Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stones and Bones 3 - Brompton Cemetery

This cemetery was suggested by: Bob Sherfield

For a taphophile, London is one of the prime locations to visit to see some of the world's most magnificent graveyards. And magnificent is the key word, because this city is home to the Magnificent Seven Garden Cemeteries.  These graveyards were built over a ten year period in the mid-19th century to change the way burials were being done before that time. Burial in a small churchyard was the standard, but as the population of London grew, it became impossible to continue this practice. Decomp fluids were seeping into water systems and epidemics were the result. So the British Parliament passed a bill in 1832 to establish private cemeteries outside of London. The Magnificent Seven Cemeteries used Père Lachaise cemetery as a model and are known for their grandiose memorials and statuary, lush garden-like landscaping and sweeping pathways. One of these seven cemeteries is Brompton Cemetery.

Brompton Cemetery was officially opened in 1840 as the West of London and Westminster Cemetery and consecrated by the Bishop of London. Architect Stephen Geary, who had designed Highgate Cemetery, was a part of the cemetery company formed to implement the building of the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries and he initially designed the buildings for Brompton. An open competition was held and judged by a ‘Committee of Taste’ led by the distinguished architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville. He chose the designs of architect Benjamin Baud who was one of his assistants. Since Stephen Geary’s own proposals were rejected, he resigned from the board of directors. The original plot for Brompton was purchased from Lord Kensington in 1838 and stretched over 39 acres. It was located along a railway and between Old Brompton and Fulham Roads.

Baud's design was to give the cemetery an open air cathedral feel. Brompton is rectangular in shape with the Brompton Cemetery Chapel and colonnades in the center. The chapel was modeled off of the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome. Catacombs were built beneath the colonnades and thousands of burials were meant to be sold in them. Only 500 were ever sold. Many mausoleums were designed by famous artists and all of the funerary art covers two centuries of styles featuring decorative ironwork and lettering. There are 35,000 monuments and around 205,000 burials. The landscaping features great examples of Victorian country flora with over 60 species of trees, including lime trees. Flowers include bluebells, wild lupin and snow-drops. Ivy and evergreens grow among the burials and provide cover for a wide variety of birds and fauna like squirrels, foxes, rabbits and bats.

From 1854 to 1939, Brompton Cemetery became the London District's Military Cemetery. There is a memorial entitled the Brigade of the Guards and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains the graves of 289 Commonwealth service personnel of World War I and 79 of World War II. There are burials of other military members that were not British throughout the cemetery. The Garden of Remembrance is for cremated remains.

Brompton was closed to burials between 1952 and 1966, but has been open up until the present for burials. The cemetery is open starting at 7am and during the summer months, closes at 8pm. Tours are offered on Sundays. Obviously, there are many notable burials here. John Keats is one of the most beloved English poets and he famously had a muse that inspired his later writings before his death. Her name was Fanny Brawne and the couple were betrothed to each other for four years. Keats never married her because he felt unworthy with his station in life. Fanny survived Keats by 40 years and eventually married another man. She is buried at Brompton under her married name Fanny Lindon.

John Snow was an English physician who is considered one of the fathers of modern epidemiology. He was a leader in the use of anesthesia and medical hygiene as well. He is best known for his work in regards to cholera. He traced an outbreak in 1854 to contamination between waste water and drinking water and this caused improvements in water sanitation. He suffered a stroke at the age of 45 and died six days later. He has a beautiful monument here featuring a partially draped urn atop an obelisk.

Henry James Byron was a prolific English novelist, journalist, editor and dramatist. He got his start as a playwright in burlesques. He moved onto editing humorous magazines and then co-managing Prince of Wales' Theater. His name probably makes you think of Lord Byron and the two were actually second cousins. Henry's most famous work was Our Boys, which was at one time the world's longest running play. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 49 and he was buried at Brompton. Another writer buried here is George Borrow. He wrote novels and travel books and it was during his travels that he developed many relationships with the Romani people, more commonly known as Gypsies. His experiences with these people are reflected in many of his works.

