That’s right: we go from blogging about deodorant to blogging about cemeteries – that’s just how Going Back Home rolls.
I learned recently about a really neat website, www.findagrave.com. The site is basically a giant database of gravestones – a place to virtually visit loved ones, piece together bits of family history, or just marvel at the sheer number of cemeteries that are close to you at any given time. The site is volunteer driven – if you want a photo taken of a gravestone, you put in a request, and the site contacts volunteers in the area to see if they can fulfill it. They claim that more than 800,000 volunteer photographers have registered.
I guess it’s 800,001 now that I signed up. I was surprised to learn that Enfield has several cemeteries within a few miles of our house. So last weekend, I set off from home and walked a five-mile loop, passing by three graveyards with outstanding findagrave.com photo requests. It was a gorgeous day – cloudy but warm, and I enjoyed the stroll along our quiet, country roads.
The cemeteries I visited are pretty small, and they all have these cool wrought iron entrances:
Inside, the grave markers are mostly large pieces of slab, meticulously carved with the deceased’s name, dates, and an epitaph. Many of the stones are from the Revolutionary War period, weathered and often cracked or damaged. There’s beauty in these graveyards – they have soul, if you will. Mature trees provide shade, and walking paths have been worn by generations of mourners. As decades have passed, many of the stones have been covered by moss and lichen.
Life does go on. Even in a cemetery.
I stopped by the Enfield Village Cemetery first, which is in the heart of “downtown” Enfield. (Downtown Enfield consists of a school, a boarded up church, a volunteer fire station, and “town hall” – which is a single room off the side of the fire station.) The cemetery is in a wooded area, on a pretty steep slope. At the heart of it is this monument:
I drive on Bostwick Road every day, and it had never occurred to me to question the origin of its name. Apparently, the Orson Bostwick family was quite wealthy, if the size of the grave marker is anything to go by. Orson had two wives over the course of his life – Sarah and Jane (Sarah, his first wife, is buried right next to him) – and four children, including one that (sadly) lived only three years.
In the end, I was only able to fulfill two photo requests, out of 15 that are currently open. Too many of the headstones were unreadable, literally wiped clean by decades of wind, rain and snow — a sight that did give me pause. I want to be cremated when I go, and then scattered in the three places I have been most happy to call home: Ithaca, Boston, and Sydney, Australia. The only drawback to cremation, in my mind, is that there is no permanent marker of life. It is feasible that in a couple of generations, I could be completely forgotten. And while I am not deluded enough to think that hoards of people are going to flock to my grave for all time, I do kind of like the idea that someone, someday might stumble upon my marker and imagine for a moment what my life might have been like.
Standing in front of a worn, smooth, completely anonymous gravestone reminded me that nothing is forever. Even permanent markers aren’t permanent. It was a sad realization. But also, in a weird way, it was freeing.
My walk around the cemeteries of Enfield also ignited in me a desire to learn more local history. I want to better understand the Native Americans who first farmed these lands, the young families that settled here in the early 1800s, and the Revolutionary War heroes who called these hills home. I’ve seen a number of farms that were apparently a part of the underground railroad, and I’d love to know which of my neighbors (now underground themselves) played a role in that remarkable moment in time.
I don’t know if I’ll continue with findagrave.com, other than maybe to check in periodically and see if there are new photo requests for my local cemeteries. From the looks of it, there are people who have become completely obsessed with the website, posting thousands of photos over time. I can’t see becoming that person – but I do appreciate that it enabled me to ponder my little corner of the world in a way I hadn’t before, and left me hungry to learn even more.
On a side note, though I have driven by this farm 1,000 times, I never noticed that it has an official name. I think everyone in the Finger Lakes should get their local meat from this fine establishment: