Sunday, June 30, 2013

26468. Luther Stephenson

 

That's General Luther Stephenson to you and me.

Our Union Civil War veterans are pretty well identified on their stones, as we have seen. But there are those few who skip all the details and just give us the basics.

But Luther Stephenson deserves more in this meager space I can give him. During the war he was a Lieutenant Colonel, and was wounded three times - once, at Gettysburg, shot through the face. He fought for another year before being forced to resign, receiving his rank as Brigadier General after his fighting days were over. He lived an extra 56 years after the war.

He was an inspirational leader for his men, and all you needed to know about him was boiled don to five words on his spire: "He fought for the Union."

Saturday, June 29, 2013

26053. David O. Wade


 
(Sigh). At times I wonder how much capacity my head actually has.

See, David O. Wade is one of those historical characters that perhaps I only know, aside from descendants. He was a giant in Hull's hotel scene in the late 1890s, a world in which I've lived for almost two decades, through istorical documents anyway.

In a time when Hull was corrupt from the top down, few people stood out as clean. But the fact is that there was never a bad word spoken about David O. Wade. Each summer he opened a hotel and the clientele flocked in like they did nowhere else.

In a weird way, seeing Wade's name on a tombstone brings back memories, not of the man, but of the feelings of respect I gained for him while reading century-old newspapers.

Weird, I say. Weird.

Friday, June 28, 2013

25954. Mary Niles


I never met Louville French Niles, but boy did I know Mary. I, of course, always knew her as Mrs. Niles.

So, let's talk snow. Back on April 1, 1997, we had a whopper of a storm. No wait, it was more like a Big Mac. Either way, it was like nothing we'd ever seen. Definitely came with large fries.

Two feet of snow, one day, and guess who had to shovel it? That's right, the Galluzzo boys. We spent an untold number of hours working diligently to free our customers after the storm's end, but when it came to Mrs. Niles' driveway on Cushing Street in Hingham, we were overmatched. We called in the big guns, a front-end loader.

Once we made it down the driveway one time, I was dropped into a huge snow bank with the task of making the path to and from the front door. I assaulted it like the Marines on Iwo Jima.

That was just one day. I spent many idyllic Sunday summer mornings undertaking chores for Mrs. Niles, mostly taking care of the pump in her goldfish pond in her Japanese garden.  She was a joy to work for, always smiling at us, always with a good word.

Years later, when I was wandering my way into the nonprofit world, I would occasionally get a note from Mrs. Niles, telling me she had enjoyed my work. She supported what I did, long after I cleaned the pump for the last time. I saw her name on membership rolls and donor lists. Perhaps it was coincidental; perhaps we just shared interests. I can't even begin to describe her philanthropic efforts. But maybe she believed in me and what I did.

Either way, even now, she still brings a smile to my face.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

25804. Ingrid Eikinas


Some terms of endearment are pure poetry. Literally.

Ingrid's grave marker has a line on it from Robert Frost's "Birches," specifically, "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches." There's a lot of depth to the poem, generally your good old-fashioned "Old Oaken Bucket" escapism. Oh, to return to the days of youth when life was simpler, and we didn't have to deal with the utter miseries of adult life! Remember climbing those birch trees until they could no longer support our weight, and they slowly lowered us to the ground?

Frost spoke for New England at the beginning of the twentieth century, and we still understand, and feel, his words today. There is sorrow in these words, and in this poem, which reflects the thoughts of someone near the end of life, considering how that end should come. Taking the route up a birch tree - reaching up toward heaven, reaching a zenith and ending up back on the earth (ashes to ashes) - is not so bad a way to go, in his eyes.

A naturalist might look at yet another meaning, in today's world. In the early 1900s - before papparazzi, iPads and Twitter - a lot more people swung form birches than do today. In a weird way the poem stands the test of time, to be reinterpreted by this generation. When I read the words, I get a defensive tree-hugger thing going on. In this world where folks don't even know their silver birches form their black birches, when some might not even be able to pick out a birch from a tree line-up at all, it's the rare few who do swing from birches who connect us to earlier ages, when we were all more in tune with nature. Yes, one could do much worse. And either way, Ingrid has one of the most beautiful epitaphs I've yet read.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

25872. William Ben Wylie


Just a young man in his thirties when he passed, William Ben Wylie is remembered in the Hingham Center Cemetery by a short descriptive sentence with wide interpretation possibilities: "He loved the earth and the sky."

Think of how general that statement could be. The earth and the sky are pretty big spaces, from what I can see. But there's also the specificity of it as well. The earth could mean any trodden piece of soil, any patch of greenery springing from it. The sky could mean clouds or birds, horizons, the nighttime view from a bedroom window.

But there is historical precedent. The first time the words appeared in print (as far to that horizon as I can glean) was in 1877 in a remembrance of Dr. Horace Bushnell in The New Englander: "By nature he was a gifted man. His self-reliance and self-assertion were founded upon the consciousness of insight and power. His intellect was quick, sagacious, and penetrating. He had a poet's eye for nature and a poet's heart for man. He loved the earth and the sky, the mountains and the sea, the song of birds and the roaring of the tempest."

Bushnell sounds like my kind of guy, and by association, it seems like William Ben Wylie was, too.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

25784. Robert Francis Galluzzo

 

My dad.

Without getting into too many details, I'll say that his end came in a surprising way for us, but then, I suppose it does for the wide majority of the earth's population. He was just 64. We expected to have him around for a few more decades, based on family history.

But he went. When he did, I immediately suggested we inter him at the Bourne National Cemetery on Cape Cod, so he could rest in peace, and in formation, with the other military men and women of Massachusetts. Dad was briefly a Marine, but kept some of his 1960s Corps-instilled disciplines with him until his final days. He was wounded in Vietnam, and carried a shell fragment in his leg for the rest of his days. When he took ill and we rushed to see him at the VA hospital in West Palm Beach, we bought matching sets of USMC dog tags to wear around our necks in solidarity and support for his fight for life.

When we were told to come up with a term of endearment by the cemetery, we already had one in mind, words from his own mouth that hearkened back to our days landscaping together. We'd straggle in on a rainy, wet Thursday morning, beaten down by the daily grind of weekly-repeated yard maintenance visits, and would balk at pushing lawnmowers through wet grass, hoping to avoid longterm green staining to our fingers. He'd say, no, we had to go, the company had a schdule to keep. We'd fight back with a little more energy, having had our morning pick-me-ups. He'd get up and dance around the coffee shop where we gathered every morning, wiggling his hips and shouting "I'm still the boss! I'm still the boss!"

We hated him in the moment for embarrassing us in front of all the hot coffee shop girls, and for making us go, but loved him for being such a crazy-ass 50-something, and just for being our dad. For the record, today I walk in the rain with my head held high.

But the cemetery said, no, our choice of term of endearment wasn't appropriate. We changed our tune to "Forever our dad," and went with that instead. What choice does a family have? In those horrible, emotionally draining and tragic days following the death of a loved one, so much responsibility falls on their heads. It was a battle we figured we could just allow to slip past to let us to deal with the enormity of the loss of our dad. So while the marker says "Forever our dad," which we meant with all our hearts, Julie, Nick and I will always know - and now so do you - that the original words were meant to be much different: "I'm still the boss."

As his picture looks over my shoulder as I type these words, I know that it's still true, even today.

Monday, June 24, 2013

25606. Wilmon Brewer

 

One simple word eulogizes Wilmon Brewer: "Poet." (For proof, see the stack of books carved into the top of his gravestone). But he was so much more than that.

So much of Hingham's cultural life can be traced back to him and his family. World's End Reservation, a 251-acre property owned by the Trustees of Reservations, was in his family for a long time. When the time came to turn it from rambling old farmland and potential site for development into open space to be enjoyed by all, Wilmon financially backed the plan. He and his wife Catharine donated the Old Ordinary, an ancient tavern in town, to the Hingham Historical Society to be used as a museum. And their homesite, Great Hill, was gifted to the people of Hingham, 300 acres they know today as More-Brewer Park.

Open space is one of those things we certainly take for granted (and I guess, technically, in this case, it was granted). When we walk the trails of More-Brewer, do we do so in remembrance of the people who left it to us for our enjoyment, or do we simply bask in its natural beauty, reveling in the moment, forgetting the past?

Whether or not we remember the details, we should at least know how and why our open spaces came about, especially when a large swath of the public sees dangling dollar signs on every acre of land. We should remember Wilmon Brewer for his poetry, but also thank him for his philanthropy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

25595. Abner Loring Baker

 

Abner, who was just 28 when he died, left some saddened hearts. Most people do when they go. His loved ones, though, put it into verse: "A little while, a few short years of pain, and, one by one, we'll come to thee again."

As usual for its time (middle of the nineteenth century), the sentiment is not original. In this case, though, it's not from an old hymn, rather from a peom by a gentleman named Charles Sprague, once known as America's greatest poet. Born in Boston, Sprague not surprisngly had ancestral Hingham roots, as Sprague is a very "Hingham" name. The couplet comes from a work called "Lines on the Death of M.S.C." written sometime before 1832.

What grabbed me was the use of the word "pain." Cultures around the world view life differently. Go to a festival in Italy and watch the exuberance; go to a funeral, and see the misery. Attend both in Russia and watch the whole system flip. For some, life is a party, for others, pure suffering. For some, death is tragic, for others, the ultimate escape from this horrible existence. The Baker family walked the line, stating that without Abner, life would no longer be the same, that there would be pain and sorrow in his absence. That's not an original sentiment either, but the Bakers, through Sprague's inspiration, put it in a beautiful way I had not yet seen before.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

25225. Private Demerick Stodder

 

I did a study in 2013 of the various men from the South Shore of Boston who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, pulling it all together for an article for South Shore Living magazine. My motvation was marking the 150th anniversary of the battle with the regional scope.

Here's how I started the article, now also a chapter in my book Looking Back at the South Shore:

"A century and a half ago this month, Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia across the Pennsylvania state line in the boldest military move of the Civil War. The southern forces for the first time invaded the North in force, clashing head-on with Union General George Meade's Army of the Potomac in a multi-day encounter that became known as the most important battle of the war. The place was Gettysburg, and the South Shore was there.
"On July 1, 1863, Lee's army swept in on the Union men from the north and west, where the defenders fought bravely in just a foreshadowing of the epic story that was about to unfold. The Union soldiers fell back to high ground known as Cemetery Hill in the face of the advancing Confederates. Hingham felt the sting of loss that day, as Private Demerick Stodder took a musket ball to the forehead and died instantly at about sunset."
And here he lies before me now, with that story - his death - being the permanently recorded defining story of his life: "Demerick Stodder, killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, aged 23 yrs, 7 mos." 

Friday, June 21, 2013

25218. Sergeant Peter Ourish


I think Peter Ourish must have the most effective tombstone in the Hingham Center Cemetery, possibly the most effective I've seen yet. At the bottom of his highly stylized stone are the words "Youngest volunteer from Hingham." That, in itself, tells a story, especially when one understands that he was volunteering for combat during the Civil War, and not picking up trash on the town common.

On the back of the stone, from top to botttom, we learn a little bit about his unit, "Co. E, 32 Reg. Mass Vols," and that he didn't survive the war: "Died of wounds at Stanton Hospital, Washington, D.C., June 8, 1864, aged 19 years." We soon understand why. He had been running a gauntlet of flying bullets at some of the most harrowing, lethal battles of the war, all of which all listed on the back of his stone: "Blackburn's Ford, Aldie, Rappahannock Station, New Hope Church, Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, Wilderness, Laurel Hill, North Anna, Tolopotomy Swamp."

How did a 19-year-old see so much action? Easy. He lied about his age and enlisted at 16, being a big enough kid that no one looked askance when he said he was 18. A bullet in the shoulder eventually took him down, leaving the family heartbroken, and the townsfolk reverently proud.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

25174. Mr. Palmer

 

The more I walk, the more I read, the more I realize that my childhood is slipping away from me.

Bob Palmer was a landscape customer of ours, owning a beautiful rambling home in downtown Hingham. I interacted more with Mrs. Palmer than with him, but my memories of him all contain smiles and generally happy gestures. Me, standing there in jeans and two or three layers of flannel to fight off the cold as I blew the leaves into piles in his yard, nose running, ears burning hot, him, dressed like a dad from the fifties, waving and nodding. When we got to speak, there was always an offer on his end: "Let me know if you need anything!" To me he always had that odd respect that disallows us from comfortably using a first name, despite encouragement from him. He was never Bob. He was Mr. Palmer. Mrs. Palmer caught him simply with the words "A great spirit." I couldn't agree more.

That sentiment of his extended into my next life, in museums. Knowing where I was working, he would see me at functions and reiterate his line. He was connected to a major electric supply company, and offered us lightbulbs as we needed them. "Need anything" means more to a nonprofit than an individual, and a cost savings like the one he offered us went a long way.

