Cemeteries and Science

Somewhere, in the Great American Prairie, on land that belonged to a town that no longer exists, you will find a small cemetery. Be sure you close the gates. You don’t want to chase the cows out, and the volunteer who mows doesn’t want to clean up after them.

Now and then, a new grave goes in–someone old enough and local enough to own a plot–but for the most part, you’re the only living person there. All the rest–the pioneers and cowboys, the homesteaders and farmers, even your own great-something-great grandfather, who used to deliver the mail a couple of times a month… they’re stories from before your time.

And if you went there often enough, you still know those stories by heart.

And you know the family names, of course. The families are still around. Mixed into bigger towns, more successful towns.

Seven children died, once. One after another, from whatever the disease was at the time. Typhoid, maybe. Cholera. Something we cure with antibiotics if modern water systems even let it through.

And their father had to bury each one, himself.

Carry the bodies out to the cemetery, tuck them into the ground, and cover them with dirt.

Their neighbors told the parents they had sinned, and judged harshly, as if they, themselves would be immune.

But, not quite sure, they made him bury his own children.

 

The Answer is Tourism. Always Tourism.

I live in a historic town.

You can tell by the road signs and billboards, and by the fact that here and there, you have a building that is more than a hundred fifty years old.

It’s not a particularly exciting history.

And honestly, it’s not that much different than the history that the other 4,683 historical small towns in my state have on display. By the luck of the draw, we were first at something, once. There’s a plaque.

And if you go on a tour of downtown, you’ll find a lot of plaques. The downtown committee put them up a few years back, so that you can read all about what the empty buildings and tumble-down ruins used to be.

There’s not a whole lot left to bring outsiders here. A few old papers in the archive, and an eclipse that will come and go this August. We got eclipse glasses printed up with our name on them.

So did the towns next door.

And down the street.

The “historic” market share is minuscule.

Sure, it worked for Williamsburg, and that picturesque little town on the river–the one with all the B&Bs and the arts festivals, every summer. The one that grows to five times its size, every year. But they got their start decades ago. Before the market was divvyed up.

Before any of the bigger towns even realized they would need to be historic.

Back when we still had businesses in those empty buildings.

Back when we were modern, and proud of it.

A-to-Z Challenge: Ethniko Apelfterotiko Metopo

There’s some enthusiastic transliteration, there, since I’m starting with something Greek, but more or less, it fits the M-theme for this fabulous alphabetical challenge. So, in translation–via the internet and one seriously old school dictionary–those nifty words add up to “National Liberation Front”.  (Lucky the Greeks speak Greek, or they wouldn’t fit this challenge at all.)

So the E.A.M. was a resistance group during World War II, when Greece was occupied by Nazis. And apparently, I need a note here abouts differentiating it from the current National Front (EM). (They’re different.)

I hit my limit on World War II stories back in high school, so let’s be honest… none of this would be here, if I didn’t need an E-M.

The group hits it’s high note toward the end of the war, when it has gained a sizable chunk of Greece and kept a lot of Greeks out of the forced labor pool, and sets up its own government. At the end of the war, a different government is set up.

The remaining group falls in and out of favor over the course of the next few decades, and the members are eventually recognized as resistance fighters and given government pensions in 1981.

That’s an interesting idea… the question of how to identify people who fought for your country, when your country was occupied and didn’t have an official military. Apparently, the correct response is a lot of political bickering. (Isn’t that always the answer? Or at least, the right answer if 1863 would look stupid in that space.)

Why I Walked Away From That Book

I read a book description… because, let’s face it, reading book descriptions when you really, really have no intention of buying anything which is not already on the shopping list….is a bookworm’s version of going to the casino. You can keep doing it all you want, but if you keep going long enough, you’re going to wind up owning a shiny new impulse book.

I got lucky this time, because I didn’t buy a book… well, I didn’t buy two books… technically. Yet. I do not have a problem. And people should quit waving books under my nose, if they think I do!

And I wound up with this nifty blog post about my jaw getting all scraped up from dragging on the ground.

The editor described this book as “a love triangle set in the harshest period of American history.“Except… it’s set in the Great Depression.

The Great Depression is not the harshest period of American History. I mean, yeah… people waited to get married and you sent your kid back to the butcher, if he brought a roast home with the bone still in it, but… The harshest period in American History?

It’s a historical novel, so really… I admit I’m gonna place a high level of emphasis on historical accuracy. And well, that… “harshest period” is already straight up wrong. Not a matter of debate. Not a matter of opinion.

The Great Depression wasn’t even nominated.

I think I could sit here and list my top ten harshest periods of American History, and the Great Depression still wouldn’t be on it. I think I could let the non-Americans who read this blog have a go at it, and even if they don’t have any real interest in American History, they would be able to come up with harsher time periods.

No. I really don’t think you can make any kind of a defense for that statement.

If that’s the historical inaccuracy in the description… if that’s the kind of thing the editor says, I’ll pass. I don’t really want my head all full of could-be facts and sensationalism.

The Historical Road Trip of Your Dreams: Nicodemus, Kansas

Today, I found myself in Kansas. Again. No, I don’t know how that keeps happening.

It was a good drive. Lots of pretty countryside, and long, elegant roads cutting through the limestone hills. Sunlight–which is probably the big thing that lures me over the border–because, after all, Kansas is south, and south is usually just a little brighter.

