Tuesday, October 15, 2013

37938. Robert D. Smith

I'm sure I'm missing some symbolism here, but here goes. The marker put in place in memory of Robert Smith shows an angel playing a violin floating above a slouched, naked man holding a quill pen in his right hand and a small hammer just dropping out of reach of his left hand the combined tools of the granite industry and a man of letters. Beneath this image are these words:

Erected by the American Granite Association
to Perpetuate the Memory of
Its Secretary from 1906 to 1924

This just goes to show just how big the granite industry once was in Quincy. The city went through several huge changes in identity over the last two centuries. Two of the first six United States Presidents were born here. Granite quarrying became so important here that the city boasted the first railroad in the United States. Then, when that industry died, shipbuilding moved to the forefront.

The scene is certainly a snapshot in time, of a once-proud industry in a still-proud city.

Monday, October 14, 2013

37916. The Elks

It's an elk! The Quincy Lodge of Elks, No. 943 has not only a stone with names and dates an the Elk toast "An Elk is never forgotten, never forsaken," but a flagpole and a huge statue of an elk. How cool!

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (that's BPOE, or "Best People on Earth") formed in 1868, splitting off from another group known as the Jolly Corks, a group of New York minstrel show performers who were A) trying to avoid taxes and B) known for using cork tricks to win free drinks in bars. Somehow, out of all of this, they came to the idea of doing great things for their communities, and today there are about 1 million members nationwide. Looking for a charismatic species of megafauna as their symbol, they voted 8-7 to stand behind an elk instead of a buffalo.

The list of famous Elks is a mile long, and includes six United States Presidents, a slew of politicians and everyone from Lawrence Welk to Babe Ruth to Clint Eastwood. Here in Quincy, the Elks own one of the most well-known gathering places in the city, the Tirrell Room, named for the first Exalted Ruler of the Lodge, Fred Tirrell. The Quincy Elks are as active as they ever were, and still doing wonderful things for the South Shore of Boston. And with their memorial at Mt. Wollaston, they will never be forgotten!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

37882. Hon. Charles A. Ross

I often wonder how long the Boston accent has been in place. I'm guessing that back during the Depression it was in full swing. I think that cadences, word choices and other speech patterns have changed enough over the years that we might have problems fully understanding everything that came out of the mouths of our forbears in a time travel incident. "Ten thousand thundering typhoons! I met this killer-diller of a B-girl at the speako, but she turned out to be a chizz." If you ever want to read a fun list of automat-related food terms from the 1930s, check out Mark Kurlansky's The Food of a Younger Land.

The Honorable Charles Ross, two-time Mayor of Quincy, probably got the lingo, even with the Boston accent, which turns "killer-diller" into "killah-dillah" and "mayor" into "may-ah." Scottish by birth and a piano tuner by trade, he steered the growing Quincy metropolis though the Depression before being chased from office under a financial scandal. He then came back for a second go-round during World War II, so it couldn't have been all that bad: "Mayor of the City of Quincy Nine Years: 1933 to 1935 and 1943 to 1950."

At one point, the hepsters thought he was a schlepper, but he was really a macher. I read it in a blat at a clip-joint.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

37870. Joseph William McGrath

I hopped over to the Mt. Wollaston Cemetery in Quincy, Massachusetts, to check in with the people of the city's lost shipbuilding and granite industries. I figured that, if nothing else, I would find some fantastic gravestone designs, as the best artisans in the northeast worked there in the 19th century.

But, of course, the first words I read were "Lost at sea."

Joseph William McGrath was a "Graduate of the Massachusetts Nautical Training School," (now the Massachusetts Maritime Academy); a "Member of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey," (now a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); and "Served with the U.S. Naval Forces during the War with Spain" (the Navy will always be the Navy; Semper Fortis!). He obviously had quite the career, considering he died around 26 years old.

As far as history can discern, he was "Lost at sea with all the ships company some time after November 2, 1903 while in command of the steamer Discovery on passage from Yakutat, Alaska to Seattle, Washington." The President of the Discovery Transportation Company, the entity that owned the vessel, filed a wreck report with these details:

"Supposed to have foundered.  Heavy gale from ENE with southeast & southwest cross sea running. Wind 60 mi.; dark night.”

