting of such humble material as human hair. The pieces could incorporate jet, gold and diamonds for later stages of mourning or lockets for hair or photographs.

There was also a large market for mass-produced gold fittings that could be personalized with engraving or monograms, so the jewelry items could be commissioned as well. There was some distrust, however, of professional hairworkers; there was a widespread problem of hairworkers neglecting to use the deceased person’s hair. Instead, they would sell “custom-made” pieces actually made from purchased bulk hair.

This is a gentleman's watch chain made out of human hair. I can't imagine how many hours it took.

This is a gentleman’s watch chain made out of human hair. I can’t imagine how many hours it took.

Looking at some of these examples, I have to wonder how on earth this was done. And how long it must have taken. Then it occurred to me that during the Victorian era especially, most gently bred women did not work. And if their children were grown or away at school, they had ample time on their hands. If they truly were in early mourning, they weren’t allowed to go out except to attend church services.

This brooch features four hair acorn shapes. The acorns are tightly woven and incorporate gold components to support the acorn shape. Even though this piece has gold elements, it is understated enough for the middle stages of mourning. Photo courtesy of the Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center.

The acorn probably originated as an English hairwork motif since oak is England’s national wood. This brooch features four hair acorn shapes, which are tightly woven and incorporate gold components to support the acorn shape. Photo courtesy of the Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center.

No doubt someone spent several hours creating this intricate brooch. Photo courtesy of Leila's Hair Museum.

No doubt someone spent several hours creating this intricate brooch. Photo courtesy of Leila’s Hair Museum.

According to artist Sandra Johnson (who uses hair to make jewelry and other items), there are four main techniques involved. They are:

Palette
Palette work is the most versatile of the techniques. It can make pictures and designs both large and small. The hair is used in a “cut and paste” manner to create designs. The third picture on this page is an example of palette work.

Sepia Painting
Sepia painting uses the hair as a painting medium and spread thinly on the background. The sixth picture on this page is an example of palette work.

Tablework
Tablework is created using a table and bobbins with weights. The hair is woven around a form in order to make the shape desired. The fifth picture on the page is an eye-catching example of this style.

Hair Flowers
Hair flowers are created using much longer hair than is needed for the palette or sepia technique. The hair is wound around a rod and secured with a wire making long lengths of looped hair. The hair is then shaped into petals or leaves. When several are wired together a flower can be formed and many very large wreaths were made using the hair of many people. Sometimes a church would make one of all their members, or a family would make one of all the members of the family, these could get very large and ornate. The fourth picture on this page is an example.

Then there are those works of art that aren’t jewelry and defy explanation.

Photo courtesy of Leila's Hair Museum.

Photo courtesy of Leila’s Hair Museum.

There are actually dozens of Pinterest pages devoted to the art form. Many artists like Sandra have revived the tradition and are selling their pieces online.

In the end, while it does seem a tad freaky, the sentiment behind using hair for mourning jewelry makes sense. If you couldn’t have a photo of your loved one to put in your wallet or purse, wearing one of these pieces of jewelry could make you feel close to your deceased loved one in an intimate way. It would never fade or be destroyed by the ravages of time. As seen in the pictures featured here, many examples survive today.

So maybe the Victorians were onto something after all.

This shadow box with a picture of a girl in mourning is lined with material usually reserved for a coffin. The wreath is made with hair from the girl and the girl's mother, who had died. Photo by Richard Gwinn.

This shadow box with a picture of a girl in mourning is lined with material usually reserved for a coffin. The wreath is made with hair from the girl and the girl’s mother, who had died. Photo by Richard Gwinn.

Portland Calling: A Walk Through Lone Fir Cemetery

When my husband told me we’d been invited to his childhood best friend’s wedding in Portland, Oregon, my first thought was about what cemeteries I’d visit. It’s a cemetery hopper’s first instinct.

We only had a weekend so I quickly settled on Lone Fir Cemetery, the jewel in the crown of the 14 cemeteries managed by Metro (the regional governmental agency for the Portland metro area).

I can safely say that Lone Fir is just as quirky as the town it’s located in. And in a good way.

Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery is one of 14 historic Portland cemeteries managed by Metro.

Lone Fir Cemetery is one of 14 historic Portland cemeteries managed by Metro.