I wound up in Nicodemus. Year-round population? Evidently right around 20. It’s a town settled by African Americans right after the civil war. And every summer, their descendants (and probably quite a few others) come back for a reunion/festival and/or youth summer camps.

I took pictures, and here’s the link to history, parks information, and summer camps, if you’re interested. (I have no personal knowledge of the camp, or anyone involved with it, so do your due diligence before you send your kids.)

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This is what Kansas Limestone looks like when it’s neatly organized, and not just dynamited out of the road crews’ way.

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This is the school. The playground is more or less what my own grade school looked like. Very typical for a small town/rural school.

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Historical marker. Every state has their own design. You can probably find all this information on the internet. Or, you know… blow the picture up and squint real hard.

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There were real live people in this church, today, so it, at least, is still functioning.

So, for comparison, here is another school. Which is currently functioning as a museum one county over. This one might be school/church. A lot of them did double duty, back in the day.

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And old farm equipment over to the left. Enjoy it. I will not be photographing the tractor museum.

And as an added bonus… I give you the geographic center of the United States. Well, sort of. The actual center is on private property (according to not this marker, but that’s the rumor) and a little bit of a trek, so here’s the almost-nearly marker people can actually get to without trespassing.

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And a marker for the “Last Indian Fight” in the county:

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You can tell this marker is older because it does not have that nice, standard Kansas History Here! Design.  It also does not appear to have “official” status, since they usually just add the official marker next to the old one.

Good Taste, Sensitivity, and Writing

I’m fiddling around with the first traces of an idea. Something I might write for NaNoWriMo, if I can work out where the plot starts by then. I’m actually fairly excited about the idea. No, I won’t tell you what it is, but it does seem to have planted itself pretty firmly in my head.

The problem–if I can call it a problem–is that the idea centers around one of Humanity’s tragedies, and then adds a little bit of sci-fi-y, supernatural-y something. It’s the kind of story that needs to be written very, very carefully in order to avoid coming across as either preachy or callous.

I know that from experience. I have my own little corners of history that I’m protective of. Things that happened that resonate with me, that I don’t want touched. And there are certainly plenty of stories I’ve quit reading because they de-emphasized the serious part of the true story.

On the other hand, now and then, there’s a story about those same times that is actually… good enough. Good enough to make people think. Good enough to make them feel.

And I’m debating whether I have the skill to do a “good enough” story or not.

 

Where I Went This Week

I don’t think you can tell what this is from the picture, but I’ll give you a hint. We’re not looking at the house in the background. I spent the better part of a morning looking for this place. It’s not a secret, but it does take a history buff to remember it exists.

A different angle might help? Okay.

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Maybe not. But this one should give you some idea. If you’ve read my blog for long, you already know I like to visit old cemeteries. And this… in the middle of a nice suburban neighborhood… this is a cemetery. It’s one of five cemeteries used by my state’s mental hospitals over the past two centuries. This one was in operation from 1929-1957. There are two hundred fifty people buried here. After that, the state returned the patients whose bodies were not claimed to their home counties.

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The last row of graves still marked.

The stones are all but identical, the ones that haven’t sunk back into the ground. They each bear a patient number and nothing else.

Institutional Gravestones

Institutional Gravestones

 

 

 

 

 

A garter snake by one of the stones.

A garter snake by one of the stones.

A few years back, a memorial was added. It’s identical to one in the other hospital cemetery I’ve been to, and I would guess there are similar monuments in all five cemeteries.

For all that was, and all that might have been,

For all that was, and all that might have been, grant us rest and peace.

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Picture from earlier cemetery (1872-1928)

There are roughly 10 grave stones in the 1872 cemetery. Some of them are contemporary with the graves. Others have been added later, by family members and descendants.

I’d Tell You, But…

I’m not much for cemetery visiting and grave decorating. And I’m an introvert, so Memorial Day crowds do nothing for me. In general, if I’m going to go to a cemetery, it’ll be some other day, and usually in the morning, when things are quiet, and you’re not in any danger of running into some grieving family member.

I go for the stories, and there are plenty of them. My great-great grandfather, who would not let my grandmother climb on the table. The old farmer who died, refusing to tell the burglars where the money was. (If, in fact, there was any money. That’s a topic of contention.) The father who personally buried seven children, that summer smallpox hit. The neighbors knew he was being punished for his sins–and told him so–but they still believed in germs just enough that they were scared to help bury his kids.

All those private sufferings.

And then, there’s the other kind of grave. The news-of-the-day, you’d probably recognize the name grave. Public suffering that’s died down, a little.

The only grave I went to on purpose today was that kind of grave. The prone-to-vandalism, and the cemetery won’t tell you where it is grave.

I happen to know the family. And, if I happen to be in the area, I’ll take a second to look. To check for damage. We’re not close anymore–I don’t go to see them, but if something is wrong,  I’d still like to get it fixed before they see it. I’m just out walking, anyway.

The grave is unobtrusive, and well maintained. Someone–I doubt it’s anyone in the family–left a flower there.

I know a few of the private stories. Enough to make the person seem weirdly small and fragile, even against the backdrop of the public stories. Human. Valuable. Complex.