William Ayrton was a scientist and electrical engineer who helped develop electrical measuring instruments that included the spiral-spring ammenter, the wattmeter, the dynometer and electric searchlight. He was born in London and eventually studied under the noted physicist, Lord Kelvin in Glasgow. He introduced the electric arc to Japan in 1878 while teaching physics and electrical engineering in Tokyo. He published many books on physics and was awarded a medal by the Royal Society in 1909. This honor came after his death in 1908.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show came to Britain several times in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Unfortunately, on a couple of these trips performers passed away and it was not possible to send them back to America, so they were buried at Brompton. Oglala Sioux warrior Surrounded By the Enemy caught a lung infection in 1887 and died while traveling with the tour. Paul Eagle Star was a Brulé Sioux tribesman who died after breaking his ankle when he fell off a horse while performing. The child of Little Chief and Good Robe named Red Penny died while traveling with the group. And Sioux Chief Long Wolf died of bronchial pneumonia at the age of 59. As we all know, it is very important for native people to buried in their home land and efforts have been made to get these individuals home. The burials of little Red Penny and Surrounded By The Enemy were lost to time. Paul Eagle Star was exhumed in the spring of 1999 by his grandchildren and he was taken to Rosebud's Lakota Cemetery. In 1991, a British woman named Elizabeth Knight discovered Chief Long Wolf's grave when reading an old book describing the chief's burial. She traced his family and campaigned with them to get his remains returned to South Dakota. His great grandson Black Feather said, "Our medicine men and holy men tell us that since he's buried in a foreign country and (there are) no relatives, it would be better if he was brought to his homeland for his final resting place. They figure that his spirit will never rest until he's brought home." Finally in 1997, the chief was finally moved to a new plot in the Wolf Creek Cemetery, which is the ancestral burial ground of the Oglala Sioux tribe at Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

*Fun fact: Beatrix Potter is the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. She lived on Old Brompton Road and took some of the names of her characters from the tombstones in Brompton Cemetery. These include Mr. Nutkins, Mr. McGregor, Mr. Brock, Mr. Tod, Jeremiah Fisher and there was also a Peter Rabbett.*

Brompton Cemetery is Grade I listed on Historic England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It is unique in that it is the only cemetery in the country owned by the Crown and managed by The Royal Parks on behalf of the nation. The cemetery is listed as a Site of Nature Conservation. And that, was just a little about the Stones and Bones found there!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stones and Bones 2 - Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City

(Suggested by: Angie Reynoso Akbarzad)

Holy Cross Cemetery is a Catholic burial ground and thus it is considered consecrated ground. The cemetery is located in Culver City, California just outside of Los Angeles. The front gate is made from beautifully designed wrought-iron and the top of the gate features a large cross. The grounds are immaculate with weeping willows and pines trees bursting forth from the ground. Much of the statuary is Roman Catholic in design. Many celebrities have been buried here in an area of the graveyard known as "The Grotto." One of these celebrities is Sharon Tate who was laid to rest in a family plot that also contains her and Roman Polanski's unborn baby. Another that is dear to Diane's heart is Bela Lugosi. Join us as we share the history and burials of Holy Cross Cemetery.

Harry Culver was a real estate developer who had fought in the Spanish-American War and spent time in the Philippines working in the mercantile business. He eventually settled in southern California and in 1913, he announced plans to develop a new city that would be annexed from Los Angeles. That city was incorporated in 1917 and named for him, Culver City. He promoted the city with advertisements that read, "All Roads Lead to Culver City." The city eventually became home to three major movie studios and Sony Picture Studios, which was originally MGM Studios, is still there. Movies created here were "The Wizard of Oz," the original "King Kong" and "Gone With the Wind." During Prohibition, Culver City became infamous for its speakeasies and nightclubs like The Cotton Club. Howard Hughes' Hughes Aircraft built a plant in Culver City in 1941 and this is where the Spruce Goose was made.

Holy Cross Cemetery was opened in 1939 at 5835 West Slauson Avenue. Originally, the grounds were part of the Rancho La Bollona claim that dates back to the early 1800s. That land grant was a Mexican land grant and incorporated nearly 14,000 acres that was given to Ygnacio and Augustin Machado and Felipe and Tomas Talamantes for the grazing of their cattle. The cemetery's grounds spread over 200 acres. "The Grotto" that we mentioned earlier is in the southwest part of the cemetery that one can find by turning to the left after entering the cemetery and following the leftmost road up the hill. One thing that taphophiles will immediately notice is that this cemetery has no tombstones. It has a strict "No Tombstones" rule. The main mausoleum is also fairly unique in that an effort has been made to give it an atmosphere of warmth and comfort, rather than just sterile and hollow death. A mural depicts the resurrection of Jesus in warm, bright colors and there are many stained-glass windows that do the same with bursts of color as they filter the sun's rays.