Now, as for his yard, well, we had our issues, me and it. Mowing was simple enough, despite having to do some slopes and work around some roots and stumps, but man, could that place generate fallen leaves! My shoulder blades just sang out in painful memory of repititious labor. We called it "rake ache." And I'll never forget the day our colleague Bruno cut his own finger off with hedge trimmers as he swung at bees emerging from the evergreen bush he was cutting on the corner of the house. Or the day that Mrs. Palmer asked me to shovel her front walkway (we usually just did the side off the driveway) because she was having 50 people for lunch.

"Wow," I deadpanned. "You must be hungry."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

25028. Kadosh


When the bark Kadosh went down off Hull in 1872, it carried with it several sailors who never again saw the light of day. The strange thing about this story was that due to the geographic layout of the town of Hull, it made more sense to bring the bodies - and how quickly it was that they went from "sailors" to "bodies" - to Hingham. A mile from the Hull Cemetery, they were trasnported about seven miles to Hingham instead. An isthmus in Hull had washed out, and it was just easier to haul them by cart to the next town.

So six men, one with just the name Thomas, are memorialized under this stone, under the simple banner "Seamen: Bark Kadosh." It hardly tells the tale of what they went through, but, and this is how the locals probably saw it, it was something, and "something" was the least that should have been done for them.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

24890. Governor John Davis Long



And here's the other one. John Davis Long probably doesn't get the recognition that John Andrew does, but he certainly left his legacy: "Governor of Massachusetts, 1880, 1881, 1882; Member of Congress 1882-1888; Secretary of the United States Navy, 1897-1902."

Not bad at all. SecNav during the Spanish-American, or SpAm War.

Long's homesite in Hingham is now a bird sanctuary, off Cottage Street, with a big sign facing the Hingham Bathing Beach announcing that fact. But he left more than that. His lasting contribution may be Bare Cove Park. In his day, it was never intended to be open space. Instead, when the federal government called out for a naval ammunition depot between Boston and Cape Cod, Long offered up a section of Hingham land along the banks of the Back River, the section of town called Bare Cove. (My dad told me that when he was a kid, "Bare Cove" was the start of the telephone numbers in town. "Operator, give me Bare Cove 5-6521." But I digress).

That was the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot. Later, what's now known as Wompatuck State Park would be the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex. They're both now wide open spaces, thanks to the government's ultimate lack of use for them. As I said, Long's goal was not open space, but, at that time, bringing the federal government to town, creating local jobs and invigorating local businesses. The open space is a by-product a century later. We'll take it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

24852. Governor John Andrew


Ah, now here's a story. Hingham was home to two important nineteenth century Massachusetts governors who both played national roles. And here at the Center Cemetery, they're both memorialized.

The diminutive John Andrew took the stage during the Civil War and if for nothing else will always be remembered for his role in raising the 54th Massachusetts regiment and sending them off to fight, In the ever repetitious game of military numbering systems, only a relative few units truly stand out through time. The 54th was the all African-American regiment featured in the movie Glory!

Andrew worked hard during the war, and eventually flamed himself out. He was beloved by his hometown. I remember reading a stump speech he made in town after which he invited everybody back to his house for drinks. What a world! Imagine a politican saying that today. So here he is in Hingham: "John Albion Andrew, 1818-1867, Governor of Massachusetts, 1861-1866." A small, less-than-handsome (think about how much image plays into today's politics), short-lived man who made a tremendous impact.
 
And now we know something else about him. He was a super hero. Or at least that would explain the cape.



Sunday, June 16, 2013

24317. Jennie Vespaziani


I think I would have loved to meet John and Jennie Vespaziani - how many times have I said that this year? - if only to share in our Italianness. Even if they came from the north of the country and not the south like me and my family. There are just some things you have to let go.

But just the two words, in quotes, beneath Jennie's name speak volumes: "Oh sure."

Jennie: "Welcome! Can I get you something to drink?"
Guest: "Got any espresso?"
Jennie: "Oh, sure."

It seems like every "Oh, sure" would come with an underlying and unspoken "whatever you'd like." Of course, I'm entirely making this up, but that's the impression that I got. Roman Catholic, Italian, accommodating people. Sounds like half the people I grew up around.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

24244. May Futrelle


I will be a lot of things by the time I'm done. I'll be a father, hopefully a grandfather, an author and a journalist. I'll be a naturalist, probably not a naturist, maybe a futurist. I'll be a walker, a thinker, a follower, a leader, and hopefully I'll inspire someone along the way.

