02 September 2013

Speaking Stones

Yesterday morning the girlie took us to her new church in New York.  The building itself was very lovely example of Gothic/Romanesque architecture--very old-school, though much newer than it looks.  I had the pleasure of joining the girlie's choir and singing with her, which makes this the third different church congregation in which I've sung this month.  I'm starting to feel like a choral dilettante.  The girlie was most excited for us to meet her favorite minister and hear him preach because he bubbles over with energy and enthusiasm as much as she herself does.  And his sermon was indeed quite good; it's refreshing to hear someone a little more realistic and progressive after spending a couple of years being hammered with nearly every kind of hate and prejudice available my previous pastor, who I think would feel far more at home in Westboro Baptist Church.  But that's a whole 'nother story.

Asbury UMC

Anyway, after the service, we stopped to check out the famous Mount Hope Cemetery near her school in which such such notable people as Bausch and Lomb (yes, the contact lens people), Hiram Sibley (founder of Western Union and instrumental in the purchase of Alaska), Dr. Carver (father of the Transcontinental Railroad), and several politicians, poets and inventors are buried.  Perhaps the most famous residents of this particular cemetery are Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.  Given that this weekend is both Labor Day weekend and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the "I Have a Dream" speech, it seemed very important to me to pay my respects to these two pioneers for equality and justice, who labored their entire lives to improve the lives of others.

I must admit, I was a bit surprised by the small size and overt humility of Susan B. Anthony's gravestone; somehow it seemed that someone so notable should have a marker as large as her impact.  In retrospect, however, perhaps the humble stature of her stone is more appropriate after all.  I particularly liked the rocks (a Jewish tradition to show respect and remembrance) piled atop her grave and the dreamcatcher peeking out from beneath them.

Susan B. Anthony, Suffragette Extraordinaire (and doyen of confusing quarter-sized dollar coins).

The Anthony Family marker...notice that Susan B. is listed on the "Equality" side.

Frederick Douglass' marker was as surprising as Anthony's was, though for the opposite reason.  It was HUGE.  It was also covered with blue letters, which we thought odd till we realized that they must be oxidized copper, like the Statue of Liberty.  To the left of Douglass' grave was a memorial about his second wife and to the right was a stone bench placed there by some Lincoln HS group or somesuch in remembrance and respect.

Frederick Douglass, famed orator and staunch supporter of African-American's and Women's rights

Nod to the missus.


After paying our respects, we got back into the car and began to wander around the massive cemetery of nearly 200 acres looking at stones.  I gotta say, old cemeteries are cool.  The headstones are infinitely more interesting and elaborate than many newer ones and you can't help but feel the weight of history when viewing them, particularly when passing sections devoted to servicemen or firemen such as these:

Graves of servicemen from the Civil War to the modern era.
Memorial to fallen firemen; one of the markers in this section had a stone fireman's helmet on top.
At one point we passed a gravestone shaped like a little bear and all went "awwww!" at its cuteness till we realized it was the marker for an infant who did not survive his first year.

Cutest and saddest headstone ever.

Seeing all the different memorials and stones was fascinating.  I can understand why one of the professors at the girlie's school regularly holds a class called "speaking stones" in which students do tours of this cemetery and research the various people they find interred there.

Of course, I am still me, so we also got a bit silly when we started to see humor in stones juxtaposed near each other.  (Reverence has never been my strong suit.)  We began to think that some of the stones had been so placed just to mess with our heads.  For example, we passed a monument for the Corning family, which was right next to a marker for the Glass family.  Hmmmm.  We saw one for Starkweather, which seemed oddly appropriate given the general snowiness of the city and the fact that the monument was shaped a bit like a lightening rod.  Probably the funniest was the mausoleum for the Pringle family, which naturally led to a spate of jokes about the chips.  These were not helped by the fact that nearby was another marker for the Popp family.  You just can't make these things up.

Once you Popp, you can't stop.
(Like you weren't thinking it.)
Philander had two wives.  Hmmmm.
Such a pain in the glass.
(And yes, this is the guy who made your casserole dish.)
"If I had a Hammer, I'd hammer out a gra-a-ve stoooone..."
Cyrillic headstones are just cool.
But beware, because there are Spies in the Russian section.
This guy likes to keep his hobbies in plane sight.
Peter Christ just doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?
Industrialized society brought to you by Steel Gears.

We saw the headstones of some of the slightly less famous residents as well, including the following:

Half of Bausch and Lomb
Father of the Transcontinental Railroad
Founder of Western Union and the largest university-affiliated
music library in the country at the Eastman School of Music.
The Hopeman family, for whom the University of Rochester's 50-bell carillon is named.

Regardless of the number of famous people interred or amusing stone juxtapositions, Mount Hope Cemetery is a peaceful place filled amazing architecture.  There are mausoleums all over, many with stained glass windows inside.  There are obelisks and fountains and memorials beyond numbering.  Some markers are wildly specific and others vague, merely stating "Mother" or "Father" or "Daughter" or "Wife."  All are beautiful in their own way.

Fred and Sue B. could not have asked for a more poignant or expressive place to rest from their many labors.

Happy Labor Day, everyone.

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