Many famous people are buried here. One of the more surprising burials at Holy Cross is that of Nazli Fouad. Her stone is quite simple, but what it states at the top makes this burial quite remarkable: "Queen Mother of Egypt." Nazli Abdelrehim Sabry was born in 1894 in Alexandria. She married Egypt's King Fouad in 1919 and was the mother of King Farouk. When he became king, he bestowed upon her the title of  'Queen Mother' on January 20, 1938. The title was withdrawn in August of 1950 for several reasons. One was because she supported the marriage of her youngest daughter to a Coptic commoner whom the Egyptian monarch considered to be an opportunist and a sleaze. This would prove to be true when Nazli's daughter would be murdered by this man.The other reason is what has allowed her to be buried at Holy Cross, she converted from Sunni Muslim to Roman Catholic. Being Queen was tough for Nazli. She was an educated woman and very independent, but after her marriage to the King, she was confined to the palace and not allowed to leave very often. The couple would fight often and he would hit her. She attempted suicide once by overdosing on aspirin. After his death she would travel more and visited America many times, particularly to come to the Mayo Clinic for treatment of a kidney ailment. She eventually moved to Beverly Hills where she lived in exile for 30 years and that is where she died on June 29, 1978 at the age of 83.

Ray Bolger was an actor and dancer. He is known famously as the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz" movie. His first cinema contract was with MGM and was signed in 1936. Aside from the Wizard of Oz, he also appeared in MGM's first film done in Technicolor, "Sweethearts." Originally, Bolger was cast as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz and he was not happy about that. He wanted to be the Scarecrow, but Buddy Ebsen had already been given the part. The two switched parts, but Ebsen soon had to give up the Tin Man part when the powdered aluminum make-up coated his lungs, leaving him near death. Bolger did not escape make-up woes either. His face was permanently lined by the Scarecrow's make-up. He died of bladder cancer in 1987. He's buried in the Mausoleum, Crypt F2, Block 35.

Jackie Coogan was one of the first child actors in the history of movie making. He made his acting debut with Charlie Chaplin in the movie "The Kid." Our favorite part that he played later in life was Uncle Fester on the TV show "The Addams Family." The Coogan Act became law to protect child actors when Coogan sued his parents for squandering his earnings. There were some interesting events in Coogan's life. One happened when he was eighteen years-old. His best friend was kidnapped by two men who demanded a $40,000 ransom for his return. There was actually no intention of returning the friend. The men had killed him shortly after kidnapping him. The police eventually arrested them and put them in a jail in downtown San Jose. A mob broke into the jail and hanged the killers in a nearby park. Coogan was reported to be present and to have held the lynching rope. The second event was a fatal car crash that only he survived. His father was driving when the car was forced off the road by another car. Killed were his father; his friend, 19-year-old actor Junior Durkin; their ranch foreman Charles Jones, and actor and writer Robert J. Horner. Coogan died in 1984 at the age of 69 from a heart attack.

Jimmy Durante was born in 1893 in New York City to Italian immigrants. He wasn't much for school and left it at a young age. He started doing comedy in a vaudeville act and by the 1920s,he had opened his own club. Fame would come for him on Broadway and then he started work in radio and television. Soon there were movies too. He had a very distinctive voice and a gruff singing voice. His rendition of "Frosty the Snowman" is much loved. Durante died on January 29, 1980 from pneumonia.

Fred MacMurray was a comedic actor most known for playing the part of the father in the 1960s show "My Three Sons." He got his start in vaudeville in the late 1920s and then moved on to Broadway. He got his big break in 1935 with the movie "The Gilded Lady." He later starred in some beloved family films like "The Shaggy Dog" and "The Absent-Minded Professor." He died from complications from pneumonia in 1991. His burial is located in the Mausoleum.

John Candy was born in Canada in 1950 and rose to fame as a comedian starring in dozens of movies and TV programs. My favorite movies of his are Spaceballs and Splash. In 1994, Candy died of what was assumed to be a heart attack while filming the movie "Wagons East!" in Mexico. He was only 43 years-old. There were three now-shelved projects that Candy was connected to that are considered cursed projects. These were a film adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces, a film adaptation of Mordecai Richler's The Incomparable Atuk and a biopic about silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. The reason these projects are considered cursed is because Candy, John Belushi, Sam Kinison and Chris Farley were all attached to these projects and the same roles in these projects, at one time. They all went on to die before making any of the films. Candy is located in the Mausoleum right under Fred MacMurray.

Lawrence Welk was a musician and bandleader who hosted "The Lawrence Welk Show" for 31 years. That show was one of the most successful music variety shows in American history. The music he shared came to be known as "Champagne Music" and I remember watching it with my folks throughout my childhood. He died at the age of 89 in 1992 from pneumonia. His grave marker has an image of him holding a director baton with a band of musical notes behind him. The epithet reads, "Keep a song in your heart."

Rita Hayworth was a beautiful dancer and actress. The press called her the "love goddess" and she was one of the most glamorous movie stars of the 1940s. She made 61 films over 37 years and the American Film Institute has her in the top twenty-five on their list of greatest stars of all time. Fred Astaire claimed that she was his favorite dance partner. During World War II, she and Betty Grable were the top two pin-up girls. Because of that fact, some may find it hard to believe that Hayworth never did any nude photos or scenes in a movie. Hayworth was born in 1918 and her birth name was Margarita Cansino. She went by Rita Cansino in her early acting career, but it was decided her name sounded too exotic and limited the parts offered to her and so her last name was changed to Hayworth, which was her mother's maiden name. She became a real life princess for four years while she was married to Prince Aly Khan of the Persian Qajar dynasty. Tragically, she was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease when she was only 61 and it eventually killed her at the age of 68.

Bing Crosby was born in 1903 and eventually became the best selling recording artist of the 20th century. He was not only a singer, but also an actor, which made him one of the first multi-media stars in the 1930s. As proof of this, he has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. An American poll declared him the most admired man alive in 1948 and he was attributed with keeping up the morale of soldiers during World War II. He became an inspiration to countless singers and many mimicked his style. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are just a couple of those people. His most beloved song was a rendition of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" and it became his biggest hit. One of my favorite things he did was the narration for Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." A fun fact: his daughter Mary played Kristin Shepard on Dallas and she is the one who shot JR. Two of his sons committed suicide by shooting themselves. Crosby died at a golf course, where he had just finished playing, from a massive heart attack on October 14, 1977. His grave marker has the wrong birth year and declares him "Beloved by All."

Bela Lugosi is, of course, best known for his portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 movie "Dracula." He loved to act and literally would take any part offered him no matter what the pay, except for the part of the monster in the movie "Frankenstein." He led a very hard life and spent the latter part of it addicted to morphine and methadone. The podcast "You Must Remember This" just wrapped a series featuring Lugosi and Boris Karloff that was excellent and we highly recommend that for a thorough look at his life. He was born in Hungary in 1882 and did not learn English readily. He first played Count Dracula in the theater on Broadway. He memorized his lines phonetically. He then went on to play the part in the Universal movie, which launched him into acting in other horror films. He starred several times with Karloff in movies and the two were rivals of a sort. Lugosi ended his career taking parts in Ed Wood's low budget movies, the final one being Plan 9 from Outer Space. He died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956. His wife at the time and his son, decided to have him buried in his Dracula cape. His grave marker just simply reads, "Beloved Father."

Sharon Tate was an actress who is most known for the horrific way in which she died as one of the victims of the murder spree by the Manson Family. We covered that murder in our Haunted True Crime episode about the Manson Murders. She was born in 1943 and her beauty led her to entering pageants. Her acting career started in Italy, where her father was stationed in the Army, as a movie extra. Her family eventually moved back to the US and she moved to Los Angeles and signed a contract with Martin Ransohoff. She started acting in small parts for television shows and finally had her first major role in the movie "Eye of the Devil." She eventually was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in the "Valley of the Dolls." Tate was killed in the home that she shared with her husband Roman Polanski. He was away at the time and she was entertaining several friends. She was also eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time. A rope was wrapped around her neck and thrown over the rafters. She was stabbed 16 times and an X was carved into her belly. She was buried with her unborn son, whom was named Paul posthumously, in her arms.

Holy Cross Cemetery is beautiful with its iconic Grotto and beautiful grounds. The list of famous people buried here goes on and on. And there are many other luminaries here as well. But even more importantly are the fathers and mothers and grandparents and siblings that have been laid to rest here. They may not be known to the world, but they were special to someone. Holy Cross should be on any taphophiles' visit list and that, was just a little about the Stones and Bones found there!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Stone and Bones 1 - Oak Grove Cemetery

Suggested by listener Melisa Nelson

Oak Grove Cemetery is located at the intersection of N. Lanana St. and Hospital St. just north of the Nacogdoches Town Square in Nacogdoches, Texas. Hospital St. ends at the cemetery gate.

Oak Grove Cemetery was originally called "American Cemetery." The land upon which it was founded was part of the 1825 land grant of Empresario Haden Edwards, who was the leader of the 1826 Fredonian Rebellion. The Fredonian Rebellion was led by Haden and his brother Benjamin against the Mexican government. To explain this a little better, an empresarial grant was given to certain men as a form of permission to settle an area with multiple families. Haden planned to settle the future Nacogdoches with 800 families. He posted notices on street corners that the area would be settled by new families if the prior settlers could not provide proof that they had a claim to their land. This obviously pissed off the original settlers. Elections were set up and controversy ensued with the government overturning things that favored the Edwards brothers. They were enraged as were the settlers they brought. Several of these men, along with the brothers declared themselves independent of Mexico and named their republic Fredonia. When the Mexican militia arrived, most of the revolutionists fled and Haden was killed by some Native Americans who were angry that he had involved them in the rebellion. He is buried at Oak Grove. His wife Susan preceded him in death by a few months and she is buried here as well.

There was an earlier Spanish cemetery in Nacogdoches and many of the graves from there were relocated to this site to make room for the county courthouse in 1912. One of those graves that was moved belongs to Father Mendoza. He died in 1719. Many of the burials here are for historical figures important both to Nacogdoches County and the State of Texas. Thomas Jefferson Rusk was a judge and also Sam Houston's secretary of war. He was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence as were fellow cemetery occupants, Charles Stanfield Taylor, John S. Roberts and William Clark, Jr. Veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto buried here are Captain Haden Arnold and Elias E. Hamilton. Other prominent people are Jacob Lewis; Helen Vinson, a movie actress during the 30s and 40s; General Kelsey H. Douglass; George F. Ingraham; Nicholas Adolphus Sterne; Captain Frederick Voigt; Dr. Robert A. Irion, who also was Sam Houston's personal physician; Deidrich Anton Wilhelm Rulfs, who was Nacogdoches' master architect and designed Zion Hill Baptist Church on the north side of the cemetery; Richard William Haltom, who founded and edited Nacogdoches' "The Daily Sentinel;" poet Karle Wilson Baker; former slaves Mitchell Thorn, Lawrence Sleet and Eliza Walker and there are six soldiers here who were all killed in action in 1918: Charlie Bell, J.B. Crow, Felix H. Briley, B.C. Duncan, Marion E.Houston and Robert Lewis.

The oldest marked grave in the cemetery belongs to Pamela Starr, according to the cemetery records I found online, and there must be an interesting and sad story here. She was married to Franklin Jefferson Starr. He died at the age of 37 in 1837. The couple had a son who was born the year before in 1836, but he only lived three years, dying in 1839. There are no dates listed for Pamela's grave, but the claim on the graveyard records is that her grave marking is the oldest. So did she die before her husband? Perhaps in child birth? And if this is the case, their little family was gone in that three year period. But as you all know, I had to find out more.

Franklin Jefferson Starr was born in New Hartford, Connecticut in 1805. His family moved to Ohio in 1814 and in April 1829 Franklin became adjutant of the Second Regiment of the Second Brigade, Seventh Division, Ohio state troops. He later became principal at an academy in Columbus, Ohio. He took the bar exam and was admitted in 1833, but by the following year he had relocated to Georgia and took the bar there, gaining admittance in 1834. Some Georgia investors asked him and another man to travel to Mexican Texas and seek out opportunities to establish a settlement there. The report they brought back was mixed because the Mexican administration was unsavory. Franklin married Pamela upon his return in 1835 and even though his report had not been entirely favorable, he and Pamela migrated to Texas and he took his Mexican citizenship oath at San Felipe de Austin on December 24, 1835.