Located in Southeast Portland, the 30 acres that make up Lone Fir are well tended. Much of that is due to the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, a group dedicated to education, preservation and restoration efforts. They not only give monthly tours but hold special events such as headstone cleaning workshops and a Halloween Tour of Untimely Departures.

Every Halloween, the Friends of Lone Fir host their Halloween Tour of Untimely Departures. Photo courtesy of Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery.

Every Halloween, the Friends of Lone Fir host their Halloween Tour of Untimely Departures. Photo courtesy of Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery.

According to Friends of Lone Fir’s web site, the cemetery’s first human occupant was Emmor Stephens. His burial was in 1846 in what was then privately owned land, which was later platted as Mount Crawford Cemetery in 1855. Then, Portland existed only on the west side of the Willamette River. Because of the marshy ground, several city graveyards were closed and many bodies were then re-interred at Mount Crawford.

This is the monument for James and Elizabeth Stephens. James was the son of Emmor Simmons, who is noted for being the first person buried in Lone Fir Cemetery when it was known as Mount Crawford Cemetery.

This is the monument for James and Elizabeth Stephens. James was the son of Emmor Stephens, noted for being the first person buried in Lone Fir Cemetery when it was known as Mount Crawford Cemetery.

Mount Crawford was renamed Lone Fir in 1866, for the once solitary tree in its northwest corner. Lone Fir is Portland’s oldest continuously used cemetery and is now a de facto arboretum, with 500 trees representing 67 species. More than 25,000 people are buried there.

Lone Fir definitely has some varieties of trees that I had never seen before.

Lone Fir definitely has some varieties of trees that I had never seen before.

Did you spot the squirrel on the side of the one on the far right?

Did you spot the squirrel on the side of the tree on the far right?

Photo courtesy of Chris Rylands.

Photo courtesy of Chris Rylands.

Reflective of the real trees is the large number of Woodman of the World tree-shaped monuments sprinkled throughout the cemetery. You’ve probably seen them before but never knew what they were. The symbol of the cut tree signifies a life cut short.

Woodmen of the World is a fraternal benefit society based in Omaha, Neb. that operates a large privately held insurance company for members. Many years ago, if you had a policy, the WOW provided a monument upon your demise.

Woodman of the World is a fraternal benefit society based in Omaha, Nebraska that operates a large privately-held insurance company for members. Many years ago, if you had a policy, the WOW provided a monument upon your demise.

In its early days, Woodman of the World insurance policies provided a death and monument benefit. That means they provided gravestones to members for free and later for those who bought a $100 rider.

In the 1920s, the Society stopped doing this when the costs got to be too great and some cemeteries began to not allow above-ground markers for maintenance reasons. But for several years after that, members and lodges arranged for markers and monuments on their own.

Another elaborate example of a Woodmen of the World monument.

Another elaborate example of a Woodman of the World monument.

Lone Fir also has many examples of one of my favorite type of monument, white bronze. In reality, white bronze is actually zinc. If you tap one, you can hear a hollow metallic sound. I could do an entire blog piece on this style of monument alone but for now, visit A Grave Interest to learn more about these hardy markers.

A common decorative motif on white bronze monuments is the sheaf of wheat. It can be a symbol of the Body of Christ. It  can also represent a long life, usually more than 70 years.

A common decorative motif on white bronze monuments is the sheaf of wheat. It can be a symbol of the Body of Christ. It can also represent a long life, usually more than 70 years. This gentlemen was 73 when he died.

A native of Germany, Lorenz Bonhert arrived in  the U.S. in April 1847 and soon after became a member of the Fourth Regiment of the Ohio Volunteers. who fought in the Mexican War.

A native of Germany, Lorenz Bonhert arrived in the U.S. in April 1847 and soon after became a member of the Fourth Regiment of the Ohio Volunteers, which fought in the Mexican War. It is unknown what brought him all the way to Oregon.

George Mutschler, a native of Germany, was a saloon keeper in Portland.

George Mutschler, a native of Germany, was a saloon keeper in Portland.

Later, I had the pleasure of encountering a fellow Find a Grave volunteer who also happens to be a Friends of Lone Fir member. She was washing a gravestone to get a better idea of the woman’s name. I rarely meet fellow Find a Grave members in person so it was a treat to do so that far away from home!

Linda was very helpful in explaining the history of the cemetery since she’s also a tour guide. She talked about the large open corner of the cemetery that is devoid of trees or markers, known as Block 14.

