Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Secrets Graveyards Keep

This post is about cemeteries!


In which I promise to share my secrets about the following:
1. Why I go there often.
2. The most dangerous, deadly things I've seen there.
3. The creepiest thing I've ever seen there.
4. The most shocking thing I've run into there...on three occasions!


Fairmount Cemetery 
This is the Ivy Chapel at Fairmount Cemetery, 
it was modeled after Notre Dame!

For the last 9 months or so, I've been visiting graveyards on a regular basis.
Like, one to three times a week.
Am I obsessed with death? Fascinated by the morbid?
Hosting seances?
No. None of the above. 

The truth is simply this:
Having myself done genealogy research on and off for several years using various software, I've discovered Find A Grave as a helpful resource for doing family history research.
It's actually a common website. In fact, just a recently while waiting for Violet's ballet class to finish up, I passed a dance dad in the lobby on his computer browsing, yep, Find A Grave. 

In short, I've been taking volunteer photos for Find A Grave for the last several months.
I do it because I enjoy it, and I'll show you why in this post.

I just recently uploaded my 100th volunteer photo.
So I guess I'm no longer a beginner?

Yes, that means I've taken 100+ volunteer photos of graves for people who don't live in Denver and cannot visit the cemeteries themselves. 

Fairmount Cemetery 

While I've been to a few different Denver area cemeteries, Fairmount is the closest to home {just minutes away} and also by far my favorite cemetery to go to. Hunting for graves is a fun, challenging experience, and also surprisingly rewarding. I love hearing from people how my photos have helped fill in holes in their genealogy research.

Fairmount, one of Denver's oldest surviving cemeteries, has over 124,000 interments (burials) and currently 67% of those are photographed. Photo requests come in on a daily basis. The cemetery office has nothing to do with fulfilling them, it's 100% Find A Grave volunteers.

Sometimes I'll locate a grave only to find their spouse was interred with them, so I can let the person who requested the photo know I found another one of their kin. Sometimes names are hidden on family stones, sometimes graves have vague markers, and other times graves have no markers at all.

This is one of the things I've learned about old graveyards: 
Most of the unmarked spaces you see are actually occupied graves of those whose loved ones were not able to afford a marker. You'd be shocked at how many unmarked graves there are. Sometimes, when you photograph an unmarked grave and let the requester know it was unmarked, the photo requester will end up ordering a grave marker to be placed there. 

Aside from the volunteering, I just love going to Fairmount. It's beautiful. 

Fairmount Cemetery 

I've made a friend through Fairmount's Find A Grave page who has uploaded thousands of volunteer photos. She is an expert at getting me descriptive locations, sending me maps of Fairmount with X's where the graves should be, and directions on how many spaces or lots to count from the roads to locate them. So then with my map in hand {or on my smartphone, really} I go hunting for my photo. Sometimes I find the grave right away, before I get out of the car even. Other times I've had to leave and come back again to look harder. I still photograph unmarked graves, and use text to place the person's name over their space so the requester knows that's the spot. {Example.} I've searched in snow, have found graves under snow and piles of wet leaves and goose poop. I've come across many surprising things, and I've learned a lot about graveyards.

If you like, you can see my Find A Grave profile here.
It's lovely to receive such nice messages, and I've had other volunteers fulfill MY requests. It has meant so much to me.



Despite it being volunteer work, what keeps me going back to Fairmount to take volunteer photos is actually somewhat selfish:

First, I love my time away. I've been watching five kids lately, but even just my regular three kids is a busy job in itself. Going to the graveyard by myself when Justin gets off work has become a strange sort of "me time." I can escape to this peaceful place, minutes away from home, and spend time collecting my thoughts while not spending any money. There's not many places you can go these days without spending money. 

In my life of late, graveyards are the new Starbucks. They're the new thrift stores.
Okay...maybe my Starbucks habit has decreased only slightly.

You know what else keeps me going there? Cemeteries are full of art. 