It was here in San Felipe where Franklin would join forces with William B. Travis to open a law office. This was short lived as Travis took over command of a Texas regiment that would eventually see him in command of the Texian forces at the Alamo in San Antonio. He would gain fame as the ill-fated commander of the Alamo. Franklin joined a volunteer company under Moseley Baker and marched to Gonzales. He asked for a furlough during the Runaway Scrape to get his family to a safer location. The Runaway Scrape was a term used by Texans to describe their flight from their homes when Antonio López de Santa Anna began his attempted conquest of Texas in February 1836. Sam Houston arrived in Gonzales on March 11 and was informed of the fall of the Alamo. He ordered all the inhabitants in the area to join him as he retreated to the Colorado River. People all over Texas left everything and ran to safety. The safer location that Franklin took his family to was Nacogdoches. *Fun Fact: William B. Travis gave his diary to Franklin and it would be the Starr family that would preserve it.

In May of 1836, Franklin opened a criminal law practice in Nacogdoches. The following May, he became captain of a company of mounted volunteers that had been brought together to pursue hostile Native Americans in Nacogdoches County. It was during this time that the volunteers became sick from the long marches in the summer heat. Franklin himself became sick with fever and died on July 7, 1837. He was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery and it is his grave that is said to be the earliest marked grave in the cemetery, not Pamela's. He and Pamela only had the one child. Of interest also is that Franklin's brother was James Harper Starr. He married a woman named Harriet and they eventually moved to Marshall, Texas and purchased 52 acres of land that is today the Starr Family Home State Historic Site. The Starr Mansion here was originally known as Maplecroft. So the Starr family is very prominent in Texas history and I had no idea. The Starr headstones and dates just peaked my interest.

Strolling through this cemetery in fall would be amazing with some of the trees' leaves turning to golden yellow and burnt auburn. There are so many unique memorials here. For example, there is Anna Mary Taylor's gravestone with her last words carved into the granite, "I am one of nature's children, I love to look at the green trees." She died in November of 1889. There is the Steamboat Monument that was erected by Henry and Marcia A. Raguet in memory of their two children, Mary and Condy who lost their lives on the steamboat "America" during a storm on the Ohio River on December 5, 1868.

So down the rabbit hole we go: On that fateful day, two steamships, The America and the United States, collided. They had been traveling in opposite directions on the Ohio River near Warsaw, Kentucky. They were two ships in one of the nation’s largest steamship companies, the U.S. Mail Line, which advertised itself as making “direct connections with all railroad and steamboat lines.” At this time, not all railway lines had been constructed, so mail, cargo, and passengers used a combination of railroad and steamboat lines to complete their journeys. These two ships had the finest interiors and were fairly new and cost $500,000 to build. Steamships used whistles at night to signal where they were on the river,but on this particular night, the signal must have been misinterpreted because they ships steered into each other, rather than away from each other. The United States burst into flames after impact and the fire quickly spread to the America with whisky, cotton and petroleum to fuel it. Forty passengers were killed and many more were wounded.

Oak Grove Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery, full of history, which makes it incredibly fascinating! And that, was just a little about the Stones and Bones found there!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Greyfriar's Kirkyard

East Wall
Edinburgh, Scotland is considered one of the most haunted cities in all of Europe, particularly with Edinburgh Castle sitting above the city as a type of haunted sentinel.  The Castle is said to be the most haunted location in Edinburgh, but Greyfriar's Kirkyard could give the Castle a good fight for that title.  Burials have taken place here since the 16th century and the cemetery sits between an old melancholy hospital and a menacing looking prison.  The tombstones and statuary are ornate and beautiful.  The term "kirk" means "church" and so a kirkyard is a churchyard.  A churchyard is a cemetery that is on church property.

The church that sits here is named for the Franciscan Friary that originally was located here and managed by the Greyfriars, an order of Franciscan monks.  The Franciscan Order originally landed in Canterbury from Italy in the 13th century and spread across what we call the United Kingdom today.  The Order was later split into two different groups known as the Conventuals - friars that were in the cities - and the Observants - who wanted to keep the old more isolated ways.  The Franciscans in Great Britain became known as Greyfriars.

Roman Catholicism was pushed out of Scotland in the 16th century.  A group of people signed covenants in Scotland binding themselves to maintain Presbyterian doctrines and denouncing the Pope and the Catholic Church.  They became known as Covenanters and they proved to be a big issue for King Charles I.  The National Covenant (which can be read here) was signed at Greyfriar's Kirk in 1638 and it was an oath to maintain the reformed religion and reject all superstition of the Catholic Church.  When King Charles tried to push new reforms on the Covenanters, they revolted and defeated the King in the Bishops' War.  Wars continued and the Covenanters became the de facto government of Scotland.  Later, Oliver Cromwell, fighting for the English Parliament, would defeat the Covenanters and by 1652, they were decimated.  In 1679, another rebellion was formed, but it was knocked down once again and 1200 Covenanters were taken prisoner and put into the Covenanters' Prison at Greyfriar's Kirkyard.  Conditions were awful and many were executed.  By the end of their imprisonment, only 400 Covenanters were alive and they were sold into slavery, most of them dying when the ship transporting them wrecked. 