This unassuming plot has a great deal of history. At one time, it was not only where the Chinese workers who had come East to work on the railroad and in the mines were once buried but also patients of the former Oregon Hospital for the Insane.

This empty lot once held the graves of Chinese immigrants and mental hospital patients. Plans are in the works for a memorial garden to be constructed to remember them.

This empty lot once held the graves of Chinese immigrants and mental hospital patients. Plans are in the works for a memorial garden to be constructed to remember them.

According to Chinese custom, immigrants were buried here for a short time, with their remains later dug up and returned to China, to be reunited with their ancestors. This went on until Multnomah County (the land’s owner) wanted to use it as a maintenance building/yard for the highway department. In 1948, this block was excavated with a bulldozer. All remains found were packed off to China and the building was built shortly thereafter.

In 2004, Multnomah County made plans to raze the maintenance building on the land and sell the property to the highest bidder (mostly likely for condos). Many locals who knew the history of that space fought the move.

Ground-penetrating radar showed that two graves were still buried on the property, which meant it was still very much a cemetery. While the building was razed as planned, the land was deeded to Metro to be part of Lone Fir as a historic landmark. Plans are now in the works to turn it into a memorial garden to remember those who were originally buried here.

Scattered throughout the cemetery are these recent graves of Russian immigrants. The laser etched markers seem at home among the much older markers.

Scattered throughout the cemetery are these recent graves of Russian immigrants. The laser-etched markers seem at home among the much older markers.

Linda also told us about the striking black monuments with recent dates on them. Portland is home to a large Russian immigrant population. Some years ago, a few of the local Russian churches bought up a number of cemetery spaces at Lone Fir for their congregants to purchase.

When I saw these very life-like faces staring back at me, I almost felt as if I were in a different country. The Cyrillic print made it even more vivid. Most of the expressions are rather solemn. The one of an infant grave was incredibly poignant.

IMG_5344

At the same time, some of the modern markers I encountered were inventive and more lighthearted. The best example of this would have to be Joel Weinstein’s grave. A long-time publisher of a Portland magazine called Mississippi Mud, Joel was a huge fan of Puerto Rican art. His marker reflects his colorful life perfectly.

Joel Weinstein's gravestone was as unique as he was.

Joel Weinstein’s gravestone was as unique as he was.

Another eye-catching monument is the one for Dr. Minh Van Tran. I’m not sure if EJ and PJ Dragonhorn are the artists who created it.

I don't know anything about Dr. Tran but his gravestone is definitely different.

I don’t know anything about Dr. Tran but his gravestone is definitely different.

The last example I will share is a sad story in that what was once a beautiful monument has been vandalized to the point is it a shadow of what it was once intended to be.

I had seen Paul Lind's amazing monument online a few years ago. This photo was taken by someone else and shows how vibrant it was.

I had seen Paul Lind’s amazing monument online a few years ago. This photo was taken by someone else and shows how vibrant it was.

Paul Lind loved to play Scrabble. He died at the young age of 31. His fiance, Heather, wanted to create a monument that reflected his personality. Along with Paul’s father, she came up with this. She said, “He was a big time scrabble fanatic. I never was able to beat him on one-on-one.”

Unfortunately, by the time I was able to see it, vandals had torn the colorful tiles off to leave the shell behind. I read an article that said a Scrabble tournament was held in 2013 to raise funds to help restore it to its former glory but that hasn’t happened yet.

This is what remains of Paul Lind's once stunning marker.

This is what remains of Paul Lind’s once stunning marker.

One thing I noticed while we were there is that Lone Fir, in some ways like Oakland in Atlanta, is regarded as a valuable greenspace that many locals use. We saw several joggers. Linda said that the nearby high school’s track team uses the cemetery for running practice during the week.

IMG_5222Another bit of information she passed along to me is that in some cases, when students are given detention at the high school, they must draw from a jar containing the names of selected people buried at Lone Fir. The student then researches that person and write up a report about them. That’s certainly different!

As always, visiting cemeteries in a different state opens my eyes to the variety of grave stones, wildlife, and flora/fauna that exists outside my small world of Atlanta, Ga. Lone Fir provides that in spades, probably more than most cemeteries do.

I’d like to come back and see it again some day.

IMG_5315LoneFirbird

 

 

Where’s Quincy?: Why Autopsies Are Incresingly Rare

I grew up watching a lot of TV. Dad was in charge of the remote, so what he wanted to watch, we all watched.

