In case you think it odd that Tom and I regularly visit cemeteries, they seem a wonderful place to walk about, commune with nature and just enjoy an afternoon of peaceful solitude. Is there any place but a cemetery that is close-by and offers this better? And they are one of the few venues that are free.
Cincinnati's Wesleyan Cemetery is one that Tom hadn't visited before and it is near to his apartment, situated on a hilltop overlooking downtown Northside. As the name would suggest, it was begun by members of the local Methodist Church (Wesley Chapel to be specific) in 1843. It is the oldest continuously operated cemetery in Hamilton County.
But that description seems a bit loose to me. Though it is "operated", upkeep seems minimal. High grasses grow everywhere and headstones are often all but buried. Owing to Memorial Day coming in just over a week, a man with a weedwacker was uncovering graves, perhaps those of just his family. Otherwise the project seems insurmountable for the nine days remaining.
As we walked about, I took photographs of the stones that caught my eye ...
What is the story behind this stone? It is fairly new and certainly presents a mystery.
More of the headstones are of this character, generally with death dates in the mid-1800's. The stones are often sandy to the touch and disintegrating slowly through the century-and-a-half of constant weathering. Just as our lives end, the stones that mark that end slowly disappear, too.
Intricate designs are carved into many of the rocks. I was struck by the number of death dates that seemed clustered in July 1849 (my own birthday was in July 1949). Tom suggested that an epidemic of some sort caused the deaths. Being near the Ohio River and sanitation being almost non-existent in this time period, could cholera have been a cause?
This double stone caught my attention.
Many of the stones have been vandalized. Where some have merely been toppled, others have pieces missing. Where is this angel's head? The intact spires of Northside reign in the background.
A wife (left) contracted for her husband's stone - a neat hand holding a scroll - and then followed him twenty-two years later.
Many stones that remain are toppled by time and etched by lichens which chew the rock to pieces, all but erasing the record. Wesleyan is know for record-keeping so I suppose the information is safe. Read the Wikipedia entry (like at the end of this blog) about recent lawsuits about the cemeteries "dilapidated appearance".
It appears that names once topped these stones - rows of them (more extensive than shown) - but I could find nothing that survived. Tom wondered if this was a potter's field, though he questioned whether they'd have stones at all. Or perhaps these are military graves.
Wesleyan is known for it's role with the Underground Railroad. Tom and I will return, in fact, with a borrowed book on that very subject.
For more information on this cemetery, check out the Wikipedia entry here.