“Revenue Cutter Rush was sent from Sitka after some weeks, but found no tidings. Since then report comes of Indians finding hull of vessel. This has not been confirmed. Parties coming from Cape Yakataga to Kayak, in November report finding doors, windows, and broken parts of steamers house on beach, also life preservers marked Str Discovery. This is same way the Discovery life preservers were marked.”

“We are convinced the Discovery is lost with all hands on board.  The exact time and how the accident occurred will never be known.”

So ended the life of Joseph William McGrath in company with about 29 others. Rumors say that several people stayed on land, claiming the ship was not seaworthy. That fear may have saved their lives.

Friday, October 11, 2013

37494. Arta Miller

There was a little book written in 1876 called I Am Going Home, or the Memoir of a Gathered Lily. The symbolism is a little blunt, of course, but we get it. The author wrote of the life of a young woman taken before her time, "home" being Heaven.

So it was with Arta Miller, "aged 21 yrs." She was born within a decade of the book's publishing, during the rise of American libraries, so it could certainly have been on a shelf somewhere at home or nearby. Either way, the sentiment on her stone is the same as found throughout the pages of the book, "Tell mama I sent my love. I am going home."

I think the concept of knowing I am going to die imminently, whether it's within months, weeks, days or hours, still scares the hell out of me. I only hope that I can handle it as bravely as Arta did should it come to it. Perhaps my last words will be so inspired, and not be as comical as I right now intend them to be. Or perhaps I will have both, and my last words will be inspiringly funny.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

37263. Joseph and Jean Sawtelle

The Sawtelles were two North Shore of Boston kids who moved to coastal New Hampshire, and people who just got it. He was a "Beloved husband, father and grandfather, friend and philanthropist who found life a great adventure and left the world a better place." She was a "Beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend who lived and loved with all her might."

I can only dream of having such words on my stone when all is said and done. To me, they sum up what life is supposed to be all about.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

37063. Captain John Murray

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a novella.

Captain John Murray's friends made sure he was properly remembered for all time by erecting his stone at Riverside Cemetery with an excellent recap of his military exploits in the middle of the 19th century. Here is the full story:

born in the City of New York in 1825.
served in the Mexican War in 1847.
on recommendation of Lieut. Col. Belton 
received a certificate of merit from 
President Fillmore
commissioned Captain of Co. D 5th N.H.
Volunteers, Oct. 12, 1861.
He fell early in the battle of Fredericksburg
Dec. 13, 1862 while leading a gallant band
of the Defenders of the Country.

A kind Father and Husband, a patriotic
Citizen, a brave and faithful Soldier and
Officer. His last words were:
"That flag never was and never shall 
be disgraced!

Captain Murray's certificate of merit was no small honor. Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. Belton had been at it since the War of 1812 and didn't retire until the Civil War had started. He knew a good soldier when he saw one. He's kind of a forgotten military personality of his time. We're left to wonder, as always, what our good Captain would have achieved had he not died when he did.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

36987. Jean McCarthy

Virgil was the guy who came up with the words on Jean McCarthy's small marker, "mens agitat molem." Taken literally from the Latin it means "the mind moves the masses" or "the mind moves matter." Taken in the broader context of Virgil's Aenead, specifically book VI, "The Transmigration of Souls," it has to do with the Creation. One translation states it as "mind ignites life" in a grand sweeping verse on the circle of life.

So it turns out our friend Jean was possibly a deep thinker. Either that or she went to the University of Oregon. It's their motto.

I'm betting on the former. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

36978. Charles Henry Ricker

This one came as a shock to me. I fancy myself as somewhat of a Coast Guard historian (go ahead, Google me! You know you wanna...) but I had never heard of the loss of Charles Henry Ricker, who "Died in line of duty in the U.S. Coast Guard."

The Coast Guard was only a decade old, under that name, by the time that young Ricker died on duty with his mates in Maine. The funeral procession that brought him to the Riverside Cemetery in New Castle was a big one, one of the largest ever recorded in town, according to the Portsmouth Herald of March 18, 1925.

It was a product of the age. Safety precautions we take today when working with flammable or combustible fuels were not in place when Ricker was a young man, which was all he ever got to be. A gasoline explosion on the cutter on which he worked blew him overboard, and he never recovered from the injuries. His parents rushed to Portland, Maine, to be at his bedside, but he didn't make it.

Charles H. Ricker died a hero of his community, leaving a proud mother, father, sister and brother behind.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

36931. John Langdon Elwyn

Miles away from Rockland, Massachusetts, while on a brief visit to coastal New Hampshire, I came across the stone for John Langdon Elwyn.