Covenanters' Prison
The Martyr's Monument was erected in the kirkyard for those Covenanters who died there.

Martyr's Monument
Sir George Mackenzie, who was a Scottish lawyer, became the Lord Advocate implementing the reforms of King Charles II in Scotland and he was the one who not only imprisoned the Covenanters, but had most most of them executed earning him the title of "Bloody Mackenzie."  Prior to this, Mackenzie had been involved in witch trials.  Mackenzie died in 1691 and is buried, ironically, in Greyfriar's Kirkyard in a large mausoleum.
Bloody Mackenzie's Mausoleum

Reports of Mackenzie's ghost haunting Greyfriar's Kirkyard began in the 20th century after a homeless man decided to seek shelter in Mackenzie's Mausoleum during a rain storm.  He had noticed that he could get through an opening in the back of the structure.  After he entered, he began to rummage through the coffins like a grave robber and he fell through the flooring that had rotted away, into a pit full of bones.  This pit was where plague victims were buried.  As is the case in so many cities in earlier centuries, it was impossible to do individual burials during times of plague and so mass burials were conducted.  The homeless man ran screaming from the building and now the poltergeist of Mackenzie has been taking out his rage about this desecration on visitors.  The ghost injures people to the point of cuts, bruises and even broken bones.  Most of these attacks happen in the Covenanter's Prison area, so apparently Bloody Mackenzie has returned to his roots.  There is a mausoleum inside the prison called the Black Mausoleum and this is where much of the activity occurs.  And if the hundreds of personal reports do not convince people the place is haunted, perhaps the true story of how the Exorcist Colin Grant died shortly after trying to cleanse the entire kirkyard, and particularly the Black Mausoleum, might convince them.

Greyfriar's Bobby is another famous resident at the kirkyard.  The story is told of a night watchman named John Gray who took on a Skye Terrier as his partner and named him Bobby.  Gray eventually contracted Tuberculosis and succumbed to the disease in 1858.  He was buried at Greyfriar's Kirkyard and Bobby took up vigil at his master's grave.  He refused to leave, even in bad weather and so the townspeople took care of the dog, bringing him food and water and Bobby would sometimes leave to have a meal at a nearby shop.  Bobby kept vigil for fourteen years and then he was buried in the kirkyard and a monument was erected in his honor.  The accuracy of this story has been questioned for years and some have surmised that Bobby was just a stray dog that had taken up residence in the graveyard.  At the time, many strays would live in graveyards.  Whatever is the case, a beautiful monument was built or the dog.

Here is the tomb of John Bayne of Pitcairlie:

Tomb of George Foulis of Ravilstoun:

There are so many interesting and wonderful monuments at this cemetery that I cannot wait to visit it in person one day!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Old Roswell Cemetery in Roswell, Georgia


Roswell's First Methodist Church was built on this plot in 1836.  The church was an original log cabin style structure with stone steps and the earliest pastor of the church requested that he and his wife be buried as close to the spot where the original pulpit stood and that their graves be marked by two of the stones from the steps.  The cemetery was probably founded at the same time as the church but the earliest burial that can still be deciphered was in 1846 and was that of a four month old girl.  The cemetery has 1,950 known burials and many of them are of children.

This cemetery is haphazard in many ways, but also unique in that many family burial plots are surrounded by walls of bricks, concrete or granite and a couple have the wrought iron fences as well.  Burials range all different decades with some oldest burials being right next to more recent ones.  The most recent we found was in 2008.  There was this really unique broken headstone that appeared to have been painted and it was remarkable how bright the color still was, although we had no idea of the dates because no name or dates could be found on the stone.

There are military burials here as well, particularly those that are honoring those that served in the Confederate Military and there are some graves that are empty, but marked because the burials occurred at sea.