Fairmount Cemetery 

Each monument is unique, and many are quite elaborate and beautiful.
It's like walking through a stone carver's art museum.
Graves can tell you so much about a person. 
This family...well, they had money. Obviously

Fairmount Cemetery 

This family monument is one of the most unique I've seen. 
I think it's supposed to be a bird bath? Maybe?
I see 9 names engraved there.

Fairmount Cemetery 

My kids, who go with me sometimes, are scared of this one. 
They don't understand that busts are not real human heads. 

Fairmount Cemetery 

The "Stag Stone" is one of my personal favorites. 

Fairmount Cemetery 

On Fairmount's website, they list tours of famous Coloradan's graves.
{Searching Find A Grave for famous graves is also fascinating!}
They also have a long list of things they invite you to do on their grounds.
Walk your dog.
Have a picnic.
Run a 10k.
Attend a history event.
Tour Denver's mayor's graves.
The list goes on. 

There are a handful of headstones that true Denverites will recognize:

Fairmount Cemetery 

I still remember my first visit to {the original} Elitch's!

There's also Cheesman Park in Denver, which was also--believe it or not!--originally a graveyard too.
{There is still an unknown number of interments there, after a shady business deal went wrong.}  

Fairmount Cemetery

If you donate blood in Denver, you'll give it to Bonfils {BON-fees}. 
This is their family mausoleum, on its own private block.

Fairmount Cemetery

Every Denver native knows about the Emily Griffith Opportunity School.
Here is Emily's grave. She and her sister were murdered together. 

Fairmount Cemetery 

Hey, Frederick Pitkin! There's a county named after you!
And no governor's headstone would be complete without the Freemason's all seeing eye at the top!
{Dun, dun, duuun!}

Fairmount Cemetery 

This monument below is a memorial for female war veterans.

Fairmount Cemetery

You also start to notice some cultural stuff when visiting graveyards.

Fairmount Cemetery

9 times out of 10, grave portraits belong to families with Italian sounding surnames. 

Fairmount Cemetery

Jewish folks have a tradition where they leave stones on the graves when they visit.
There is a whole separate Jewish graveyard inside Fairmount, called Emmanuel. Most of the headstones are covered in pebbles and rocks. 

Fairmount Cemetery 

Asian graves, I've noticed, are most likely to be cared for for LONG periods. 
So what if he was only your great-great-great-great grandfather?
You'll still trim his bonsai. 

Fairmount Cemetery

I was surprised when I came across a Native American grave.
Sun Bow Wooton!
What a name. 
She was the child of an American pioneer and a Native American, born 1837.

Fairmount Cemetery

The nature to be found at Fairmount is yet another attractant. 

Fairmount Cemetery

Not only can you study unique trees and plants.

I recently saw my second-ever bald eagle at Fairmount.
Magpies have swooped down to my feet to chat at me. 

You can also spot a whole herd of these:

Fairmount Cemetery

I spot the herd of deer about, oh, 60% of visits. 
I love them. They are fairly tame, too. You can get much closer than you would be able to elsewhere. 

Fairmount Cemetery

But these guys will eat the flowers off your graves, just saying.
No hunters and delicious fresh flowers to eat 24/7? These deer hit the jackpot in life.
And don't they know it?

Fairmount Cemetery 

I see TONS of dog walkers out at Fairmount. 
Dogs--along with joggers, walkers, and cyclists--are common visitors. But if you're going to be hunting for graves...maybe don't with the dogs?
I tried it once. Not a good idea. 
Because headstones are tempting like fire hydrants. 
Apparently.

Fairmount Cemetery

It was as if he were in fire hydrant heaven, Oliver tried to mark every grave he could reach.
Never taking him there again.
{I WAS horrified that he did this. But on the other hand...you should see all the bird poop that accumulates on gravestones already.}


Fairmount CemeteryFairmount Cemetery

But I do take my family sometimes!
Fairmount is a really swell place for family bike rides.
There's very little traffic, and the traffic that is there tends to drive at very low speeds.

