Meandering through cemeteries

Meandering through cemeteries, seeking specific graves, reflecting on the names and dates on tombstones…Maybe there is something wrong with me. Or maybe not.

Cemeteries are rarely completely devoid of the living. People stroll through them—solo, in groups, or walking furry friends. Bicyclists zip by. Couples sit engaged in conversation.

But I am the only one, it seems, who wanders among the graves with paper in hand looking for specific people from bygone eras.

My latest cemetery adventure was Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana. I was armed with a list of famous people buried in there.

  • Paris Dunning, 1806-1884 (Indiana Representative, Senate, lieutenant governor)
  • Pauleys and Paughs, 1830s (whetstone markers)
  • Andrew Ferguson, 1765-1856 (African-American veteran of the Revolutionary War)
  • David Maxim, 1786-1854 (physician, framed Indiana constitution, lobbied for Indiana University’s founding)
  • Andrew Wylie, 1789-1850 (first president of Indiana University, professor)
  • John Crafton, 1853-1912 (limestone businessman, involved in building Monon Rail Line, died aboard the Titanic)
  • Civil War and WWI Monuments
  • Showers family (of Showers Brother Company, a major furniture manufacturer)
  • Margaret Hemphill McCalla, 1836-1912 (teacher, first female school superintendent in Indiana)
  • Rose Hill Mausoleum
  • Eithel “Lefty” Galloway, 1919-1938 (baseball and basketball player)
  • George (Anner) Shively, 1893-1962 (African-American baseball star)
  • Alfred C. Kinsey, 1894-1956 (professor, researcher of human sexuality)
  • Hoagland (Hoagy) Carmichael, 1899-1981 (musician)

I started in the Old Spencer Addition with the oldest of the tombstones dating from the early 1800s (with births in the 1700s). Some tombstones listed the old country as the place of birth. My mouth dropped at the tombstone for a veteran of the War of 1812 and then it dropped further as I saw the tombstone to its left—for a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

As I found person after person on my list, I noticed scores of other famous names around me, family names that were important to the town and the resident university: Teeter, Reed, Curry, Biddle.

Many of the tombstones sport interesting iconography: a hand pointed up, books, ferns, vines. More modern tombstones lack this symbolism and instead have images etched in them, such as the characters from the Wizard of Oz or what was clearly a couple’s house.

Then there are oddities such as the cryptic monument to Arizona Tribe #52 with a carving of a Native American profile. Tombstone for native Americans in Indiana? Nope. The only reference I could find to Arizona Tribe #52 appears in the October 2007 issue of the Monroe County Historian. Arizona Tribe #52 was the local entity of the Order of Red Men, a fraternal society (of exclusively white men until 1974) claiming pre-Revolutionary War heritage. The Arizona Tribe #52, which once boasted a thousand members, was disbanded in 1996.

My favorite is hard to say. Perhaps the Dunnings. Instead of a combined tombstone, this 19th century couple (Paris and Sarah) each have their own large marker. They rest together, close to the house where they lived—a beautifully maintained purple house with lilac trim—yet inside the walls of the cemetery.

Then there is the tombstone of Hoagy Carmichael covered with pennies. I was reminded of John Whitcomb Riley’s tombstone overlooking the city of Indianapolis from Crown Hill Cemetery, which is similarly covered with coins.

The tombstone of George Shively, a baseball player who arguably rivaled Babe Ruth, caught my eye. Shively’s grave was long forgotten and marker-less until two members of the community (Sally Gaskill and Bob Hammel) came together to erect a tombstone for him (as well as others). The tombstone lists teams he played for and awards he earned.

Who’s in the cemeteries around you? What stories can their lives whisper to you?

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