Aha, now here's an intriguiing one: "She is the plot of his life story." I just have one question: What if his life story is a murder mystery?
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Monday, July 8, 2013
The Thurston family - and I'm assuming it's a surname, and this is not Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island - went with some Latin for their memorial bench. The line is "Vita Mutatur, Non Tollitur."
Just picking at the roots we can get "life" from "Vita" and at least a negative connotation for "Non." By blatantly cheating and entering the words into an internet search we find that it's actually pretty common: "Life is changed, not taken away."
I'm finding more and more of this sentiment as I wander, that death is just a stop along the way of eternal life. Is this just a western thing? If I was Japanese and walking through Buddhist burial grounds, would I find more of the same? And what is this general insecurity we all have? Can't dead be dead? Ah, well, to each his own.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Remember my grandmother? my Uncle Mike? my Auntie Helen? This is their sister, my Great Aunt Jennie. Sadly, I never met her as far as I know, and therefore don't have anything to say about her. I've seen her in pictures surrounded by her siblings. I'll pick out and name the rest - "That one must be Louie, there's Auntie Nancy" - and then ask, "Who's that?"
I have this odd imbalance to my family tree. My dad was one of seven kids and had a half dozen uncles and aunts. I'm one of about 20 first cousins on his very Italian side. My mother had one half-sister, never knew her father, and has one niece in Louisville, Kentucky. So my family tree looks like it grew too close to the powerlines and had to be unscrupulously slashed into a ridiculous unevenness.
So, when I see Auntie Jennie's stone, I see a missed opportunity, a chance that I will never get to connect with a family member. She fits the Galluzzo mold, though; she didn't put anything extraneous on her stone that would help me with my quest. It's so bizarre that such a garrulous, overly opinionated group such as the Galluzzos would let death silence them.
Not me, man. Not me.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
And there it is again! The Fighting 54th Regiment. This time our subject is Charles E. Briggs, a surgeon with the 54th, buried in the Briggs Burial Ground in Pembroke. But, egads, what a story we have with him.
Born in Pembroke and buried in Pembroke, Dr. Briggs was involved in one act that could potentially have ruined his military career, but for some reason did not. Briggs was a white man, we know that; officers in the 54th were white, enlisted men, black.
Apparently, according to well documented military records, Briggs was alerted to an alleged case of bestiality on the part of one of the enlisted men with the 54th. He examined both man and beast involved and gave testimony at the court-martial that helped exonerate the young man. There - yes, there - it starts to get weird.
That night, according to an accuser, Briggs arranged for the suspected offender to be brought to his quarters and then circumcised the young men, burning him with a hot iron as extra punishment. But why, if he helped clear him of the charges? And why, then, was he not personally charged with any military crime if we know all these details a century and a half later? Perhaps we all need to have a big community read of Tarnished Scalpels: The Court-Martials of Fifty Union Surgeons by Thomas Lowry and Jack Welsh before we start guessing. Or, perhaps, we should go read Briggs' own letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society. They're suddenly very interesting to me.
After the war he married a woman from St. Louis, Rebecca Whittaker, and in 1894 he died of gall bladder cancer in Boston. I don't know about you, but I need a deep breath.
Friday, July 5, 2013
I've read a lot of newspapers. Sadly, not one of them has been current. It's a weird thing for a journalist to say. I avoid the news at all cost as I see it as a source of undue stress. A child is kidnapped in Peoria, a woman murdered in Pensacola, a train derails in Perth; what does it all have to do with my life? Sure, it sounds callous, but if we truly invested emotion in every item we read in the paper our stress levels would be off the charts. I fully live by the mantra "No news is good news."
But newspapers have been a never-ending source of great research for me. I've read the Hull Times extensively - in the 1930s and 1940s. Ask me about World War II and how it affected my little hometown. Go ahead.
So, along the way, as I've journeyed through the newsprint of different eras, I've studied the vagaries of American slang. One of the things that still makes me smile ever so slightly is the way we treated our names in the 1940s. First, women had none. They were "Mrs. Robert Fitzpatrick" or "Mrs. Terwilliger McGuillicuddy." It's a wonder their parents ever went through the process of naming them at all. Second, though, this was a phase of American history in which we began accepting even basic nicknames as publicly permissible. Michael could now be called "Mike," but that was how it was portrayed in the "around town" notes columns: "Michael 'Mike' Burns of the Oakland House played whist Friday last with Mrs. Horace Dogface and a party of favorites."
Samuel Hopkins Spalding is remembered on his stone with the words "The Beloved Physician," which opens up the heart-warming notion of one person touching dozens, perhaps hundreds of others (in this case literally). But that's followed up with a cute farewell: "Good Bye, Doctor Sam." I wonder, whatever happened to to Mrs. Samuel Hopkins Spalding?
Thursday, July 4, 2013
When one stands near Maria Hooper's "Angel of Grief," one believes he or she is witnessing something unique. Sadly, it's a misbelief.
The sculptor, her husband, William Wetmore Story, made the original for their common grave in Italy. The representation in Hingham is one of several copies around the United States. Still, it's striking, first for its size, then for the angel's pose: kneeling, leaning forward, draped over a pedestal, head down, left arm extended, left hand dangling.
If you look closely you can see that the hand has been broken off in the past and repaired. Fingers, too, have suffered trauma. The directors of the cemetery even tell a story - they're not enturely sure that it's true - that states the statue was dropped when it arrived in Boston, crumbling it to pieces that had to be reattached one-by-one.
I think I'm going to slyly begin dissuading my wife from statuary for my marker. I have this odd vision of a marble rendition of my wife going Gangnam Style on my grave. No, we can't have that. Some decorum, please, Michelle.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
It's not so bad standing on its own. It's when it's used in connection with a human being that it makes me all je ne sais quoi. I guess it's because of my naturalist training and sentimentalities. A relict to me, in that world, is the last of its kind, the last specimen of a species that once ruled over a large area. The bison I saw out in Montana a few years ago to me were relicts (or relics, they can be used interchangeably). But in the old days of New England, it was perfectly fine for a woman to be called a relict, and done so in a nonderogatory way.
"Mary," for instance, was a "Relict of Jedediah Lincoln." What's even cooler, though - no disrespect to Jed - is that the Revere in her name is for real. She was the "daughter of Paul Revere, born in Boston, Mar. 19, 1770." What's the timing, you ask? She was born exactly two weeks after the Boston Massacre. That, of course, was well before her days as a relict. Heck, she wasn't even married yet. Or walking. Or feeding herself on her own.