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Archive for February, 2007

Tenderly Beloved

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St. Mary’s Cemetery, Alexandria, VA.

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New Orleans is a city below sea level. That makes burial problematic. Dig a hole just a few feet deep, and it fills with water; so bury a coffin, and it won’t take long before it floats to the surface. For that reason, the dead of New Orleans are “buried” above ground in vaults.

The first time I visited New Orleans was on business. I had very little free time, so I took a guided tour that included a cemetery. The guide described the burial method as “oven burial.” The heat in New Orleans bakes the body. As long as the person in question has been dead for two years, his or her now-decomposing bones can be pushed to the back of the shelf, where they will fall down to the floor of the vault to finish turning to dust, and the next family member’s coffin can be inserted on the shelf to bake. I have done a quick search of “oven burial” on the Internet and can find no reference to the actual term, though the method is well documented.

The New Orleans cemeteries are known as “Cities of the Dead” and are said to be dangerous. The narrow pathways between the vaults, it is said, hide muggers. Tourists are warned that it’s especially dangerous to visit at night. I suspect that the tourist industry perpetuates these tales so as to guarantee business for the organized cemetery tours. Since my first visit to New Orleans, I’ve visited the cemeteries alone (including the notorious St. Louis No. 1, where I took this photograph) and I’ve lived to tell the tale. During the day, there are enough tourists there to scare off any mugger. And after dark, the only way in is to visit with a group or climb the walls, because the cemeteries are locked to all but legitimate guides.

Words and image by Passante.

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Only One Day

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This child lived only one day. She had no choice but to spend that one day fighting for life.

What would you do with your time if you had only one more day to live?

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Asleep in Jesus

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While the death of anyone is sad, the death of a young child, particularly an infant, is intolerably tragic. James Mark Owens only had 18 days.

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Our Little Rabbit

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This memorial to a baby who lived only six weeks can be found in the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia. If Mike had lived, he would be 36 now and possibly a father himself. I am sure his parents still think of their “petit lapin,” who in their memories will always be the tiny infant they held in their arms for such a sadly short time.

As a little girl of around eight in England, I began to collect epitaphs — admittedly an odd hobby for a child — and all these years later, I still find them interesting. The very old tombstones in English cemeteries tend to have verses. Some are moralistic, some macabre, and some affecting. But no memorial I’ve ever seen has moved me as much as the simplicity of those three words: “notre petit lapin.”

Words and image by Passante.

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Someone Really Missed You

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This monument impressed me for its size. I’m 5’3″ and was on eye level with the angel’s elbow.

George, you were really missed.

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Guardian Angel

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This angel sprinking flowers watches over a grave in Ivy Hill Cemetery, which is described in a 1938 survey report as “without doubt the most interesting and historical cemetery in Alexandria.” The cemetery began in around 1811 as a family burial ground and was chartered as a community cemetery in 1856. It is nondenominational and nonsectarian. Among those buried here are descendants of President Thomas Jefferson.

Words and image by Passante.

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