The troubling part of this cemetery is not only how many markers have deteriorated beyond recognition, but those that have been vandalized.  Many have been knocked over and broken and since many plots have no family left to care for them, the stones lay where they are pushed.  The City of Roswell does maintain the main areas of the cemetery, but individuals plots are the responsibility of family.

All in all, this was a wonderful cemetery, full of history and beautiful old live oak trees housing squirrels and various birds from the mockingbirds to the blue jays we saw.  Here are some of the other unique headstones we saw in this great cemetery:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Poland's Vampire Burials

Tales of the customs followed to prevent the occurrence of vampires have been told for centuries.  Evidence of these rituals and customs have been discovered in cemeteries across the world.  The latest find is in Poland, which is nearly a year after a much larger find of buried vampires in another region of Poland.  The latest find features a skeleton with a rock in place of its teeth and a stake hammered through a leg bone to keep the corpse from rising.  The earlier find featured four vampires, all of whom had been decapitated - a sure fire way to prevent corpse re-animation.

The act of placing a rock in the mouth of a suspected vampire dates back to the 16th century, with vampire folklore dating back until nearly the beginning of human history.  Rocks were thought to keep the corpses from chewing through their burial shrouds and obviously, it is impossible to bite someone and suck their blood if there is a large rock in the mouth.  The picture you see to the left is the skull of a female skeleton found in Venice.  The plague was raging at the time of burial and archaeologists suspect that mass graves were dug and when they were reopened for more bodies, the people of the time - ignorant of decomposition - suspected that some corpses were vampires.

The latest vampire burial was found in a West Pomeranian town of Kamien Pomorsk in Poland.  The skull of the skeleton had a rock placed in its mouth as well.  The top row of teeth is missing as well indicating they may have been removed before placement of the rock.  An interesting tidbit to the story is that the mainstream media is reporting that the placement of rocks in the mouth is a regional occurrence.  Apparently, Polish people believed that their vampires were self-eating zombies of some sort, hence the rock prevented that as well as the eating through burial clothes.  But as I detailed above, this is found in Italy as well.  I imagine this practice is central to vampiric folklore.

Over 100 of these types of burials have been discovered in eastern Europe.  Another well known one was in Bulgaria.  The corpse, believed to be 700 years old, had an iron stake through the chest cavity of the skeleton.  The use of iron stakes or rods dates back to the 14th century.  The last recorded burial of this type is believed to have taken place in 1913.

Did such actions prevent vampire attacks?  Apparently since the lore has lived on, I would guess the rituals either did not work and or many vampires were not discovered.  There have been no reports of sparkly dust in any of the burial locations.  Edward must live on.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Graveyard At The Dozier School For Boys

A former reform school is under scrutiny this week after excavations in a graveyard near the school yielded the bones of 55 young males.  Stories from the archives at the school would make for a grisly horror genre movie.  Boys were beaten, raped, killed, burned up in the incinerator and witnesses saw body parts  in the hog slop.  The Florida Department of Agriculture ran the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the boys were used as slave labor in the city of Marianna.  Threats kept anyone from telling the truth about the school.

As we know, bones never lie and the story they tell is that official reports were untruthful about how many boys were buried near the school.  The graveyard was found across the street from the school and the University of South Florida was given authority to excavate the site and send bones and teeth to Texas for DNA testing to try to identify those dumped in unmarked graves.  Parents were not notified when boys died and so many families were left believing their child had just disappeared.  USF Forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle has lead the team and said, “We’re bringing a last measure of human dignity for these boys.”
A former resident at Dozier, Robert Straley, thinks there could be another 100 bodies in the graveyard that was dubbed “Boot Hill.”  Straley went on to say, “From 1900 to 1940 were the most brutal years in that place. Back then, a white boy’s life wasn’t worth much and a black boy’s life wasn’t worth anything.”
Another former resident, Roger Dean Kiser,  wrote a book on his experience at Dozier, “The White House Boys,” and he claimed when he heard about the excavations, “They’re going to find a lot of bodies out there, and there are a lot more bodies they’ll never find.”  Kiser wrote in his book that he was beaten twice with a leather whip reinforced by sheet metal.  He reported that other boys were sodomized and beaten until their underwear became one with their skin.  This is the White House:

The excavations started in September 2013.  Ground probing technology identified 50 possible burials that were unmarked save for thirty-one white crosses erected in memory of the boys in the 1990s.  No criminal charges will be pressed and I imagine that most of the guilty are dead anyway.  And many of the dead may never be found.