Sunday, March 9, 2014

Wish You Were Here

My friend Loren Rhoads (IMAGE ABOVE) has published a book entitled Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. "It's good to be a card-carrying member of the Association for Gravestone Studies," she writes, having used hers to gain entry to the pioneer cemetery at Yosemite National Park in California, U.S. I agree, having flashed mine to get into Brooklyn, New York's famous Green-Wood Cemetery. At the age of 4, a family vacation took her to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, US; At the age of 12, she was biking to the cemetery with her family to do tombstone rubbings. She didn't make it to the Paris Catacombs until she was an adult and accompanied by her husband Mason, who asked, "Imagine the dreams you would have if your parents brought you here as a child."

After half a lifetime of guided and self-guided tours, Loren observes, "Cold, hard, unfeeling stone strives for immortality by its presence. In truth, what I've learned from cemeteries is that limestone melts, marble breaks, slate slivers, and sandstone cracks." But that is part of what draws some of us to graveyards. I know exactly what Mason means when he hopes that the then recently launched maintenance of Highgate Cemetery in London hasn't completely ruined the ambience, I have been on tours myself during which I had to hurry to photograph gravestones before others plucked off clinging ivy. And neither Loren nor I are admirers of those bronze grave markers set flush to the ground to facilitate mowing, aomething standardized by the designer of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, U.S.

Loren has also visited memorials throughout the world, from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, U.S., to Hiroshima in Japan. She has seen her share of cenotaphs, including markers for men lost at sea, and observes
, "I feel that the spirit of the person enlivens the grave. An empty tomb has lost something that a rock never owned." She has researched and seen grave sculptures across the globe, and has noted international influences in American cemeteries. She was amused at Metairie Cemetery by "the juxtaposition of the German drug magnate retiring into eternity with a Greek maiden inside an Egyptian Revival tomb decorated with a Roman urn beneath the humid Louisiana sky."

After years of morbid study, Loren has decided she wants to be cremated. So did I, until I learned how many greenhouse gases it adds to the atmosphere. Maybe her next book will be about green burial.

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