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Old and Small

In Cemeteries on May 31, 2010 at 10:49 am

I was just in Northern Virginia and Maryland last week and got to visit two cemeteries unexpectedly. I’d wanted to visit Arlington National Cemetery yet again (one of my favorite places) and I also wanted to visit Rock Creek Cemetery in D.C., a cemetery many people have recommended to visit. Time and schedule didn’t allow for those.

However, when I was at my sister in law’s in Rockville, Maryland for an early spring dinner and her husband mentioned that F. Scott Fitzgerald was buried a mile away in St. Mary’s Cemetery. We popped over.

It’s not a remarkable cemetery, necessarily. Established in 1819, it’s an old churchyard. Not too many recent burials. But it’s perfectly small and human scaled. And it’s in the middle of town, aside two major Maryland Routes. A calm patch of greenery and trees. Useful and important in its everyday-ness.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Grave, Saint Mary's Cemetery

The next day we were in Leesburg, Virginia – a Hollywood version of a small old town in the horse country of Virginia. On a little walk off a main street, we asked a woman gardening if she could tell us where the oldest cemetery in town was. She paused a bit and pointed with her garden tool to the side of her garden and said “I think it’s right next door”. Literally.

It was the Old Stone Church Cemetery, the Methodist Church’s oldest property in the U.S. Again, this was nothing dramatic or grand. But it was the size of half a block or so, surrounded by a mix of ┬ásmall pre-Victorian Virginia homes and larger post-US Civil War gardens and houses. A true human-scaled community space.

Old Stone Church Cemetery: the oldest tombstone from 1777

In this part of Virginia there are many small cemeteries. And many tiny family plots, standing alone, usually fenced off, selected sacred spots to the family memory.

The Bowen Family plot, Virginia

So – small, human, near vibrant human activity, accessible, personal. Sounds ideal for many people’s needs and desires, right?


Sidewalk burial

In Cemeteries on May 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Harvey Milk Memorial Plaque

575 Castro in San Francisco is an historic address – it was Harvey Milk’s Castro Camera shop in the 1970’s. Milk lived in the flat above his camera store.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to office in California, was assassinated along with San Francisco’s Mayor George Moscone on November 27, 1978.

Most of Harvey Milk’s ashes were scattered at sea by his friends. However, a small portion of them were buried under this plaque in the sidewalk in front of his old camera store at 575 Castro. It says:

Harvey Milk

May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978

Harvey Milk made history as the first openly gay elected official in California, and one of the first in the nation, when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in November 1977. His camera store and campaign headquarters at 575 Castro Street and his apartment upstairs were centers of community activism for a wide range of human rights, environmental, labor and neighborhood issues. Harvey Milk’s hard work and accomplishments on behalf of all San Franciscans earned him widespread respect and support. His life is an inspiration to all people committed to equal opportunity and an end to bigotry.

“You gotta give ’em hope!”

575 Castro Street - former site of Harvey Milk's Castro Camera

This Saturday, May 22, is the first official statewide holiday marking Harvey Milk’s birthday – it would have been his 80th.

Right at the end of this block of Castro at 18th Street is “Hibernia Beach” where many community-based activities happen. One of the most important of these activities are temporary memorials that are spontaneously created by the community for important members who have passed.

Castro and 18th Streets: Memorial for Dan Cusick, important community activist, April 2009

Just this week San Francisco Patrol Special Police Officer Jane Ellen Warner, who was known as “Officer Jane” around the Castro, Mission, and Noe Valley neighborhoods, died Saturday, May 8 after a yearlong battle against ovarian cancer. She has both a moving and beautiful memorial at Castro and 18th Streets, and another in a community window at Walgreen’s pharmacy across the intersection.

So – here we have remembrance right in the middle of the city – in a dense and vital neighborhood – and buried ashes. No need to keep the dead at a distance of miles and not easily accessible.

A Gallery

In Cemeteries, Pisa on May 9, 2010 at 12:29 pm

The bell tower at the the Piazza del Duomo, Pisa

There are beautiful gallery mausoleums and cemeteries. Pisa’s one of the prettiest, though upstaged by its famous mate, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They are part of the Cathedral complex that includes the campanile (the bell tower), the Duomo (cathedral), baptistry, and the Camposanto (cemetery).

The gallery of the Camposanto

The Camposanto before it was damaged

A large square covered gallery that is made for the living to stroll amongst the dead. Though heavily damaged by bombs in the Second World War, this space still works beautifully. Designed for promenading. What a serene environment.

A completely enclosed space. Sheltering. This type of cemetery would be a welcome choice in America.

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