Reposted: The Meaning of Life….a Ghost Story

(It’s that time of year again…)

I assume that almost everyone has one or two memorable cemetery experiences. When we are little we get taken to cemeteries at times of sadness or solemnity and, while it looks like a park it obviously isn’t a fun place. It’s sort of a morbid thought but there is a headstone with my name on it awaiting my arrival in the family cemetery. In a way it is also a little comforting. I recall going to a cemetery as a young child for the burial of one of my dad’s uncles – somebody I never knew existed until we got that late night phone call from Sainte Genevieve. My dad would get these calls from time to time. It would be a short and hushed conversation on the telephone and then he would hang up and announce that Sainte Genevieve called and Uncle so-and-so had died. We had a direct phone line to Sainte Genevieve (how cool was that?) but we very rarely got a happy phone call. She was usually the bearer of bad news. My brother was older and knew what was going on and probably knew who made the call but it was always “Sainte Genevieve called.”  It took me a while to learn that Sainte Genevieve was a place. We had family there but we called it “Ste. Gen” when we would go there in happier times to visit.

lorimer cem2Cemeteries are places where people create monuments or markers representing how they want to be remembered after they are gone or, more often, how others want them to be remembered. This is an intentional relic of a person’s existence. The ruins at Pompeii or Tikal or Mesa Verde are unintentional relics of someone’s existence. I find them both to be interesting. But what about those folks in unmarked graves? My Irish immigrant ancestors are buried two to a hole in unmarked graves in the same cemetery that holds Tennessee Williams, William Tecumseh Sherman, Dred Scott, Kate Chopin and Father De Smet. My ancestors left behind lots of grieving relatives but none of them had the resources to mark the graves.

I went to college in a very old town with a very old cemetery on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. There were French folks buried there – the ones that settled the place. There were rows of unmarked graves identifiable only as a faint dimple in the grass. I recall one section of about forty unmarked graves that were known to be the victims of a horrific steamboat wreck. Only their date of death was known.

As college students with time on our hands and looking for something to do we would make our way to the old cemetery and just ponder the meaning of life. We usually did this at night and with a few six-packs. One can come close to discovering the meaning of life at night in a spooky cemetery with a few six-packs surrounded by dead people. We were not disrespectful or up to mischief, we were just under age. We had to be careful where we stepped. The cemetery was riddled with large holes where the earth had subsided or local ground hogs had burrowed into some of the graves. The tree roots would reach out and grab your feet if you weren’t careful.

One of our group was a direct descendant of the old French trader who founded the town. He even carried his surname. The trader’s wife’s grave was the oldest…not counting the Indians. We avoided that part of the cemetery.

lorimer cemOn one of these excursions we came across a woman’s headstone that made us stop in our tracks. The stone was by itself – not in a family group. It gave her name followed by the word “Spinster” and her date of birth: October 31, 1815 (yes, Halloween), and her date of death: December 31, 1899. The poor woman lived 85 years and almost made it to 1900 but instead, somebody decided to label her as “Spinster” and leave her there by herself. That’s how they wanted her to be remembered. She was certainly on our minds when we pondered the meaning of life that night. The next day, probably a Saturday or Sunday, we went back and made a charcoal rubbing of her headstone and another headstone we found of a Revolutionary War soldier. We taped the headstone rubbings up on the dorm room wall…for some reason. Not as a trophy but sort of a cautionary remembrance.

After a while, things started happening…weird things (of course). Unseen visitors were rearranging things…moving things from place to place. One of the guys was awakened during the night when he felt someone sit on his bed…there was no one there. Other things that were hanging on the wall fell to the floor but not the headstone rubbings. Finally somebody saw the figure of a woman come out of the dorm room closet and walk across the room and disappear. This was at night but she was visible with an eerie glow. That was enough. She came down off the wall and the old soldier did too, just to be on the safe side. Was it just the power of suggestion? Once one odd thing happened, did we imagine the other occurrences? When the old woman’s headstone rubbing came down the strange occurrences stopped. This was followed by a self-imposed silence on the entire topic. I don’t recall it being discussed or mutually agreed to…just that none of us felt comfortable talking about it. We stopped going to the cemetery at night after that. We found other ways to explore the meaning of life. When we all went our separate ways after college we left behind a well hidden time capsule that included an account of the cemetery adventure and the subsequent occurrences.

Some years later I happened to meet a younger alumnus of my Alma Mater who happened to live on the same floor of the same dorm building about three or four years after I graduated. Our time capsule had been found — we were not as clever as we thought. I’ve never followed it up but my acquaintance said that there were still a few unexplained events taking place. The power of suggestion is alive and well….or perhaps it’s the “Spinster”.

