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Tea Among the Tombstones

Victorian Cemetery Excursions

In these modern fast-paced times, many of us are too busy to visit living relatives, much less to go to a cemetery to pay respects to the deceased. If you did manage to find the time to visit someones tombstone, would you feel comfortable whipping out a chicken wing while you were admiring the inscription, or do believe that other visitors would shake their heads in dismay and make comments about 'disrespecting the dead?'

Would you let your children run around like wild banshees, playing hide and seek behind the mausoleums, or would you give them the look of death which made them think that if they wandered two feet away from you that they would be visiting again sooner than they thought?

If you chose the first part of each question, then you would have fit right in with Victorian society. Cemeteries were popular daytime excursions for families who treated them more like parks than museums. It was common for people to take picnics to the cemetery and lunch among the beautiful ornate tombs and headstones. Children would play and run about, lovers would stroll, and people would spend time talking with each other about the latest news. The dead were not only being remembered by the living, but were being included in the latter's everyday lives.

It is hard to tell just when all of this changed. Now, if you visit a cemetery, chances are that you will be the only one there. No longer do people picnic, children play, or lovers stroll through the grounds. Many of these final resting places seem to be overcrowded with headstones, the older markers damaged, vandalized or destroyed by the elements. They have become lonely symbols of death and sadness instead of gathering places to celebrate life and commiserate with the dead.

Some historical societies  are bringing back the practice of picnics in the cemeteries. Preservation groups are working to save and preserve older tombstones for present and future generations. There are also companies that work to clean the markers of  lichen, dirt, and other marring done to the tombstones to restore their beauty and make them legible. This is especially important in genealogy, because the names, dates and relationships on these graves offer vital clues in family research.

Hopefully, the tradition of cemeteries as parks will be revived.These forgotten areas are excellent repositories of historical information and beauty. Of course, I don't want to see them overcrowded with beer-guzzling ne'er do wells and rug rats who don't know how to behave themselves while they are playing, but I would like to see those who appreciate the past be able to take a few hours of their busy lives to relax in a beautiful setting, remember the dead, and enjoy their chicken wings.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jenny W May 31, 2012 at 05:09 PM
The website Find a Grave is a wonderful resource for locating cemetery records, and is a fun volunteer job to help others who don't live in the area locate the burial locations and headstones of their ancestors. There are very specific do's and don'ts when it comes to the cleaning of headstones to ensure that the structural integrity of the stone stays intact. Different types of stone were used throughout history, and also depending on the wealth of the family. Not knowing what you are doing and attempting to clean headstone may cause more harm then good. Volunteer with a professional preservation group if you are interested in helping so you can have the proper guidance first. Glad to see this article. I really enjoy my time "tromping" cemeteries and taking in the history. Not to mention it is great exercise looking for burial locations for families.
Erin Gibson (Editor) May 31, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Thanks for your helpful comment, Jenny! Here is the link to the website she referenced: http://www.findagrave.com/
Erin Gibson (Editor) May 31, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I must say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and the information about Victorian Society. I took my kids to their Great Grandfather's grave site on Memorial Day weekend for a little lesson in why we celebrate the holiday. He served in the Navy. There was no one else at the cemetery when we went; although they had a 21-gun salute and ceremony at the cemetery in the morning. My uncle had placed flowers on the grave and my kids had good time running around, but I had to stop my two-year-old repeatedly from trying to climb on the headstones. I enjoyed looking at some of the unique names on the stones (future baby names, perhaps?) and learned so much about my family during the visit. My ancestors settled at the location because a child had died en route to settle in Illinois and the mother would not leave her child's grave so they decided to settle at the location in West Virginia instead. Most my ancestors on my father's side are buried at the particular cemetery.
Lisa M. Castellanos May 31, 2012 at 05:53 PM
I agree, Jenny. It is so important to hire a professional for the cleaning; also, the cemetery preservation societies are fantastic about educating the public on the care of these precious monuments. Thanks for the comment!
Lisa M. Castellanos May 31, 2012 at 06:05 PM
I am glad that you enjoyed it! I think that you taught your kids a wonderful lesson that they will pass on to their children and remember for the rest of their lives. What an amazing story. Many people don't realize how interesting their family history really is until they begin to look into it and uncover where they came from. Thanks for sharing it!

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