As a result, I spent many evenings watching Jack Klugman (best known for playing Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple) on Quincy, ME. Quincy’s job as a medical examiner in Los Angeles always drew him into fascinating whodunnits that were neatly wrapped up in an hour. He always solved the mystery just as his naysayers were about to lower the boom.

Quincy always worked hard to get to the bottom of every mysterious case. But he always had time for the ladies. Photo courtesy of The Classic TV Archive.

Quincy (with his trusty assistant Sam) worked hard to get to the bottom of every mysterious case. But Quincy always had time for the ladies. His houseboat was a chick magnet. Photo courtesy of The Classic TV Archive.

Television in the 70s and early 80s was often an exercise in suspended reality (Remember The Six Million Dollar Man?). Quincy is one example because all the ladies he met seemed to think ‘ole Quince was a real catch. Frankly, I think they were just after his houseboat.

Watching Quincy gave me the impression that autopsies were a common procedure. With current TV shows like CSI and Law and Order, this impression has not only been upheld but encouraged. In reality, that’s not the case at all.

The word autopsy comes from the Greek “autopsia” for the act of seeing with one’s own eyes. It’s an examination of a body after death to determine the cause of death or the character and extent of changes produced by disease.

Autopsies are not done only on murder victims but to determine what disease or health factors led to a person’s demise. They often turn up nothing unusual at all. Or they can discover something major.

North Georgia 911 operator Lynn Turner poisoned both her husband and later a boyfriend with ethylene glycol (antifreeze). But initial autopsies on both men said they died from an irregular heartbeat.  Photo courtesy of Calvin Cruce/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

North Georgia 911 operator Lynn Turner poisoned both her husband and later a boyfriend with ethylene glycol (antifreeze). But initial autopsies on both men said they died from an irregular heartbeat. Photo courtesy of Calvin Cruce/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Laws vary from state to state but in most cases, with consent from a patient’s next of kin, a doctor can order a clinical autopsy to determine the disease process in the body and determine cause of death. That was the norm 50 years ago and in Quincy’s era.

“Much of what we know about medicine comes from the autopsy,” said Dr. Stephen Cina, chairman of the forensic pathology committee for the College of American Pathologists, in a 2011 article. “You really can’t say for sure what went on or didn’t go on without the autopsy as a quality assurance tool.”

So why are fewer autopsies being performed?

In 1971 The Joint Commission, which accredits health-care facilities, told hospitals they were no longer required to conduct autopsies to keep in good standing. Before, mandated autopsy rates of 20 percent were in place for community hospitals and 25 percent for teaching facilities. Now, some hospital autopsy rates are down to zero.

Hospitals also have considerable financial incentives to avoid autopsies. An autopsy can cost anywhere from about $1,500 (performed by the hospital at the medical examiner’s request) or if it’s done privately at a family’s request, $2,000 to $5,000. Medicare and private insurers don’t pay for them directly, typically limiting reimbursement to procedures used to diagnose and treat the living.

In addition, autopsies can be difficult to perform, physically demanding and time consuming. Many hospitals would rather their time and money be spent elsewhere.

As a result, it can be difficult for a family to get an autopsy performed on a loved one if the medical examiner won’t do it. The cost then falls to them to have it done privately.

Jessie Tolly died suddenly at the age of 28 but the medical examiner refused to perform an autopsy. Her family, however, paid for a private pathologist to do on. Photo courtesy of The Daily Courier.

Jessie Tolly died suddenly at the age of 28. The medical examiner refused to perform an autopsy, blaming her death on her obesity. Her family, however, paid for a private pathologist to do one. Photo courtesy of The Daily Courier.

Such was the case in 2013 when the family of Arizona woman Jessie Tolly demanded answers after her sudden death. The medical examiner blamed Jessie’s death on her obesity and refused to authorize an autopsy.

Tolly’s family hired a private pathologist to perform the autopsy at the cost of $2,000, which revealed the cause of death to be a defective heart artery. Tolly’s mother was furious when she later discovered the medical examiner’s office contacted that pathologist for a copy of the report, bypassing the family entirely.

“We’re not rich, we don’t have a lot of money and we’re just middle income, you know, I felt in many respects that, in their minds, she just didn’t rate,” said Tolly.