(Revised and reposted — from the original posted on The Red Room)

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Reposted: The Meaning of Life….a Ghost Story

I assume that almost everyone has one or two memorable cemetery experiences. When we are little we get taken to cemeteries at times of sadness or solemnity and, while it looks like a park it obviously isn’t a fun place. It’s sort of a morbid thought but there is a headstone with my name on it awaiting my arrival in the family cemetery. In a way it is also a little comforting. I recall going to a cemetery as a young child for the burial of one of my dad’s uncles – somebody I never knew existed until we got that late night phone call from Sainte Genevieve. My dad would get these calls from time to time. It would be a short and hushed conversation on the telephone and then he would hang up and announce that Sainte Genevieve called and Uncle so-and-so had died. We had a direct phone line to Sainte Genevieve (how cool was that?) but we very rarely got a happy phone call. She was usually the bearer of bad news. My brother was older and knew what was going on and probably knew who made the call but it was always “Sainte Genevieve called.”  It took me a while to learn that Sainte Genevieve was a place. We had family there but we called it “Ste. Gen” when we would go there in happier times to visit.

lorimer cem2Cemeteries are places where people create monuments or markers representing how they want to be remembered after they are gone or, more often, how others want them to be remembered. This is an intentional relic of a person’s existence. The ruins at Pompeii or Tikal or Mesa Verde are unintentional relics of someone’s existence. I find them both to be interesting. But what about those folks in unmarked graves? My Irish immigrant ancestors are buried two to a hole in unmarked graves in the same cemetery that holds Tennessee Williams, William Tecumseh Sherman, Dred Scott, Kate Chopin and Father De Smet. My ancestors left behind lots of grieving relatives but none of them had the resources to mark the graves.

I went to college in a very old town with a very old cemetery on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. There were French folks buried there – the ones that settled the place. There were rows of unmarked graves identifiable only as a faint dimple in the grass. I recall one section of about forty unmarked graves that were known to be the victims of a horrific steamboat wreck. Only their date of death was known.

As college students with time on our hands and looking for something to do we would make our way to the old cemetery and just ponder the meaning of life. We usually did this at night and with a few six-packs. One can come close to discovering the meaning of life at night in a spooky cemetery with a few six-packs surrounded by dead people. We were not disrespectful or up to mischief, we were just under age. We had to be careful where we stepped. The cemetery was riddled with large holes where the earth had subsided or local ground hogs had burrowed into some of the graves. The tree roots would reach out and grab your feet if you weren’t careful.

One of our group was a direct descendant of the old French trader who founded the town. He even carried his surname. The trader’s wife’s grave was the oldest…not counting the Indians. We avoided that part of the cemetery.

lorimer cemOn one of these excursions we came across a woman’s headstone that made us stop in our tracks. The stone was by itself – not in a family group. It gave her name followed by the word “Spinster” and her date of birth: October 31, 1815 (yes, Halloween), and her date of death: December 31, 1899. The poor woman lived 85 years and almost made it to 1900 but instead, somebody decided to label her as “Spinster” and leave her there by herself. That’s how they wanted her to be remembered. She was certainly on our minds when we pondered the meaning of life that night. The next day, probably a Saturday or Sunday, we went back and made a charcoal rubbing of her headstone and another headstone we found of a Revolutionary War soldier. We taped the headstone rubbings up on the dorm room wall…for some reason. Not as a trophy but sort of a cautionary remembrance.

After a while, things started happening…weird things (of course). Unseen visitors were rearranging things…moving things from place to place. One of the guys was awakened during the night when he felt someone sit on his bed…there was no one there. Other things that were hanging on the wall fell to the floor but not the headstone rubbings. Finally somebody saw the figure of a woman come out of the dorm room closet and walk across the room and disappear. This was at night but she was visible with an eerie glow. That was enough. She came down off the wall and the old soldier did too, just to be on the safe side. Was it just the power of suggestion? Once one odd thing happened, did we imagine the other occurrences? When the old woman’s headstone rubbing came down the strange occurrences stopped. This was followed by a self-imposed silence on the entire topic. I don’t recall it being discussed or mutually agreed to…just that none of us felt comfortable talking about it. We stopped going to the cemetery at night after that. We found other ways to explore the meaning of life. When we all went our separate ways after college we left behind a well hidden time capsule that included an account of the cemetery adventure and the subsequent occurrences.