Fairmount Cemetery

To be honest, there are other reasons I've dragged my family to Fairmount.
Like that time I located a grave...dead center in the biggest juniper bush ever.

Fairmount Cemetery

I dragged Justin back with me to climb in there and photograph the stone inside the bush.
{He's my hero.}
So this was the best in-bush photo I could upload for that photo request:

Fairmount Cemetery

Another reason you might have trouble locating a grave?
Some people have their nicknames engraved, not their real names, as was the case with "Doots."
He was really Felix.

Fairmount Cemetery

Or sometimes the office will promise you a grave is marked, but you realize it was especially hard to locate because it's a tiny marker the size of a coaster that was covered in grass:

Fairmount Cemetery

Or other times...it's just marked in the most vague manner possible: "P"

Fairmount Cemetery

Little Myrtle's stone has crumbled. Look, I'm human. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been tempted to snatch that crumbled bit that says "LOVED" in the center. What a conversation piece that'd be!

Fairmount Cemetery

But, see, that's just the thing. I don't want to have to explain that in conversation.
"Oh, this unique, weathered stone? Yes! I took it from a real baby's grave! Isn't it pretty?"
I admire it when I see it, but I'll leave it.

But graves can and do break down sometimes.

Fairmount Cemetery

And I don't relate to those who avoid graveyards due to fear, but I certainly do relate to those who avoid them because it can be painful to see the graves of little ones.

Fairmount Cemetery

As a Christian, I have come to enjoy visiting the cemetery for its reminder to me that this life is short.
One of my favorite stones is a beautiful white one from the 1800s, for a woman named Katie who was 37 when she died. That's not very old! And really, her life was not too long ago.

It's a sobering reminder that this life isn't the one to store my treasures up in.
A lot of the graves have reminders of Scripture and hope.
Another favorite simply says a man's name, followed by:
AMONG THE REDEEMED

I love that.

Butt...
Fairmount Cemetery

There is sometimes some humor to be found at graveyards as well.
Am I bad? I'm bad!
Ms. Butt had a name that sounds like a teasing nickname.
Not surprisingly, my kids love this stone.

Next to Ms. Butt is Ms. Mammie, who be Wagy!

Fairmount Cemetery

I've decided that cemeteries are the perfect place for authors to go hunt for original names for characters in novels. It's what I'd do if I were a fiction author.

As if this cemetery isn't huge enough, there's the mausoleum in the back.
There are tons of personal family mausoleums, especially in the older sections, but this mausoleum is huge.
It could easily be the city and county building...and then some. This photo doesn't show how far it goes back.

Fairmount Cemetery

A very stately building, no?
Should we peek inside?

Fairmount Cemetery

Yes, I've searched for interments here too.
The walls and hallways are all made of graves.

Fairmount Cemetery

Caskets in the walls. All those hallways!
Interments from floor to ceiling.

Fairmount Cemetery

Each dead end hallway features an ornate stained glass window.

Fairmount Cemetery

It has the same quiet, reverent atmosphere inside as a church or cathedral.
Except it's usually completely empty, except for the person who works the flower shop on the lower floor. I've heard that person, but never seen them.

Fairmount Cemetery

Needless to say, I usually don't enter the giant mausoleum alone.
I'm not scared of ghosts. Don't believe in them. But I did see The Shining once or twice.

Fairmount Cemetery

Back outside...

Fairmount Cemetery


Fairmount Cemetery

Despite so many graves from the 1800s, this is still an active cemetery.

Fairmount Cemetery

This day, I captured the aftermath of a child's graveside service.

Fairmount Cemetery
Sad.


Now I want to talk about the dark and dangerous side of cemeteries.
Not the creepy stuff we might imagine, I want to talk about the real threats to your life that lurk here.

Take a look at this block, see all the flat grave markers placed in the ground?
This is the hardest type of grave to locate!
But they're also the only truly safe type.

Fairmount Cemetery

Graveyards are excellent examples of the fact that earth is a living, moving thing.
Grave markers can move. A lot.