Another reason doctors are requesting fewer autopsies is because of their reliance on today’s diagnostic tools like CT scans and MRIs, which can identify ailments while patients are still alive.

But according to the previously mentioned 2013 article, studies of autopsies have revealed that doctors can still make a number of diagnostic errors even with increasingly sophisticated imaging equipment.

Doctors say that modern tools such as this MRI machine can help them detect disease.

Doctors say modern tools such as this MRI machine can help them detect disease when patients are still alive. But studies involving autopsies show that doctors can still make diagnostic errors.

A 2002 review by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality showed that when patients were autopsied, major errors related to the principle diagnosis or underlying cause of death were found in one of four cases. In one of 10 cases, the error appeared severe enough to have led to the patient’s death.

The importance of autopsies goes beyond determining cause of death. They can also be a critical tool for evaluating and improving medical care.

Dr. Elizabeth Burton, deputy director of the pathology department at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said performing autopsies on patients who have died of hospital-acquired infections helps save others. Doctors have used her research as a basis for changing antibiotic regimens.

Finally, autopsies can help family members learn whether a relative died from an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed illness or disease that may be hereditary.

Dr. Davis is professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and State Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Gregory J. Davis is professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. He’s also the State Medical Examiner. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Gregory J. Davis at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine (according to a recent Frontline documentary) said 40 percent of autopsies performed in the U.S. reveal disease states previously unknown to physicians, largely because the autopsy involves techniques that can’t be used on the living.

There continue to be a variety of opinions on the value of autopsies today. Because I am nothing close to a medical expert, I can only share what I’ve learned. But I hope it gives you a clearer picture of why autopsies are now increasingly rare but can still be incredibly helpful when they are performed.

I hope Quincy would be proud.

One of my favorite intro scenes on Quincy was when the young police recruits pass out as he begins an autopsy. Photo courtesy of TVRage.

One of my favorite scenes on Quincy is when the young police academy recruits start to pass out one at a time as he begins an autopsy. Photo courtesy of TVRage.

Ashes to Ashes: What You Can Do With Cremains

“I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.” 

– Groucho Marx

Someone in your family chose to be cremated after they died and you now have their ashes. It raises the inevitable question.

What do you do with them now?

Some people purchase a wooden box, metal urn or some other container to hold their love one’s ashes in, which they keep in a special place in their home. Or you can have the ashes (in a cineary urn) interred in a columbarium at a cemetery.

Tom Caflisch of River Falls, Wisc. holds a wooden urn his remains will be placed in someday. A Navy veteran, he etched the dates of his military service on the lid. In his part-time urn business, he personalizes cremation urns for customers who want their military service or other identification noted on their burial urns. Photo courtesy of Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Tom Caflisch of River Falls, Wisc. holds a wooden urn his remains will be placed in someday. A Navy veteran, he etched the dates of his military service on the lid. He personalizes cremation urns for customers who want their military service or other identification noted on their burial urns. Photo courtesy of Meg Jones/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Another option is scattering the ashes at a place special to the deceased, perhaps a lake or mountaintop. Some cemeteries have “scatter gardens” for that purpose. Afterward, the loved one’s name is engraved on a memorial tablet in the garden. Maybe you’d prefer to scatter the ashes at sea, a popular choice.

But what if you really want to do things differently? The possibilities are many but here are a handful to think about.

Like Sands Through The Hourglass

Long ago, I watched NBC’s Days of Our Lives (I quit when Marlena supposedly became possessed by the Devil). The show always starts with long-time cast member McDonald Carey intoning, “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” So when I found out you can have cremation ashes placed in an hourglass, I was intrigued.

In the Light offers three different hourglasses that you can place a small about of ashes in to remember your loved one. Photo courtesy of In the Light Urns.

In the Light Urns offers three different hourglasses that you can place a small about of ashes in to remember your loved one. Photo courtesy of In the Light Urns.

California-based In the Light Urns has been providing hourglasses and other items like jewelry (even rosaries) to put cremation ashes in since 2001. Their hourglasses enable you to put a small portion of ashes in it so you can keep them your home (or wherever you choose). The deceased’s name and birth/death dates are engraved on it.

They even suggest how to incorporate putting the ashes into the hourglass during a special ceremony remembering the deceased. The cost for an hourglass is $399.95.

