Gettysburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

On the way home from DC, we stopped today at Gettysburg. Despite my love of American history and knowledge of the battles and details, I was not prepared for the sheer vastness of Gettysburg. Endless fields, and endless room for the imagination.

The National Cemetery at Gettysburg was created in efforts to bury the dead from the Battle of Gettysburg. A quick look at Wikipedia lists the casualties as such:
Union: 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured/missing)
Confederate: 22,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured/missing)
These numbers are unbelievable… the battle lasted 3 days from July 1-3, 1863, and was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. There was an immediate need to bury the dead, and the land for Gettysburg Cemetery was purchased. Several months later, Lincoln came to the cemetery’s dedication and delivered his famous Gettysburg address there.

The Soldiers National Monument stands in the center, with semi-circles of graves flush to the ground around it, divided by states. The number of burials (details here) per state were:
* Maine ~ 104
* New Hampshire ~ 49
* Vermont ~ 61
* Massachusetts ~ 159
* Rhode Island ~ 12
* Connecticut ~ 22
* New York ~ 866
* New Jersey ~ 78
* Pennsylvania ~ 526
* Delaware ~ 15
* Maryland ~ 22
* West Virginia ~ 11
* Ohio ~ 131
* Indiana ~ 80
* Illinois ~ 6
* Michigan ~ 171
* Wisconsin ~ 73
* Minnesota ~ 52
* US Regulars ~ 138
* Unknown, Lot North ~ 411
* Unknown, Lot South ~ 425
* Unknown, Lot Inner Circle ~ 143
As you can see, most of the burials presently in the cemetery are of Union soldiers. The majority of Confederate soldiers were removed to cemeteries closer to home. While the soldiers monument which dominates the scene was intended to reflect the Union, what is interesting about Gettysburg is that it does not, in text or visually, talk of victory. History has marked the battle as a human tragedy, and the losses from both sides of the battle are overwhelmingly evident throughout the national park.

Beautiful and haunting poetry on large signs surround the stones along the walkway. As we walked through the cemetery, it was very overcast and began to rain, a fitting tribute to the somber nature of the cemetery and the nearby preserved battlefields.

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Of all the things to do in Washington DC, one of the places I was excited to visit was Arlington National Cemetery. Although it was incredibly hot, the trip was extremely worthwhile.

There is a great deal of parking, and pedestrian traffic is led through the Visitor’s Center at the beginning of the cemetery, which has a little gift shop, an information center, and an exhibit that features large photographs of significant moments in the cemetery’s history, along with explanatory text. The photos themselves are very overwhelming, but they barely come close to capturing the actual experience of stepping outside the doors and walking through the cemetery itself.

Arlington is the second largest national cemetery (the largest is on Long Island). Looking over a map of the cemetery, and considering the heat and the length of the kids’ patience, we decided to go to the more famed spots: the Kennedy gravestones, and both sites of the Unknown Soldiers tombs.

JFK’s site is moving, with an eternal flame that overlooks the Washington Monument across the Potomac River. The Civil War Unknown Soldiers vault contains 2,111 soldiers found across battlefields. During the Civil War, Arlington was the home to Robert Lee, and the mansion remains there to this day. He had vacated the property during the war, however, and it was used as a military base. Montgomery Meigs ordered that the unknown bodies be buried in Lee’s yard, essentially preventing the Lee family returning to their home again.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers was interesting to see, because we arrived right as they had a changing of the guards. One soldier from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam are buried within.

The cemetery has a combination of regular gravestones as well as the uniform white military gravestones. Seeing the precise rows of white stones in such large numbers is very moving to behold. Photographs do not do them justice. A sense of quiet patriotism permeates the cemetery.

National World War II Memorial, Washington D.C.

This week we are in Washington DC on vacation!

While this technically doesn’t count as a cemetery, this memorial along the Mall was of interest to me because a few years ago I met Nick Benson, stone carver from the John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI.