But I'll never be what May Futrelle was: "Titanic Survivor."

Sadly, May's husband Jacques was not a Titanic survivor, and that's not because he was like me: not on the ship. He, one of America's most cunning mystery writers, died standing aside John Jacob Astor, or at least that was where May last saw him as collapsible lifeboat D pulled away. He took with him his most famous character, Professor Augustus S.F. X. Van Dusen, "The Thinking Machine."

The Futrelle's lived in Scituate in a home they called Stepping Stones, designed as if it was a walkway to the beach off First Cliff. Legend states that May cast a wreath on the water every anniversary of the Titanic disaster in memory of Jacques.

So, no, I haven't got the two-word cache of May Futrelle. And, god-willing, I never will.

Friday, June 14, 2013

24077. The Custers

 

The Entenmans, the Heffelfingers, the Custers. Will it never end?

As far as I can tell, those Custers, the family of George Armstrong Custer, did not run through Norris Town, nor did these Custers have anything to do with the Custers of tthe East End of Long Island, where the Custer Observatory stands (who were related to Geroge). But I had to look, of course.

This whole Norris Town visit has me thinking about perpsectives. Being plunked down in the heart of suburban Philadelphia made me cognizant of the fact that while certain names are famous in American history on a national scale, they can be found commonly on a local scale; but it depends on where "local" is. Not every Custer is the Custer, but Custers do exist.

So, how do people look at the names of my home region, southeastern Massachusetts when they visit and walk around cemeteries for hours on end (you know, like me)? Do they go, "Oo, an Adams! I've never seen an Adams before. I wonder if it's one of them?"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

23902. Pvt. Allen D. Bickings

 

I think this one is still fermenting in my brain.

I've always been fascinated by the vastness of World War II, how many countries were involved, how many billions of people it affected. But the Civil War, I think, comes next in my mind.

It's hard to conceive that less than a hundred years after the colonies stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the British in search of independence they became so fractured politically that they chose widespread bloodshed as the only course of action to settle their differences. And it's hard to believe that event, the war, is now just a century and a half in our past. Our current nonagenarians coexisted with octogenarian Civil War veterans. On the scale of time, it wasn't that long ago.

I've spent a lot of time trying to learn about the Civil War veterans of my hometown, of my region, of my state. But even today, for me, the war expands. What about the Pennsylvania perspective? For every Massachusetts soldier, there were two or more Pennsylvania soldiers. What sent Allen D. Bickings to sign up with "Co. A. 175 Regt. Pa. Militia"? Was he already in uniform when the word got out that Lee had invaded the state, or did he join up because of Gettysburg? Quick internet research shows he served from October 1862 to August 1863, which means he was in uniform while Gettysburg was happening, but that he was in Virginia at the time. How did that feel, to know that your home was a battleground, and you were helpless to defend it, though a soldier?

The Civil War has gripped people for more than a century now as a historical topic, a never-ending source of stories and tales. I'm one of those people, unable to easily turn away when I "meet" a soldier from those days.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

23863. Pennypacker

 
Here's something I didn't have to figure out. I know too much about Seinfeld.

So, after walking around in the heat for a few hours, I found this stone for Orville Pennypacker. Where I grew up, there were no Pennypackers, nor Entenmans, nor Heffelfingers. I'm just not used to seeing their names, on tombstones, in phone books, in police logs, etc.

But the name Pennypacker is not new to me entirely. The problem is that the only place I've ever heard it is on Seinfeld. By the end of the series' run, the three male leads - Jerry, George and Kramer -all had developed aliases, and all ended up using them in one episode, encountering each other in an apartment for sale. They all had to lie about interest in the place to use the bathroom, and bumped into each other, calling each by their false names: Art Vandelay (George), Kjell Varnson (Jerry) and H.E. Pennypacker, the wealthy American industrialist (Kramer, who also at times went by Dr. Martin Van Nostrand).