Tattoo You

Maybe you want to truly make your loved one’s ashes a part of you. You can go much further than tattooing “Mother” on your bicep by having a tiny amount of ashes added to the tattoo ink used. “Ashes are essentially carbon and carbon is the main ingredient in black ink,” said Trish Rodgers, then artist/manager of Toronto’s Body of Art tattoo parlor, in a 2013 article.

Tattoo artist Kystal Borsa shows a tribute tattoo on her shoulder made from ink mixed with the ashes of her late mother Rose Borsa, who died when Krystal was 11 years old. Photo courtesy of Peter J. Thompson/National Post.

Tattoo artist Kystal Borsa shows a tribute tattoo on her shoulder made from ink mixed with the ashes of her late mother. Photo courtesy of Peter J. Thompson/National Post.

While the process has been around for close to 30 years, it’s not widely done and some tattoo artists won’t do it. Some health officials question the safety of it because a foreign substance is being introduced into the body. But several people who’ve gotten a “Morbid Tattoo” (as one American academic called it) have said they suffered no ill affects in the years after they had it done.

Portrait of a Life

Perhaps you like the artistic notion of a tattoo but prefer a less invasive (and physically permanent) approach. Missouri artist Adam Brown uses cremains sent to him by relatives and mixes them with paint pigment to create a “lasting memory” composition.

In a recent ABC News piece, he said “Having ashes in an urn on a mantle somewhere is a good way to constantly remind yourself that person died, but when you use them in an artwork it’s a good way to remember someone lived,”

Sending cremains via the U.S. Postal Service is legal, Brown said. The ashes are mixed in with paints, craft glues and resins to incorporate into the design of a memorial portrait, landscape or abstract piece (depending on the deceased’s favorite colors and interests).

A pleased client shows off the portrait of his late partner painted with traces of his ashes. Photo courtesy of Adam Brown's website Adam Brown's Gallery.

A pleased client shows off the portrait of his late partner painted with traces of his ashes. Photo courtesy of Adam Brown’s Gallery.

“Out of respect, I still wear gloves when handling the ashes. Whatever is left over, I am careful to return,” Brown said. “I only need about four to six ounces, depending on the canvas.”

The paintings range in size and price from $300 to $700, depending on the use of color.

The Rockets’ Red Glare

Want to send your loved one off with a bang like late gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson? You can have cremation ashes made into fireworks for a spectacular show family and friends will never forget. British company Heavens Above Fireworks can arrange the display for you, or you can order your own rockets for self-firing kits, which come with instructions on how to incorporate ashes into the rockets.

Detailed tips on how to create interesting displays are included. There’s a Youtube of video with an example of one of their shows.

Heavens Above Firework sells self-fired rocked kits that you can add some of the deceased's ashes to before sending them skyward. The cost for a set of four is around $125. Note the goggle provided in the kit. Photo courtesy of Heavens Above Fireworks.

Heavens Above Fireworks sells self-fired rocked kits that you can add some of the deceased’s ashes to before sending them skyward. The cost for a set of four is around $125. Note the goggles provided. Photo courtesy of Heavens Above Fireworks.

Prices vary according to how grand and how lengthy you want the show to be, but it can cost from around $125 for a kit into the thousands of dollars for a lengthy fireworks show.

A few companies here in America will do it, too, but Heavens Above has one of the most detailed websites I’ve seen.

A Diamond is Forever

A diamond can be your best friend (not just a girl’s), if you want. Illinois-based LifeGem will turn your loved one’s ashes into an actual diamond.

According to their website, “LifeGem diamonds are molecularly identical to natural diamonds found at any high-end jeweler. They have the exact same brilliance, fire, luster, and hardness (the hardest substance known) as diamonds from the earth.”

Basically, you send them a small portion of your loved one’s cremation ashes (or even a lock of their hair) and they take it from there. Or you can work with one of their certified funeral home/mortuary partners, they have several (including one in Atlanta). LifeGem can even create a diamond out of your pet’s ashes if you wish.

This is Blue LifeGem Diamond - Option IV (.50 - .59 ct). The base price is listed at $7,899.00 Photo courtesy of LifeGem.

This is Blue LifeGem Diamond – Option IV (.50 – .59 ct). The base price is listed at $7,899.00 Photo courtesy of LifeGem.

LifeGem offers a long list of carat sizes, cuts and colors so prices vary widely. The smallest LifeGem diamonds (the red .10 – .19 carat) are just under $3,000 while the largest ones (1.5 carat or larger) can run you $19,000 and higher.