Fairmount Cemetery

Sometimes the earth in front of a grave marker is sunken in deep. I don't like walking over these spots, they give me the creeps like sinkholes. Justin has explained that they likely occur when wooden caskets break down and collapse beneath the surface.

Then there's tree roots and other types of movement that causes graves to become unstable, or even a part of the tree:

Fairmount Cemetery

Then there's the graves that just lose their balance, and tip over.

Fairmount Cemetery

Friends, this can be deadly! Tipping graves are a real threat! You can easily Google stories of multiple incidents in recent months that involve unstable graves killing children and adults.

Gravestones such as this one don't have any sort of attachment to the bottom portion! They only rest on top of the bottom stone. So when the ground settles and moves, they tip. Honestly, like this grave, it seems to defy gravity that it hasn't tipped yet! And cemeteries are covered in tippy graves!

Fairmount Cemetery

This obelisk is, frankly, terrifying. I wouldn't walk on the left side of it.

Fairmount Cemetery

But really, Heather? Come on!
Are grave yards really as potentially as dangerous as you say?
How many fallen graves can there really be?


YOU
Fairmount Cemetery

HAVE
Fairmount Cemetery

NO
Fairmount Cemetery

IDEA
how common they are.

And if you think Justin and I together could lift any of the above fallen stones off a kid...think again.
They are HEAVY.
Fairmount Cemetery

And this tragic article alone lists more than a couple people killed by falling graves in recent years.
You can Google tons of similar stories.
For this reason, I am especially wary of letting my children in graveyard blocks with upright stones.
Not only have I taught my older girls to walk far around gravestones and to never touch tipping ones, I just really don't let them walk in those blocks in the first place.
All it takes is for a kid to try and pull themselves up on the side of that leaning headstone.
Remember, they're not attached or fixed to anything!
It's not like IKEA either, where you can blame them for not making it safe.
Some of these stones are a hundred years old, and owned by the person's family ever since.
There's very little upkeep to make older graves safe.

So remember, use great caution in graveyards! It's not ghosts you need to be afraid of here!
And when you die, maybe opt for a short stone that can't tip, but at worst just sinks into the ground?
Fairmount Cemetery

So that about sums it up with the experience and knowledge I've gained from my graveyard visits over the past many months. My weirdest hobby yet. And I've had a lot of hobbies.

Oh but I promised you something truly creepy, didn't I?

So out of all of my visits to graveyards this past year, this was the only really chilling thing I ever saw. I was just driving along one of the dirt roads toward a block I needed to find a grave in, when I came upon some deep tire tracks, and a pair of muddy shoes discarded on the side of the road:
Fairmount Cemetery
I really can't make sense out of why anyone would discard shoes from their car like this. There are trash cans on nearly every corner at cemeteries {for dead flowers}. Then, a few lengths down the road I saw another odd thing. More deep tire tracks with a dirty washcloth in it. It was a dark, dreary day, too, so the sight was overall just very sinister looking.
Fairmount Cemetery

I'm not sure what happened there. I hope it was no foul play. The sight was just bizarre.

Then there's the shocking thing I promised, isn't there?
{Now I'm blushing.}
It just so happens that on three separate occasions at Fairmount, I have stumbled upon...well...ahem...
well, the French would call it liaison amoureuse. 

Apparently cemeteries are the popular place for hook ups?
Who knew?
Okay, so one instance out of the three I'm not entirely certain. It's just, two cars parked together. Only one was rocking back and forth. Another of the instances they were just "rolling like lovers" Elton John style right on top of graves. That's not on Fairmount's list of things to do there. {I'm pretty sure.}

I just quietly walk away when I see it.

But oh my!
Still blushing.

Fairmount Cemetery
So if you're in Denver and aren't totally creeped out by cemeteries, go give Fairmount a tour.
Remember to watch out for falling rocks!
Keep an eye out for the deer, often found among the older headstones.
And you never know, you might even run into me there.

Fairmount Cemetery

Or maybe even some birds and bees?
ಠ_ಠ

Cheers,
Heather - Grave Hunter
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