Saturday, September 04, 2010

Old Stones, Old Lives



I've been spending a lot of time in old cemeteries, photographing gravestones as a volunteer for FindAGrave. I went to this one, in the photograph, yesterday. Here I found a stone that read George, son of Charles and Mary Daniels, born Mar. 25, 1845

DROWNED

in the Narrows of Lackawaxen on Friday the 11th day of October 1861 his body was found in the Delaware River at Cars Rock on Sunday Oct. the 20, 1861. Aged 16 years, 7 mo. & 14 days.


I couldn't read all of the bottom inscription, but I made out the following, and I think we understand, without words, the rest.

From the beautiful world tis lived for parents and children
. . . . . to part . . . .
O may we meet . . . .
Where parting shall be no more


I have long accepted, if not exactly embraced, the premise that we live until we fulfill whatever it is we're supposed to accomplish on this earth, but the more trips I make to old cemeteries, the harder it is to hang on to that concept. In the 19th Century, so many died so young. Childbirth back then was risky business; you see the evidence of that on the gravestones of all the young wives. And the children! An epidemic would sweep through an area and take a good percentage of the young with it.

Some of the tales told on the gravestones are heartbreaking, like the family who, in 1878, lost a son named Earley, not quite two years old, on May 24; a nine-year-old daughter, Ann, on May 28; and on June 4 little Samuel who had turned four nine days earlier. Then, seven years later, they lost two-and-a-half-year-old Dessie.

The parents of George, above, might have breathed a little easier having gotten their son to the ripe old age of 16—until the unthinkable happened, and he drowned.

I remind myself that the 19th Century doesn't have a monopoly on tragedy. Those multiple deaths could be happening right now in other parts of the world. And it was unthinkable when a friend's son (and good friend of my daughter Gillian's) drowned in Lake Champlain two years ago—on the same day he was his sister's Man of Honor at her wedding.

I guess it's not for us to know what purpose anyone's life might have served, or be serving still. We can only assume that Samuel and Dessie and the rest got it right. And hope that in the end we will have gotten it right, too.

13 comments:

crystal said...

Nice photo. The gravestones remind me of old teeth.

It does seem like a lot of people die "before their time" so to speak. One of my cousins died of cancer when she was about 35 and she left two small children. If I have to get stuff right before I die, I'll probably be immortal :)

gld said...

I love that picture.

I also like visiting old cemeteries.
You can see the devastation caused by the flu epidemic of 1918 in the one where most of my people on Mother's side are buried. One family lost three small children to it.

You wonder how they coped with that loss.

Susan said...

You do wonder, Gld. I see it all the time in these old cemeteries.

Crystal, it's nice to know you'll be around for a long time. :-)

Bridgett said...

Working on genealogy with my mother-in-law, we visited the old cemetery down in Cairo, Illinois. Same kind of story, a large headstone with 6 names, all children under 15, all died in the same month (it wasn't 1918 but I'm sure it was disease of some kind).

And they went on to have 4 more children after all of them died--including my mother-in-law's ancestor. I can't imagine starting over and risking it again.

What a wonderful hobby. I've used find-a-grave before (in Jamestown).

mm said...

Great picture. Great post. There's a cemetery not far from here with a number of graves of Loyalists who died crossing Lake Ontario around the time of the civil war. One family had to land in Canada an immediately bury four children. I'm not sure if the kids are actually buried there, or if the stones were erected in their memory after burial at sea.

Crystal, I'll probably be hanging around a long time, too!

Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb said...

It is a mystery to me how the human race coped with the routine death of children. How could they stand to go through it over and over? Is that why everybody always looks so sad in those old photographs?

Susan said...

I think they tried to distance themselves a bit from their babies, although knowing how strong maternal instinct can be, I don't know how the mothers achieved that. I heard about one family who gave each child a name, but didn't use that name until they were two or three. Before that, they were called "Baby."

I think there's something to your theory, Lali. I always thought the sad expressions were the result of slow film and the need to remain absolutely still, but the fact is they lived in hard times.

Helen said...

I'm doing so little with my life, I'll likely still be around when I'm 100. I picture whoever is in charge saying in exasperation: "When is she going to get around to fulfilling her purpose on earth?"

I love this post. You have such an interesting life.

crystal said...

Hi MM :)

Susan said...

I've been mulling over "You have such an interesting life." I guess I'm still mulling....

Susan said...

Maybe I just make it sound interesting.

Helen said...

Well, it certainly sounds interesting to me. Volunteering for FindAGrave. Inventing new bean stalks. Cherishing a little tea box full of big memories.

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.