According to their website,  they expect to be creating diamonds of up to 3.0 carats in the very near future.

What About You?

As you can see, if you’re not content to put your loved one’s ashes in an urn on the mantle, there are countless other options. Too many to talk about in just one post. But these can get you started.

Maybe the process will get you thinking about your own funeral plans. What do you want done with your ashes if you choose cremation?

 

Want to haunt your loved one's for years to come? Cremation Solution's president Jeff Staab started offering head-shaped urns that resemble the deceased about four years ago. He says on the website, "They are not for everybody but most people do find them fascinating to say the least. Photo courtesy of Cremation Solutions.

Want to haunt your loved ones for years to come? Cremation Solutions offers head-shaped urns that resemble the deceased. President Jeff Staab says on their website, “They are not for everybody but most people do find them fascinating to say the least.” Photo courtesy of Cremation Solutions.

Finding Grave #153: The Athens Asylum Cemeteries

When I signed up for Ancestry.com, I was excited about the adventure I was about to start. Maybe I’d find out I was related to a king. Or discover that one of my ancestors invented something cool like the swizzle stick (I did not).

Instead, I found out that one of my ancestors is buried in a large cemetery behind what is now Ohio University’s Kennedy Museum of Art.

I was able to contact someone who lives near the Athens area who promised she would stop by and locate his grave. True to her word, she did so and took several pictures. My heart caught in my chest when I saw the cemetery. So many numbers to represent lives lived and lost. So many who died alone, unmourned and misunderstood.

That’s because the cemetery is on the grounds of what used to be the Athens Lunatic Asylum. His name is not on his grave marker. Just a number.

Grave #153 contains the remains of Levi Martin Mercer, a great-grand uncle of mine who died in 1888 at the Athens Lunatic Asylum in Ohio.

Grave #153 contains the remains of Levi Martin Mercer, a great-grand uncle of mine who died in 1888 at the Athens Lunatic Asylum in Athens, Ohio. My thanks to the Athens County Historical Society and Museum for their assistance. Photo courtesy of Teresa Lemons.

Levi Martin Mercer was born in Mason, Va. in 1808 and grew up in Jackson County, Ohio. In 1828, he married Belinda Melissa Cantwell. The justice of the peace who married them was Michael McCoy, my great-great-great-great grandfather. He was also Levi’s brother-in-law. By 1850, Levi was farming in Hamilton Township, on the South side of Jackson County.

After 1850, something happened. The 1860 U.S. Census lists Levi as living as an inmate in Ward 1 of the Ohio Lunatic Asylum in Columbus, Ohio. He is listed as insane. The same Census lists Belinda as still living in Hamilton Township with their two youngest children (Levi D. and Andrew), farming 200 acres of land.

The Ohio Lunatic Asylum, sometimes called the Central Ohio Asylum, opened in 1838. It covered 30 acres and was purported to be where residents could actually be “cured” of their mental condition. In 1843, the Asylum’s director Dr. William Awl claimed a 100 percent cure rate of his patients.

He didn’t mention that the “cure” often meant the patient’s demise.

The first Ohio Lunatic Asylum in Columbus opened in 1838. It burned to the ground 30 years later.

The first Ohio Lunatic Asylum in Columbus opened in 1838. It burned to the ground 30 years later. The cause of the fire remains a mystery.

The Ohio Asylum burned to the ground in 1868. Only seven people did not survive. I don’t know if Levi was still living there at the time of the fire but reports say patients were routed to surrounding facilities during the years that the Asylum was rebuilt. A new, much larger building opened in 1877 with much fanfare.

The newly built Ohio Lunatic Asylum opened in 1877, a much larger facility on 100 acres of land in a different part of the city.

The newly built Ohio Lunatic Asylum opened in 1877, a much larger facility on 100 acres of land in a different part of the city. On this postcard it is called Institution for the Feeble Minded.

The 1870 Census reports Levi as living in Jackson County again, now as a member of the household of “sheriff and jailer” Jonathan Wade. He is still listed as insane.

What many people don’t know about the asylums of this era is that they were not used just for the mentally ill. It was common for families to drop elderly relatives off at the hospital when they could no longer afford to care for them. Parents committed teens for minor acts of rebellion. The homeless used it for temporary shelter. As a result, the Athens Asylum’s population went from about 200 to nearly 2,000 by the early 1900s.