And therein lies the root of the problem. For a brief moment my tired brain searched its extensive files of American history for the story of the Pennypackers. The line had blurred, albeit temporarily. I didn't know whether the "Pennypacker" in my brain was real or fictitious. Is this the way it's going to go? Am I going to be 90, hopping on a plane to L.A. because I finally want to meet the Beverly Hillbillies in person? Am I going to start scouring charts of the South Pacific to see if I can help send out a search party to finally bring Gilligan home? Am I going to frustratingly flip through the New York sports pages, wondering why I can never find a column written by Oscar Madison? Worse yet, am I going to start visiting every Springfield in the United States in an attempt to join Homer Simpson at Krusty Burger for a Ribwich?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

23518. The Heffelfingers

 

Now I know I know too much history. I was stopped in my tracks by a Heffelfinger.

Roebuck, Rambo, even Entenman, I know that these names would probably make many people stop and scratch their temples for a second. But Heffelfinger?

Let me take you back to the early days of American football, when boys wore horsehair shirts to be slickly untacklable. When they wore baggy, padded pants because there was no tackling below the waist. When they grew their hair out from June onward, because wearing helmets was unmanly.

They played in clubs, in college, or on locally organized teams. Many military posts had their own units and sent them out to play the locals. It was an amateur's game. Forward passes were illegal, so all plays were running plays as we know them today. There were no rules on motion, so a team could start behind the line of scrimmage in a flying wedge, with the ball carrier surrounded by blockers, and batter into the defensive team. The field was crossed with lines every five yards instead of every ten, giving the real "gridiron" look. There were 110 yards, so there was a 55 yard line.

One man, from Yale University, by way of high school in Minneapolis, stood above all others, William "Pudge" Heffelfinger. He was known for diving over the lead blocker of the flying wedge and coming down on the ball carrier like "Superfly" Snuka on "Magnificent" Don Muraco. Pittsburgh's Allegheny Athletic Association thought so highly of his skills that they hired him to play for them, making him the first paid football player in American history.

But he's not here, and I have no idea if he was related to any of the handful of Heffelfingers I found buried in Norris Town. But it happened again. Pennsylvania and Heffelfinger connected in my brain, leading me to these thoughts, wayward though they turned out to be.

Monday, June 10, 2013

23238. Edward Roebuck

 

Wait - Roebuck? As in Sears-Roebuck?

Nope, that was Alvah Roebuck, and he lived in Indiana. The Roebucks had already migrated west by the time that our Roebuck, Ed, was born. But what's the connection to Ed Roebuck the relief pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the middle of the twentieth century? He was born in East Millsboro, which is in southwestern Pennsylvania. Was Ed related to Ed, or is it just a coincidence that they share the same names?

Either way, unless there was some relation to Alvah and he occasionally wired them some money, they missed out on the big Roebuck coup in American history. Who knows? Maybe they at least got a discount when they shopped at Sears. Maybe their descendants still do.

That would be cool.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

23178. John Rambo


There's no way.

First, he lived in the wrong century, decades before the Vietnam War. But let me make the connection for you. Norristown is a suburb of Philadelphia; the Rocky movies were set in Philadelphia; Sylvester Stallone played Rocky; Sylvester Stallone starred in the Rambo movies as John Rambo. See where I'm going with this...?

And I'm not that far from the truth. David Morrell, author of First Blood, the novel that would eventually become the first Rambo movie, claims he was searching for his protagonist's name when his wife walked into the house with some Rambo apples. Where was he teaching at the time? The University of Pennsylvania. Never heard of Rambo apples? They had a good run, from the 1600s (the man who brought them to the New World sailed on the Kalmar Nyckel, the "Swedish Mayflower," in 1637; I happily report I've sailed on the replica!) until the middle of the 1900s before they waned in popularity.

But that's as close as we get to this particular tombstone, and this particular John Rambo. Morrell was inspired by the power of the name, and gave it to the character in the book. Sylvester Stallone never came near the Norris Town Cemetery - as far as I know. But if I find a Rocky Balboa in Norris Town, I am changing my tune...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

22755. The Entenmans

 

I spent the rest of my time in Norris Town excitedly running around, going "Is it them? Is it really them?"

First came the Entenmans, as I began to drool, tasting a streudel that didn't exist anywhere but in my mind. I soon convinced myself. "It has to be them! How many Entenmans can there be?"It all made sense - pastries, the Dutch, Pennsylvania, the last name - these things all have to start somewhere. What if the Entenman's fine baked goods since 1898 started here? What if it was what Norris Town was famous for?

