In November, I wrote a post about fulfilling my hundredth Find a Grave photo request. That was a big milestone for me! But since I started cemetery hopping in earnest last December, it’s resulted in so much more than that. It’s changed me in ways I was not expecting.

Telling Their Stories

I’m not into the paranormal. My faith is in Jesus Christ, not Ouija boards. Some people visit cemeteries in hopes of making contact with the “other side”. And that’s fine. But it’s not my goal.

However, I have become more willing to believe in the unexplained. I do think some individuals whose graves I have discovered wanted me to find them. They almost tug on my sleeve to get my attention. It isn’t a coincidence that I found slain police officer Ralph K. Davis’ grave amid hundreds of others at Sugar Hill Baptist Church Cemetery. Something about it urged me to find out more.

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

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

When I discovered Ralph was at the center of one of the biggest murder cases in Gwinnet County history, I knew I had to write about it. By sharing the story of Ralph and his brother officers Marvin Jesse Gravitt and Jerry Everett, I educated a new generation about a forgotten slice of history. It’s hard not to feel a jolt when you realize that you frequently, unknowingly, travel a road that was once a murder scene.

The same goes for Adeline Bagley Buice, who while pregnant not only survived arrest by the Union Army and transportation to the North, she spent five years making her way to the only home she had ever known. That kind of spirit is stunning. I’m glad I was able to share her story to a fresh audience.

But my favorite so far has to be children’s author Madge Bigham. I literally had to dig up her gravestone because it was so covered by sod and grass clippings. She was waiting patiently for someone to uncover it.

Madge Bigham's simple, flat grave marker lay hidden under grass and dirt until I found it.

Madge Bigham’s simple, flat grave marker lay hidden under grass and dirt until I found it.

In discovering Madge, I found a kindred spirit who loved writing as much as I do. Her love for children and her desire to improve their lives in an era when women were supposed to get married and stay quietly at home is impressive.

Since then, I’ve swapped emails with some of Madge’s relatives and learned more about her. When I visit Westview Cemetery, I always stop by her grave (and those of her three siblings) to make sure it’s not getting covered up again. To say hello and assure her she’s not forgotten.

Making New Friends and Reconnecting With Old Ones

I’m an introvert by nature. Talking to people I don’t know is a struggle. By getting into cemetery hopping and writing this blog, I have met or reconnected with some great people.

Sharon Smith Patterson is a perfect example. I didn’t know her well in high school but we met up again this year when she started reading my blog. By accepting her invitation to visit an almost hidden Davis Cemetery, I discovered a wealth of history I’d never known. Thanks to my new hobby, I got to spend some time with Sharon and get to know her better.

Sharon Smith Patterson and I reconnected among the graves of a small rural cemetery.

Sharon Smith Patterson and I reconnected among the graves of a small rural cemetery.

The same goes for helping my buddy Steve Reagin find his ancestors in Lithonia. We hadn’t seen each other in years but once we started talking, it felt like it had only been a few months.

Steve discovered many of his relatives' final resting places at Lithonia City Cemetery.

Steve discovered many of his relatives’ final resting places at Lithonia City Cemetery.

I’ve also made new friends in my community who read my blog. One of them is Jennifer Graham, a fellow “hopper” and talented photographer. It’s great fun to sit and talk with someone else who shares my passion for history and cemeteries.

Jennifer Graham's picture of little Grace Watson at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Ga. serves as the logo of her business, White Rabbit Creative Photography.

Jennifer Graham’s picture of little Grace Watson at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Ga. serves as the logo of her business, White Rabbit Creative Photography.

One thing that’s surprised me is how many people want to talk to me about their own affinity for cemeteries. Martin, the friend who helped me find Westivew Cemetery, is one of them. He and I have talked about how he finds comfort by visiting his mother’s grave. How visiting cemeteries is a positive experience for him. I like knowing that I’m not the only one.

The Sweet Sound of Silence

I’m not outdoorsy. At. All. I have gone real tent camping exactly twice in my life. A cabin is more my comfort zone than a sleeping bag on the ground.

However, now that I spend a good bit of my time under the open sky of a cemetery, my comfort level with the great outdoors has shifted.

I spent a beautiful, sunny day at Greenwood Cemetery this year.

I spent a beautiful, sunny day at Greenwood Cemetery this year.

When I’m in a cemetery, especially one out in the country, I enter a different world. No cars honking, no music blaring, nobody talking on cell phones. It’s just me, nature and the dead. The only background noises are the squirrels and birds going on about their business.

With the lack of distractions, I can let myself relax. My anxiety level drops and I find a peace that’s beyond words. I can appreciate God’s handiwork and the lives of those He created, all of them unique.

Finding My Voice

A few years ago when I first considered blogging, I knew I didn’t want to write a “mommy blog.” Many other talented ladies have that covered and do it well. I wanted to write about something unique and quirky. Something different.

With Adventures in Cemetery Hopping, I’ve found my true voice. A platform for my writing, which is something for which I’ve sought for quite a while. It releases something in my soul that makes me feel heard. Not necessarily understood, but heard.

As 2013 ends, I issue you an invitation. If there’s a cemetery you would like me to visit, please let me know. I already have a long list but I’m always happy to add to it. Just contact me at traci.rylands@gmail.com.

So many cemeteries. So little time!

BrokenDove

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