Truthfully, I don’t know what kind of “insane” Levi was. But it was enough to separate him from his wife and children. Belinda died in 1874 and is buried in Glendale Cemetery in Scioto County, Ohio, not far from Jackson County. Daughter Mahala (and her husband) are buried nearby.

Levi's wife, Belinda, is buried in Glendale Cemetery in Scioto County, Ohio. She may have been living with her daughter, Mahala, when she died.

Levi’s wife, Belinda, is buried in Glendale Cemetery in Scioto County, Ohio. She may have been living with her daughter, Mahala, when she died.

In 1880, Levi appears on the U.S. Census for the final time. Still listed as insane, he lived in the household of J.M. Lynch along with his family. Lynch’s occupation is listed as jailer. Also listed is a 13-year-old servant named Elizabeth Spriggs, whose surname crops up frequently in my family tree.

This picture can give you an idea of just how vast the Athens Lunatic Asylum (now called The Ridges) was when it was in full operation. It opened in 1874 and closed in 1993, now owned by Ohio University.

This picture can give you an idea of just how vast the Athens Lunatic Asylum (now called The Ridges) was when it was in full operation. The facility had eight different names over the years. It opened in 1874 and closed in 1993, now owned by Ohio University.

Sometime after 1880, Levi moved into the Asylum in Athens and eventually died on Nov. 8, 1888 from some sort of heart ailment.

I can’t help wondering if Levi was one of those elderly relatives that was no longer convenient to have in the home.

In 2001 renovation work was completed on the main building, which today is known as Lin Hall and houses music, geology, and biotechnology offices, as well as the Kennedy Museum of Art. Nearly all of the dozens of hospital buildings have been remodeled and put to use by the University.  Photo courtesy of Theresa Lemons.

In 2001, renovation work was completed on the main building, which today is known as Lin Hall. It houses music, geology, and biotechnology offices, as well as the Kennedy Museum of Art. Nearly all of the dozens of hospital buildings have been remodeled and put to use by the University. Photo courtesy of Theresa Lemons.

The cemeteries at the Ridges (as it is now called) contain about 1,700 graves of patients who died there. There are mostly numbers. They didn’t start putting names on the graves until the 1940s. So most, like Levi’s marker, only have a number.

The Asylum was closed in 1993, its remaining patients bused to other more modern facilities before Ohio University purchased it.

Some say the place is abuzz with paranormal activity, haunted by the souls who lived there.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum is now known as the Ridges. There are three different cemeteries on the campus and more is being discovered about the people who lived there.

The Athens Lunatic Asylum is now known as the Ridges. There are three different cemeteries on the campus and more is being discovered about the people who lived there. Photo courtesy of Teresa Lemons.

This is the hillside where Levi is buried. A few of the descendants of patients who died here have purchased new markers with names and dates of the deceased on them.

This is the hillside where Levi is buried. A few of the descendants of patients who died here have purchased new markers with names and dates of the deceased on them. Photo courtesy of Teresa Lemons.

The Ridges is a rarity among former asylums that have come and gone. Many fell into decay after closing and had to be torn down. Some had cemeteries that time and the elements destroyed. Many remain a mystery because the shame that went with mental illness was so great in decades past. In some ways, it still is.

The Athens branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has spent the last several years cleaning up and repairing the cemeteries, which had fallen into a sad state by the 1990s. There’s also a walking trail.

A group called the Friends of Athens Asylum Cemeteries was formed to help connect the descendants of those buried at the Ridges to their loved ones. They are working to raise funds to put new markers with names and dates on them. To give an identity to those numbers. As it turns out, a number of men buried at the Ridges were military veterans. So far, 43 of the 89 known veterans have received a stone.

Over 80 veterans from various wars are buried at the Ridges. About half now have markers with their names and dates on them. Photo courtesy of The Post.

Over 80 veterans from various wars are buried at the Ridges. About half now have markers with their names and dates on them. Photo courtesy of The Post.

I’ve never been to the Ridges but someday I will. I’d like to give Levi a proper marker after all of these years. To give his number a name, an identity. As someone who has struggled with chronic clinical depression since my 20s, I know what it’s like to have the label of mental illness attached to me. Maybe not the way he did. But I understand what that means.

I owe him that much.

 

 

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