WRONG! Despite the fact that I tracked down and photographed three separate Entenman gravestones, I couldn't have been further from the soft-baked cookies. I mean farther from the truth. It wasn't Jacob Entenman (who was 31 in 1898, so it was feasible) who started the company, nor John J. Entenman who carried it into the next generation.

No, the Entenmann family we know and love spells their name with three "n's," not all in a row: Entenmann. Furthermore, they set up in New York after arriving from Stuttgart, Raspberry Twist Danish. I mean Germany. William, the progenitor, went door-to-door in Brooklyn peddling his goods by way of horsedrawn coffee cake.

I give up. I have to go to the store.

Friday, June 7, 2013

22437. The Shades

 

Perhaps my underdog sensitivities took me too deeply into this one.

I suspect, for several reasons, that the Shade family members buried in Norris Town Cemetery were African-American. Now, this is a touchy subject as far as this study goes. It shouldn't even be remotely possible to surmise skin color or race based on the minimal information placed on a stone. But let me give you my reasoning.

I once spent some time in Kentucky, living for a week or so with my cousins. That's right, my family structure is 25 Italian-Americans in eastern Massachusetts and California and 6 relatives in rural Kentucky. While in Smithtown, I walked the cemetery there and was surprised to find stones removed far from the rest - the stones were laid out in concentric circles - tucked up aginst the nearby woodsy edge. When I walked over, I just knew - emancipated slaves. Segregated in life, demeaned further in death.

When I saw the stones for John and Mary Shade, and later Charles Shade, in Norris Town, I got the same feeling. There was barely anything to them, and Charles' stone had nothing more than his name on it. And the name? Shade? Dark? Black? Again, I could be reaching. Forgive me if I am.

In the end, who really cares anyway, besides the Shades? All I really know about any of them is that they're no longer with us, and that Charles at one time wanted to get into the thoroughbred chicken raising business. Don't ask, it's a long story. Actually, that was the whole thing right there.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

22437, 22438, 22439. The Heebners


Once in a while, I'm called away from home. Since at times like that I am usually alone, I typically find time for a walk. This time I found time for two, one in a nature sanctuary, one in an old cemetery. Welcome to Norristown, Pennsylvania. Let's see just how far from home I was.

Harry Pawling Heebner's story was the first one that got me. I'm used to shipwrecks and people lost at sea - we've been down that road many times, and I'm sure we'll travel it again and again - but I think this was the first train wreck death I encountered on a tombstone: "Killed on P.S.V.R.R., Shawmont, Pa. Sept. 9. 1892." That's "Pennsylvania Schuylkill Valley Rail Road" for those of you playing along at home.

Oddly enough, on the stone right next to it, is the story of Uriah Winfield Heebner, who shared the same parents as Harry: "Killed in R.R. wreck at Harrisburg, June 25, 1892." What? Are you serious? Two sons, killed in separate train wrecks three months apart?

It gets worse. "Catherine A., wife of Uriah Heebner...Killed in R.R. wreck at Harrisburg, June 25, 1892." Mom got killed with son Uriah. What a terrible stretch of bad luck for one family.

Was this how we were going to roll, Norristown?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

22388. Al Hall

 

Al was a self-made muscle man, using makeshift homemade weights to build his physique to the point that he became a standout track and field athlete at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and eventually one of the world's best hammer throwers.

How do we measure him on the scale of "world's best"? For one, he made four U.S. Olympic teams, competing in Melbourne in 1956, Rome in 1960, Tokyo in 1964 and Mexico City in 1968. Despite throwing a personal best in 1972, he did not qualify for the Munich games. As for the Pan-American Games, he earned gold medals in 1959, 1963 and 1971.

With all this said, it speaks something of humility - and the American sports scene - to see his marker be so small, with the simple words "Dearly beloved by family and friends; Four-time Olympian, Three-Time Pan-American Champion, U.S. Hall of Famer." Americans love their big four sports - baseball, football, basketball, hockey - but I defy you to name the top ten American hammer throwers of all time. If we were to assign sports hero grave marker sizes based on national recognition, this would be about right. But if we were to rate them by actual achievement in life, Al's stone would be towering over us all.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

22005. Edgar McClellan


A little math problem for you: "1-4-3-7."

I know, makes no sense, right?

The South Shore of Boston was given a romantic gift by the federal government, one that has been passed on by generations of young men and women since the 1890s. The setting was a rock off Cohasset and Scituate.

