Monday, October 10, 2011


Cemeteries are like walk through history books.  Walking through a cemetery reminds you of people who lived before you, sometimes a century or more before you.  Sometimes there are names you recognize and sometimes the stones hold names that mean nothing to you except that someone who carried that name lived at a certain time in history.

You can find husbands and wives buried side by side.  The dates tell you many things.  They say how old the couple was when they died, who died first and how much longer did the surviving spouse live after their loved one passed.  Sometimes there are extra clues on the stones.  On my Grandmother and Grandfather Hill's burial spot, it tells you that Grandpa was a firm believer in the unions, in particular the sheet metal workers union.  It tells you that my Grandmother was deeply involved in the Women's Missionary Union at her church.  You find out when they were married and how long they were married.  On the back of the stone each of their parents names are engraved giving you a head start on figuring out where you came from.

The cemetary where grandpa and grandma Hill are buried has a history within itself.  At one time during the American Civil War one side of the cemetery was reserved for Union sympathizers and soldiers while the other side was reserved for confederates.  My grandparents are buried on what was once the confederate side. Long ago the cemetery quit determining where you would be  buried on your stance during the war.  There are still signs of the history left in there though.  There are several stones that carry the stars and bars on the stones.  There is a huge memorial still standing that memorializes the soldiers who died in the war.

In that cemetery are above ground crypts that are locked and secured with the caskets holding those who passes sit above ground instead of being buried.  There are founders of Kansas City buried there as well as local heroes.  One of my favorite grave sights to visit, other than grandma and grandpa, is the final resting place of Satchel Page and his wife.  The cemetery is not the same as it was during the Civil war.  It has integrated itself as time has passed.

Across the street from the previous cemetery is a smaller one.  Inside this little cemetery is the grave of one of Kansas City's most famous favorite sons.  Charlie Parker is buried in this little cemetery.  They have replaced his head stone several times, only to be stolen again by history seekers and jazz lovers.  His grave is now unmarked as it was getting too expensive to keep replacing the headstone on the famous jazz saxophonists grave.

Another piece of history is located in Independence, a suburb of Kansas City.  Here stand the Harry S Truman Library and in the center courtyard of the library lies Harry and Bess Truman.  Missouri's favorite son has a history all to himself and this tribute to him and his grave in the center of it brings the history to life.

Another non-famous cemetery lies in Fort Worth, Texas.  The cemetery does not advertise their most famous permanent resident.  a few locals know of the grave site but it is not well known.  If you have and idea and enough patience and a general area in which to look in the cemetery, you will eventually stumble across a small tan stone with one word on it.  That word is "OSWALD".  There is no first name,no dates of birth and death, just that one word.  Lee Harvey Oswald was buried here the same day that President Kennedy was buried in Arlington Cemetery.  The presidents grave has a walkway up to it, surrounded by ropes and has an eternal flame burning upon it to keep his memory alive.  The "OSWALD" stone looks like a paupers grave in comparison.

Also in the Dallas/Fort Worth are are buried Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.  If you didn't know your history you would never put the two together. They are buried in separate cemeteries apart from each other in spite of being one of the countries most infamous lovers and partners in crime better known as "Bonnie and Clyde".

By far the most interesting graveyards I have visited were on a trip I made to Boston on business.  Just of of the Boston commons, behind the state house, is a very old cemetery.  As I wandered through this small cemetery I saw names I recognized.  I saw the simple grave of Paul Revere and Sam Adams.  There was a huge grave marker on the grave of John Hancock that matched his tremendous ego. Among these famous graves were the small stones of ordinary Americans. Were they ordinary though?  Most of the dates on these stones were dated around the time of the new nation being born.  These were patriots who played just as much a part of the revolution as the more famous names.

As I walked along the freedom trail I came across another small cemetery.  Again the dates and names were worn so that you could hardly read them.  The stones were no more than three inches thick and I wondered how they had stayed intact for hundreds of years.  It was a beautiful little cemetery that overlooked that Charles River.  These two cemeteries were a walk through history bok of the early days of our nation and I quietly thought about these people who kept the nation alive during its infant years and I thanked them.

On the south side of Boston sat the tiny community of Quincy.  In the basement of a church in Quincy were entombed the bodies of John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams along with their wives.  At the time they were Bostons most important and most famous citizens.  It was proper to have the two Presidents set aside from the rest of the patriots of Boston.

One of the most somber cemeteries I have visited was at the Little Big Horn.  Here General Custer was killed along with his troops at the hands of native Americans defending themselves. Everywhere a soldier was found, there is a white stone saying that an American soldier died at this spot.  When you see all of the stones and how wide spread they are until you get to the top of a little hill where there are dozens of stones all clumped together, including a stone for General Custer.  This was the last stand. It is history truly brought home.

There are other cemeteries I would like to visit before my time is up.  I would love to visit Arlington where heroes fill acres of land with little white crosses.  A tomb containing unidentified soldiers from every war are in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President Kennedy is buried there.

I would love to visit Yorba Linda, California and see Richard Nixon's boyhood home as well as the President's grave next to his wife, Pat.

Cemeteries are fascinating places.  Even if there aren't any famous graves, you can tell a lot of the history of an area by walking through and reading the stones. You can tell how old the cemetery is and the kind of people who are buried there.  You can get information on what the interests were of those who are buried there.

I have already bought my plot where I will be buried and have a stone to be placed over my grave.  I wonder if people will come to my grave and be able to figure out how I died or why.  Perhaps my grave will bring excitement to generations to come of my family as they discover a long lost relative.  That is my biggest hope.  That being that new generations will discover where they came from by finding my final resting place.

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