Some years later I happened to meet a younger alumnus of my Alma Mater who happened to live on the same floor of the same dorm building about three or four years after I graduated. Our time capsule had been found — we were not as clever as we thought. I’ve never followed it up but my acquaintance said that there were still a few unexplained events taking place. The power of suggestion is alive and well….or perhaps it’s the “Spinster”.

(Revised and reposted — from the original posted on The Red Room)

Dia de los Muertos – South Valley Albuquerque

The religious observance called All Souls’ Day falls on November 2 and is also known officially in the Catholic church as The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. When and where this Christian feast day was first observed is open to debate but it seems that it dates back about 1,000 years in one form or another. The official church name, The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, is celebrated as Day of the Dead in many countries. Some places observe the day with quiet and reserved visits to the cemetery to decorate family graves. Some other countries, notably Mexico and some Hispanic areas of the US, celebrate in a more expressive way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe heavily Hispanic South Valley neighborhoods of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County hold a community-wide observance highlighted by the “Muertos and Marigold Parade” but the celebration includes people from all over Albuquerque, whether Hispanic, Indian or Anglo. This is a mixture of reverent remembrance, community solidarity and raucous celebration of life. To a non-religious person this might look simply as a continuation of Halloween but it has the deeper religious meaning and is partially rooted in old Aztec memorial celebrations. The skull and skeleton disguises are more modern and date to the early 20th century and illustrations of Jose Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican political and social cartoonist.

My daughter recently moved to Albuquerque and works in the South Valley and has been recently immersed in some of the local culture much to her joy and admiration. The community seems to exude a feeling of belonging and family in a broad sense that is generally missing in most US communities.  I live about fifteen miles north close to the little town of Bernalillo (c. 1693) where there are similar feelings of a close-knit community and family roots.

We were looking forward to the Dia De Los Muertos but the weather was unsettled and we had frequent rain showers but the rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the Marigold Parade. Here are a few pictures from the parade. The theme was “¡El agua es la vida! ¡No se Vende! ¡Se defiende!” — there is an unpopular plan to redirect (sell?) some of the local water supply away from South Valley which is heavily agricultural.

FACES IN THE CROWD…about half of the crowd was dressed for the occasion. Some were quite formal while others were more casual.

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THE PARADE — First we expel the unwanted spirits…

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Make room for the departed souls…

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Don’t forget the departed pets….

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Speak your mind…

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Seek justice, social equality, legal rights…but have a good time, too.

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You can never have too many old or modified cars…..

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This is a long parade that travels a relatively short distance…only about eight or ten blocks…and ends at the West Side Community Center. The rain held off until the parade was over but it got pretty wet later. One of the best parades I’ve seen.

Wednesday Roam — Ghost Towns

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI guess ghost towns ain’t what they used to be. Nothing is, actually, but you would think that a ghost town would, you know, be a spooky old abandoned town. I’ve been to a few. South Pass City came close way back in 1975 when I was there but it is not the same now. Before you know it somebody shows up with a bucket of paint and soon they are selling ice cream to the tourists. Next comes the gallery or else somebody runs around and collects abandoned stuff and opens a museum. I visited one old mining town way up in the Colorado Rockies that went too far the other way. There was nothing left but rusted tin roof scraps, a few crude foundations and some broken glass.

New Mexico has a bunch of old mining towns that qualify as ghost towns or at least the modern version with a museum or gift shop. I stopped off at three of them this past weekend. Gold and silver brought miners up into the dry hills and some of these places grew to 3,000 people before the eventual bust and abandonment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinston has a small General store and a few occupied homes. There is one gas pump at the store, which also had a self service food bar and a couple tables. There are a few abandoned buildings and a park with a small playground for local families. A saloon resides in a ramshackle building at the other end of town.

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St. Jude watches from his chicken wire cage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinston was the new town folks moved too when they decided the mining town of  Chloride was too remote. Chloride is really only a couple miles up the road but it must have seemed a lot farther back in the 1880s. Chloride has a museum and a gift shop and a couple refurbished cabins that are rented out to visitors. The place has a resident caretaker who seems to own the town and is full of stories. He refurbished a falling down bank building into a cafe and installed a good commercial kitchen but can’t keep a cook because the place is too far from civilization and there’s too few customers.

 

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All the modern conveniences

monticello schoolMonticello is an old settlement built around a central plaza. The rectangular arrangement of buildings served as a defensive feature since there were occasional Indian attacks. This was apache country and Geronimo roamed the area. Monticello is mostly an adobe town and there are a number of occupied homes. One is being renovated and looks like it will be very nice when finished. Monticello had a relatively large schoolhouse built by the WPA back in the 1930s but it is now in ruins.