After the first Minot's Ledge Lighthouse fell into the sea in 1851, killing its two attending keepers, the federal government built a second, stronger light, the one we see now. In the 1890s it was randomly assigned the flash pattern of one flash, a pause, four consective flashes, a pause, then three more flashes: 1-4-3.

The local beach gazers soon took this to mean only one thing: "I (one flash) Love (four flashes) You (three). It became so well known that in 1916 Harvard's Hasty Pudding Club included a song in its annual comedy show called "When the Lighthouse Sends the Message 1-4-3." It still flashes that way today.

The McClellans added their own number and final twist to the sequence in the Fern Hill Cemetery in Hanson when they pinned a "7" at the end. What for? I've seen enough "Always" and "Forever" (seven letters) references in cemeteries this year to know in which direction I should be looking for that answer: "1-4-3-7" = "I Love You Forever."


Monday, June 3, 2013

21892. Bill Gouveia

 

I remember as a kid making the jump from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series to Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Both works of zany fiction came from the mind of Douglas Adams, whose one work of nonfiction, Last Chance to See, about the world's most endangered animal species, is one of the best books I've ever read.

Anyhow, the detective Gently was focusing on a case that had to do with death, and the discussion came up "Where do we go when we die?" Gently's explanation was that we go wherever we think we're going. If our last mortal thought is, "Yes, now I can come back as a centipede!" then that's where your brain left it. If you think you're heading for Nirvana, happy trails. Going to heaven, bon voyage.

So when I see a grave marker like Bill's, I have no doubt that he is doing what it says, "Still playing pool." In our last moments, if we are not allowed to take with us the warm thoughts of the things and people we loved most, we are cheated. I hope that wherever he is, Bill is racking 'em up and chalking up his cue stick.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

20961. Walton Hall

 

Well, as I often say, if you can't be Daniel Webster, you can at least be a Daniel Webster supporter. That's apparently what Walton Hall did. Buried near his hero, Hall has a few words on his stone: "Ardent admirer of Daniel Webster and owner of Webster's Farm from 1884 to 1927."

It's quite an amazing thought to consider that the line goes Webster-Hall-Dwyer-Mass Audubon in a straight line from the 1830s to today. Aside from the building of a dam and the draining of wet lands to make arable soil at the end of the last century, the farm looks much as it did during Webster's time, at least that portion of it that has been saved (he owned a lot of this section of Marshfield). By the time Hall got to it, it had been subdivided, and his portion was only about 200 acres. But he went about repurchasing land from abutters and got himself back up to about 1000 by the time he sold to pig and dairy farmer Dwyer.

But that's what hero worship does to you. Makes you buy stuff. Without Hall, there probably would be no Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary today.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

20952. Daniel Webster


Well, I guess when you're Daniel Webster, there's really only one thing that needs to be on your tombstone: "Daniel Webster."

But his friends, family and many supporters made sure that good old Daniel had many tributes. There are, in fact, three stones dedicated to the statesman and orator. One is simply a direct quote from the man himself, and let's face it - he had to get in the last word.

One of my favorite Daniel Webster stories concerned his big speech at Bunker Hill during the dedication of the monument. The crowd gathered was too boisterous, wouldn't settle down, and finally one of the ceremony's officials turned to him and said, "It's no use, sir, they won't settle down, it's impossible," to which Daniel replied, "Nonsense! This is Bunker Hill. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!"

The quote attached to his grave is religious in nature, perhaps defining his roundabout way of reaching his belief system: "Philosophical argument, especially that drawn from the vastness of the Universe, in comparison with the apparent insignificance of this globe has sometimes shaken my reason for the faith that is in me; but my heart has always assured and reassured me that the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be a Divine Reality. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be a mere human production. This belief enters into the very depth of my conscience. The whole history of man proves it."


The third stone was a dedication by the Trustees of Dartmouth College, thanking him for defending the school in court. Daniel Webster certainly went out with a bang (and that's not a joke about how he fell off his horse and hit his head, which he did), and not a whimper. He was so well respected that Franklin Pierce, running for President of the United States, attended Webster's funeral service on election day.


So that's Marshfield Daniel Webster for you. A man of many words in life, a man of many words in death. And after you're done gawking at his stone in the Winslow Cemetery, you can walk the nearby Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary, follow his footsteps, see the world through his eyes and possibly fall and hit your head in the exact same place he did. Nah...that would be silly.