The John Stevens Shop has been in operation since 1705, and numerous articles and gravestone afficiandos have detailed stones in Newport – and much farther! – made from the shop. Today the shop is under the direction of Nick Benson, and the shop still handcarves lettering on stones.

During a course at Brown University, AC125 Gravestones and Burying Grounds, Nick Benson was a guest lecturer where he discussed the shop, as well as his recent undertaking – working in Washington DC where he carved on the National World War II Memorial. An interview with Nick Benson discusses the experience, and the John Stevens Shop website features excellent photographs of the process.

While I had never thought much about the physical carving of gravestones or monuments, after meeting with Nick I keep my eyes open for his – and the Shop’s – signature style. It is remarkable to consider how the stonecarving tradition has been passed on throughout generations, across years and apprenticeships. The carving is beautiful, and all the more interesting when one considers the labor involved.

The WWII Monument is well-placed along the Mall, between the Washington and Lincoln Memorials. It is spacious and well-designed, and tourists (myself included!) enjoy taking photographs along each of the sections dedicated to individual states.

From Nick Benson’s visit to AC125:

Green River Cemetery, Greenfield, MA

This article comes via the sharp eyes of Margo, who is keeping watch of all New England cemeteries while I am on vacation in Washington DC!!

Erosion is endangering some 50 graves along the Green River, most of which are from the 1800s. The trouble is now to figure out just how exactly to undertake such a large project both safely and sensitively.

Of note, a 40-foot obelisk belonging to William Washburn and his family has fallen to the ground. Washburn was Massachusetts’ Republican governor from 1872 to 1874.

Let’s hope it all goes safely!

St. Mary’s Cemetery, Middleboro, MA

On the way home from the YMCA Jubee and I stopped by St. Mary’s Cemetery in Middleboro. The cemetery is owned by Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Middleboro. There’s a tidy history of the church and cemetery here.

The cemetery is fairly large and is filled with modern stones, there is a great deal of large granite squares with surnames on the front and smaller individual names and dates etched on the back or on smaller flush stones nearby.

The middle of the cemetery is dominated by a large statue of Jesus:

As a Catholic cemetery, religious symbology is found throughout:

Here are a few interesting stones, one an older simple cross, the other an altar with a broken mirror:

A well-known phrase, but peculiar as an epitaph :
“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

To the very modern laser-etched stones, which allow for great detail:

“Forgotten” Cemeteries

Recently I was a bit disturbed to hear on the radio that a body had been discovered by someone on their lunch break, close to where I work. The radio proclaimed that a murder investigation was underway – but it became quickly apparent that there was no need. The body was just one of many that were once part of a pauper cemetery in Cranston that had been forgotten, and largely paved over by Route 37. The full article is here.

They uncovered several remains, but estimate that hundreds – perhaps more than a thousand – are buried in the area.

Then a mere two weeks later, another “forgotten cemetery” was making news in the area. Although this time people were hired to seek it out. In Roxbury, the Boston archdiocese hired archaeologists to determine if an old cemetery was truly on its land. Hundreds of bodies were found, and some are in the process of being interred at Calvary Cemetery. More details are located here.

The stories, of course, piqued my interest, but are also saddening. As far as cemetery explorations go, my favorite trips are to small cemeteries, mostly family plots or smallpox cemeteries of which New England boasts so many. They are often set back deep in the woods, and there is a certain satisfaction in the adventure of literally finding the cemetery, followed by the academic satisfaction of recording the stones and bringing that information back to general knowledge, causing them to be “rediscovered” – no longer forgotten. These small plots are easily lost over time on public maps, especially if they are not positioned in prominent locations.

But as for the Cranston, RI and Roxbury, MA cemeteries, it seems to be a wonder that they could be “forgotten”. The Roxbury cemetery, according to the research, was off public maps by 1890, and the Cranston one by some point after the 1920s. Each with hundreds of bodies! Granted, in each case there were no visible markers – the Roxbury cemetery was an unmarked church cemetery, and the Cranston cemetery was for paupers. Still, considering the sheer size of each of the cemeteries, it is incredible how quickly they can disappear from the public’s awareness.