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The mines are closed and mostly sealed up to keep people out. This is now mostly an area of farms or ranches and these old ghost towns serve as social or commercial crossroads and have a few full time residents. The area is very pretty — mostly desert and dry mountains and canyons. There has been more rain than usual this year so it seems greener than I expected.

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The Meaning of Life — A Ghost Story

I assume that almost everyone has one or two memorable cemetery experiences. When we are little we get taken to cemeteries at times of sadness or solemnity and, while it looks like a park it obviously isn’t a fun place. It’s a morbid thought but there is a headstone with my name on it awaiting my arrival in the family cemetery.  I recall going to a cemetery as a young child for the burial of one of my dad’s uncles – somebody I never knew existed until we got that late night phone call from Sainte Genevieve. We very rarely got a happy phone call from Sainte Genevieve. She was usually the bearer of bad news. It took me a while to learn that Sainte Genevieve was a place.

lorimer cemCemeteries are places where people create monuments or markers representing how they want to be remembered after they are gone or, more often, how others want them to be remembered. This is an intentional relic of a person’s existence. The ruins at Pompeii or Tikal or Mesa Verde are unintentional relics of someone’s existence. I find them both to be interesting. But what about those folks in unmarked graves? My Irish immigrant ancestors are buried two to a hole in unmarked graves in the same cemetery that holds Tennessee Williams, William Tecumseh Sherman, Dred Scott, Kate Chopin and Father De Smet.  My ancestors left behind lots of grieving relatives but none of them had the resources to mark the graves.

I went to college in a very old town with a very old cemetery on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. There were French folks buried there – the ones that settled the place. There were rows of unmarked graves identifiable only as a faint dimple in the grass. I recall one section of about forty unmarked graves that were known to be the victims of a horrific steamboat wreck. Only their date of death was known.

As college students with time on our hands and looking for something to do we would make our way to the cemetery and just ponder the meaning of life. We usually did this at night and with a few six-packs. One can come close to discovering the meaning of life at night in a spooky cemetery with a few six-packs surrounded by dead people. We were not disrespectful or up to mischief, we were just under age. We had to be careful where we stepped. The cemetery was riddled with large holes where the earth had subsided or local ground hogs had burrowed into some of the graves. The tree roots would reach out and grab your feet if you weren’t careful.

One of our group was a direct descendant of the old French trader who founded the town. His wife’s grave was the oldest…not counting the Indians. We avoided that part of the cemetery.

lorimer cem2On one of these excursions we came across a woman’s headstone that made us stop in our tracks. The stone was by itself – not in a family group. It gave her name followed by the word “Spinster” and her date of birth: October 31, 1815 (yes, Halloween), and her date of death: December 31, 1899. The poor woman lived 85 years and almost made it to 1900 but instead, somebody decided to label her as “Spinster” and leave her there by herself. That’s how they wanted her to be remembered.  She was certainly on our minds when we pondered the meaning of life that night. The next day, probably a Saturday or Sunday, we went back and made a charcoal rubbing of her headstone and another headstone we found of a Revolutionary War soldier. We taped the headstone rubbings up on the dorm room wall…for some reason. Not as a trophy but sort of a cautionary remembrance.

After a while, things started happening…weird things (of course). Unseen visitors were rearranging things…moving things from place to place. One of the guys was awakened during the night when he felt someone sit on his bed…there was no one there. Other things that were hanging on the wall fell to the floor but not the headstone rubbings. Finally somebody saw the figure of a young woman come out of the dorm room closet and walk across the room and disappear. This was at night but she was visible with an eerie glow. That was enough. She came down off the wall and the old soldier did too, just to be on the safe side. Was it just the power of suggestion? Once one odd thing happened, did we imagine the other occurrences? When the old woman’s headstone rubbing came down the strange occurrences stopped. This was followed by a self-imposed silence on the entire topic. I don’t recall it being discussed or mutually agreed to…just that none of us felt comfortable talking about it. We stopped going to the cemetery after that. We found other ways to explore the meaning of life. When we all went our separate ways after college we left behind a well hidden time capsule that included an account of the cemetery adventure and the subsequent occurrences.

Some years later I happened to meet an alumnus of my Alma Mater who happened to live on the same floor of the same dorm building about three or four years after I graduated.  Our time capsule had been found — we were not as clever as we thought.  I’ve never followed it up but my acquaintance said that there were still a few unexplained events taking place. The power of suggestion is alive and well….or perhaps it’s the “Spinster”.

(Revised from the original posted on The Red Room)