Tuesday, October 1, 2013

36553. Erected by the Ladies

Rockland's Maplewood Cemetery is right down the street from my house of the past few years, so I knew eventually it would become part of my study. I have the weird urge to get involved there somehow, with the maintenance. A life spent pushing lawnmowers just makes me think I should jump in and help with the respect giving we should all have as goals in such places.

I'm sure that's how "The Ladies" felt in 1884 when they erected the tomb in the old cemetery, where the first known burial was in 1746. Who the Ladies were and why they erected what they did has been hard to track down, but there was a Maplewood Cemetery association that was active in Victorian days, so no doubt they belonged to that organization or supported it in some way. It is, odd, though, to see the small, low structure tucked off to the side in the tall grasses, with those simple words, "Erected by the Ladies," in raised relief on the lintel, as it were, of the tomb, or storage facility, whatever its original intention was.

It's a sign of a need from long ago, and one 'round which people who cared rallied.

Monday, September 30, 2013

36213. Newcomb Lincoln

We may never know the full story behind the life of Newcomb Lincoln. He had a dad who served in the military, an older brother and a younger sister. His dad, Jerome, died around thirty years old when Newcomb was a teenager, and at some point Newcomb became a sailor. His mom, Nancy, outlived him.

Oftentimes when dad died, and mother remarried, sons ran away. It was a play recast all along the coast in the early 1800s. The easiest way to get away was to head out onto the ocean, where no permanent trails could be found. There is no evidence that states such a story played out with Newcomb, especially as there is no stepfather listed anywhere in the records. But since little else is left, we are left to use our imaginations to piece things together.

No matter what, we know one thing, that Newcomb, like so many young Massachusetts men living along the coast, was "Lost at Sea."

There it is again.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

36063. Myron, Beatrice and Marian Anderson

We tend to forget how far we have come on this planet when it comes to infant mortality. While little Myron made it to eight years old, Beatrice and Marian didn't get beyond their first or second years. Since the early 1950s, we've dropped from 30.46 out of 1,000 infants dying to 5.4, but it's still nothing to gloat about. We're 34th in the world in the category. Infants in Brunei, Macao, Cyprus, Croatia, New Caledonia and more have better chances for survival than their counterparts in the U.S.

The Anderson children lived a half century before these statistics. Consider war, weather, famine and just general uncleanliness and how they affected children in the 1890s. Global estimates state that as many as 200 out of every 1000 children died within their first year at the time. That's one out of every five live births.

For proof, check out your local vital records. Many families didn't even bother to name children for the first year of their lives in the late 1800s. When a child was taken so young, it must have felt exactly like the Andersons put it, as if the wee one was "Plucked from Earth to bloom in Heaven." The symbolism of the dove falling to earth, etched above the names, is also quite powerful.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

36049. Sara Lee Woods

At first glance, I had to laugh out loud. A young woman named Sara Lee with the words "Piece of Cake, Piece of Pie" for an epitaph? Well, nobody does it like Sara Lee!

But the words have more meaning. In popular culture, they come from a Jennifer Lopez movie called Enough, which really never got great reviews, and as such is little known. In the film, Lopez, an abused mom called Slim, goes on the run before learning to fight back against her aggressor. If it gave us nothing else, the movie gave us the exchange, which is now a permanent part of our culture, thanks to its enshrinement in the online Urban Dictionary. The words "piece of cake" and "piece of pie" are spoken by two people who use the phrases as code words for "I love you." 

And, guessing by the preponderance of the usage of those three famous little words on tombstones around the world, and probably on English-speaking planets all around the galaxy, I'm guessing the quote is being used here in much the same way.

Friday, September 27, 2013

36044. Joseph Litchfield

I've spent a lifetime, or at least an adult lifetime, driving by the Beechwood Cemetery in Cohasset, Massachusetts, without stopping to say hello. Whether I've been on my way from Hull to Scituate via back roads (a seriously bad habit of mine, avoiding well-trodden paths), seeking the back entrance to Wompatuck State Park or looking for viewing access of the Aaron River Reservoir, I've passed in stony silence, garnering the same in return.

I have to say, though, after walking it, it seems as if we've already met a thousand times. A Litchfield in Cohasset? Who'd a thunk it? The names were as familiar as expected to someone who lived in the neighboring towns for most of his life. So, too, were the three little letters etched beneath the name of Joseph W. (and on the other side of the marker, beneath the name George A.: G.A.R.

Union veterans served at the right time for the formation of a brotherhood-type organization. In Victorian age America transportation and communication systems were the best they had ever been, and idle time was in fashion. People could gather like never before, for fun and shared experiences with people of similar interests or common backgrounds. So it was with the men who fought for the North in the Civil War, the members of the Grand Army of the Republic.

In Joe Litchfield's day (although there are probably ten to twelve still living in Cohasset and Scituate today!) the three little letters spoke volumes, though, sadly, today they don't inspire as much reverence as they should. Joe served aboard the USS Minnesota as a sailor, seeing some "fearsome fighting," according to the 1893 Cohasset town history. George served with Company F, 32nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and obviously died during the conflict.

G.A.R.: three little words we should never forget, but mostly have.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

35687. Mary Jane Robbins

You just have to add six words - three before and three after - to fully understand the chosen words of Mary Jane Robbins, "More than all the jelly beans." Add "I love you" and "in the world" to the beginning and end, and you'll see what I mean.

As if that weren't enough, the family added an open jar of jelly beans in the upper left corner. Sweet! I hope she's not buried next to President Reagan.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

35490. Lawrence Gilligan

In a weird way, I was hoping there was nothing written on the verso side of Gilligan's stone. I was really hoping, with most of my might (not all), that he was just Gilligan. The Gilligan. Little Buddy.

Alas, he was Lawrence Gilligan.

That's no fault of his own. History is somewhat replete with famous Gilligans, some of whom played soccer in England, at least one who was an author, and then there was John Joseph Gilligan, a U.S. Marine who earned a Silver Star and had a Navy ship named in his honor. That's some street cred right there.

Yet, if you asked the average American on the street to tell you who Gilligan was, they would inevitably come out with the enigmatic single-named first mate of Captain Jonas T. Grumby's Minnow. Red shirt, white pants, white cap. I refrained from what would have been a faux pas when I stopped myself from whomping the top of the stone with my hat, a la the Skipper. It was the only homage I could think of at the moment, but it was not appropriate at all. That was another Gilligan.