The name has all sorts of significance. Or should I say the names have all sorts of significance. John Langdon was the first governor of New Hampshire and the land on which John Elwyn now rests was donated to the state by John Elwyn Stone to become the Urban Forestry Center, in 1976. The Center is an interesting mix of demonstration forest, nature trails, composting exhibits and a few historic buildings, a place where one and all can learn about forest management. One of my favorite exhibits is of a powerline with growth underneath it, a demo for successional habitat management.

Anyway, somewhere along the line, John Langdon Elwyn lived the land, and apparently loved it. His epitaph kind of says it all, that he never wanted to leave: "They buried him in the border of his inheritance."

Truthfully, neither did I.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

36810. Henry Benner

So what was it that so disheartened Henry and Addie? The wife predeceased the husband by seven years, which is always a downer, in either direction. And who was the epitaph for, Addie or Henry?

The words are original, in that they are not from a hymn, nor from a poem of the time. The closest reference I can think of comes years later, from Pink Floyd.

I'm guessing it was Henry. When Addie died in 1908 there was not much happening that would call for such dour words as are found on the stone. Heck, the ball dropped in Times Square for the first time ever on January 1. National Monuments were being named all over the place. Postage stamps came in rolls for the first time. What a world! Mother's Day was celebrated for the first time ever, on May 10. Henry Ford built the first Model T.

But as for Henry, who died in 1915, he had some ammunition. On January 11, Colonel Jacob Ruppert and Colonel Tillinghast Huston purchased the New York Highlanders, kickstarting the Yankees baseball dynasty (hey, Henry and Addie had to be Boston Americans fans, right?). The next day, the House of Representatives rejected a proposal to give women the right to vote. The day after that an earthquake in Italy killed nearly 30,000 people. And did I mention there was a World War going on? And it goes on.

So when Henry died, the words on the stone were certainly appropriate: "Good bye sad world good bye."

Of course, it could have had nothing to do with world events, but I don't have time to research anything beyond the superficial. There are many more stones to read, miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, October 4, 2013

36799. Charles Dwelley Merritt

Merritts. If I had a nickel for every Merritt I've met on the South Shore of Boston...

This one, Charles Dwelley Merritt, buried in Rockland, pulled a little bit of Biblical verse, which I'm proud to say was written by my namesake. It's from John 14:3: "I have gone to prepare a place for thee."

What I love about it is that in today's world, we can quickly cross-reference many versions of the Bible at once to find which one this came from. Unfortunately, it's none of them, at least not exactly in those words. The rest of the sentiment generally flows along the lines of "and when it's ready, I'll come for you so we can be together always." Spooky thought. So, if I look up and see my dad standing in front of me, I've pretty much reached the end of my line? Well, my dad was a landscaper, so he's used to getting places ready for all sorts of occasions...like my upcoming "welcome to being dead" party.

It is funny, though, to see how the same sentiment has been transformed through time and different translations. The New Living Translation has it as "When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." Young's Literal Translation reads, "and if I go on and prepare for you a place, again do I come, and will receive you unto myself, that where I am ye also may be."

Anyway you slice it, it's got a nice pioneer feel to it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

36661. Samuel Burnette

Holy cow, it's a Reb!

Samuel F. Burnette served as a private in Company H, Louisiana Infantry Crescent Regiment, with the Confederate Army. A southerner. In Rockland, no less.

I've heard stories about a Confederate soldier who used to hang around the Grand Army Hall in Rockland. The legends say that he would attend the dinners and events, and was openly accepted, the war being long over and all. But when the time arose to take photographs to commemorate the occasions, the Reb was asked politely to step aside. The brotherhood of war only went so far.

Could Sam have been that Reb? Amazingly, someone decorates his grave with a Confederate flag, although I think I know who it is.

What an unexpected find!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

36582. James K. Sedgwick

We have another hymn on our hands. James and Mary Sedgwick had a hard time of it, it would seem. Beneath their names are the names of three children who predeceased them at young ages. But the Sedgwicks had a plan.

When all was said and done, when the whole family had passed on, they would all be together again, thanks to the words of John Atkinson, who in January 1867 wrote "We shall meet beyond the river." There is more that did not make the cut on this stone: "bye and bye."

I can't imagine such loss, but a good strong religious base must have helped James and Mary pull through.

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.