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Cemeteries hold hints of history

Moseyin’ Along

May 29, 2013
By Joyce Schenk - COLUMNIST ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Once again, Memorial Day will find cemeteries across the country decorated with small flags, indicating the final resting places of our nation's military men and women.

Pictures of these bedecked burial grounds will be broadcast on the evening news, encouraging us to focus on the importance of this patriotic holiday.

And, whether the flags are displayed in such well-known cemeteries as Arlington National, home of JFK's eternal flame, or small-town local resting places in communities like Mayville, Sherman, Mina and Westfield, the little waving banners will serve as a tribute to those who selflessly served.

But, when Memorial Day is over, these burial grounds will be largely forgotten. Cemeteries, after all, aren't the most inviting attractions in any locale.

Still, through the years I've gained a respect for cemeteries and an understanding of how they can help us connect to both personal and community history.

When I was a youngster, each time I visited my grandmother in St. Louis, I could count on a trip to the nearby cemetery where many of my ancestors were at rest.

It was an experience I dreaded.

My delicate, silver-haired granny would lean on my arm as we walked the paths among the aging headstones. From time to time, she'd stop and patiently "introduce" me to a long-dead member of my extended family.

"This is your Uncle Herbert," she'd say. "He was a fine man but, I'm afraid, drank a bit too much."

"Here's his wife, Anna," she's say at the next grave. "Poor girl, she just worked herself to death taking care if Herbert."

The tour seemed to drag on and on. And, as an energetic kid, I was mystified at how granny seemed so comfortable in this depressing setting, wandering among the final resting places of friends and family members.

Today, I understand.

Age has brought me the realization that cemeteries are not for the dead, but for the living.

Amid the headstones and flowers, the monuments and quiet benches, cemeteries give us the feeling we're still connected with our family's past. And, it's a reminder that, though death ends a life, it doesn't end a relationship. Even though she's gone, our mother continues to be our mother. And, our brother will always be our brother.

I've also come to realize cemeteries are an amazing repository of local history. Reading the inscriptions on those tombstones, whether they are recent or moss-covered examples dating back to the late 1700s, gives a glimpse into lives lived long ago.

In our area, many graves have been adorned with interesting and unusual monuments that recall the individual buried there. For instance, in the West Mina Cemetery, a statue of a horse was chosen to mark the resting place of Betty Gibbons, who, along with her husband Johnny, operated Fertile Acres horse farm on Findley Lake's east side for many years.

That same cemetery holds the grave of longtime Findley Laker and dedicated volunteer fireman Les Hurlbut. Before he died, Hurlbut left instructions to have a statue of his beloved Dalmatian, Chief Many Spots, placed on his grave. The likeness of the loyal dog faithfully guarded its master for many long years.

On this Memorial Day, folks will once again see the small flags waving on the graves of those who have served their country. And, for a brief moment, the living will remember the dead.

But, though Memorial Day 2013 will quickly fade, the cemeteries will continue to offer their quiet glimpses of local history, spiced here and there with insights into the individuals and families who helped to make our communities what they are today.



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