Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Silent Storytellers

I had a chance to watch a documentary on PBS this week entitled "Silent Storytellers." Silent Storytellers explores the history, culture, and importance of preserving Arkansas cemeteries. As I watched the program my head was nodding and I was feeling less an odd ball. You see, I enjoy wandering around cemeteries with my camera. There I've said it out loud. I've received comments suggesting that I'm weird, I'm disrespectful, and that being in a cemetery where I "knew" no one seemed intrusive. After watching the documentary I decided to explain my fascination with cemeteries.
Recently I visited the Pleasant Grove Cemetery which was established in 1878. Some of the oldest stones are faded, with names and dates difficult to read; more than a few have toppled, not from vandalism but from decay and from tree roots pushing up over the decades. I was anxious to walk around, but instead of grabbing my camera,  I sat on one of the benches, relaxed, and just did a little thinking. Why do I like to be in a cemetery? What draws my attention? Why do I like to take pictures here? Then, I pulled out my journal  and wrote.
Cemeteries can be sad places. Hearts have been broken, loved ones lost, and tears have been shed. So why am I drawn to them? As I look around me I see many reasons that cause me to keep returning to cemeteries.
(The arched monument symbolizes the pathway to heaven.)
There is peace here...a quiet, reverent peace...a place of contemplation. I rarely see another person in the older cemeteries. I rarely hear more than the sounds of nature...a very persistent woodpecker, a few others birds, a dog barking, and the wind rustling the leaves.
I'm amazed at the beautiful works of art I see...angels, lambs, vases. 
 (Child-like angels and lambs represent the death of a child. The top right monument has the symbols of the Freemasons and The Woodmen of The World. The urn, bottom right,  represents the soul.)
Sometimes the art is handmade. I can see a special cross filled with rocks and pieces of glass. I can see a family plot with a small cement wall around it and every few feet there is a beautiful crystal rock embedded in the cement.

I read  recently that walking into a cemetery gives the sense that you're walking into an area filled with stories. It's like the cemetery is a book and the grave markers are the pages. History abounds in the recording of names and dates. I try to picture the people behind the names and imagine the lives they led. The inscriptions are fascinating to read. I'll never forget the line I read on one marker.
mother of 84 grand
and great grandchildren.
She must have had several children who had several children who had several children! Some of the markers are imprinted and some have the name and date painstakingly hand-carved into rock or granite.
 (Ivy on the marker symbolizes friendship.)
Of course, any where I am I look for nature's beauty to photograph. Nature touches cemeteries with it's trees, moss, and lichen.
My heart goes through a myriad of emotions
as I walk through a cemetery
and even a smile or too.
Always, I come away with thankfulness...
thankful for each moment
each day
each year
I've been blessed with.


  1. I have always been fascinated with cemeteries and I don't think it is strange. I wonder about the lives the people lived... My maternal grandmother's kin are all buried in Arkansas.

  2. I agree with what you say about feeling peacefulness in a cemetery. I too am touched when I walk through one, especially when I visit the graves of lost loved ones and when I see names of unknown people who once loved and laughed and walked this earth. I especially love the cemeteries in England where the tomb-stones or crosses are directly set in the grass.

  3. I like to visit cemeteries, too. There is something peaceful about them. And, old ones give a view to history. Some give clues, others present mysteries.
    Your shots are nice.
    By the way...that last tree is quite interesting. Hmmmm....what happened there?

  4. Cathy, I too love old cemeteries for all the reasons you've expressed here. I can spend hours wandering in quiet contemplation, taking in the peace and beauty all around me. And taking photographs, of course. Thank you for putting your (and my) feelings into such eloquent words.

  5. I love to visit old cemeteries, too, for the very reasons you've stated: peacefulness, quiet, history, nature. Our cemetery is gorgeous when the spring trees bloom and again in the fall when the trees turn. Oh, yes! I've always been drawn to old cemeteries, too.

  6. I don't think you're weird at all, Cathy! I, too, love cemeteries, especially old ones. There are so many stories to think about when you read the inscriptions. The masonry work is often very artistic. And the quiet is very calming.

  7. I share your love of cemeteries. I also am sure to have my camera handy too. For all the reason you stated and the reasons the other commentators have written. It's a connection with past, while time marches on.

  8. I love to walk in cemeteries for all the same reasons. You said it so well. I especially like that there is always reason to smile for the lives of those now gone and for the blessings of our lives now present. Walk on Cathy.

  9. I dare anyone to call you an odd ball you are the best odd ball I know and I love odd balls if that is what you are. Honestly you love history and nothing is odd about that and nothing is odd about caring which you do. Love that about you and keep it up Cathy.

  10. I love to walk in cemeteries too but never dare to admit it to anyone because most people think I'm odd. So like Barbara I think you're a brave and caring woman, who can express it well. That's also one of the reasons that I love to read your posts.

  11. You found a place to write :) Awesome!! Thanks for showing the Woodmen of the World one, glad you have them there too. Excellent post!

  12. People have actually made those remarks?!?!? I don't generally seek out cemeteries, but I understand the draw. Many are beautiful, and reading headstones can be fascinating. I find myself wondering about the person and what their life might have been like. We have many historic cemeteries in my ares, if I happen on one, I enjoy a stroll through.

  13. walking through a cemetery has always been so peaceful to me...

    all your photos are absolutely gorgeous! great post.

  14. I don't think one should ever have to apologize for what you find interesting to photograph - and should always follow your heart in doing so. I can certainly understand your attraction to cemeteries - your images show the peace and serenity and the stories that you find there. Keep exploring and sharing with us!

  15. Love your journaling, love the pictures and no you are not weird. We are just different.

  16. Hello just dropping by to say hello and I got your postcard! Very nice.

  17. Very nice post. I too, like to take photos. There's something so calming there - maybe the quiet. I worry that with so many being cremated and not buried with a headstone that much history will be lost. Makes me sad. Thanks for sharing. Debbie

  18. I completely understand why you take photos in cemeteries. I've been known to do the same thing. It's not rude or intrusive at all. I agree with everything you said. They are a part of life & history and should be shared.

  19. Cemeteries put our life into perspective. As I have pursued genealogy since my father's death, I so want to meet those who have gone before that I have researched. My husband and I are watching the sereis "Call the Midwife" on Netflix before the 3rd series starts at the end of the month. The Christmas special at the end of Series 1 had an incredible scene in a cemetery. All lives are precious and are to be remembered and honored. Two other films on Netflix I would recommend is "Serving Life" and "Death and the Civil War."


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