Social Distancing at the Cemetery (sort of).

Today I felt as if I needed to get some exercise as the gym has been closed so I went for a ride, meandering through the city’s east side and choosing streets and routes where I wouldn’t see a lot of people or traffic. Having camera with me it was my initial intention to make my way to the old train station to take photos as I hadn't been there since last year. But then passing Concordia Cemetery thought I’d stop for just a minute or two but it ended being a better part of the morning. I never did make it to the train station.

The first time I’d been to this cemetery was about 10 years ago while doing some minor genealogical research; the heritage on my mom’s side of the family is German-French and this is a German cemetery. Since then I’ve been there two or three times by bike (as I ditched cars for good almost 10 years ago). As far as I know there are none of my relatives resting at this cemetery; most are on the city’s outer border at what was originally called the United German-French Cemetery.

Before going further I have to reveal something about myself...I like cemeteries. The odd thing is that when my time comes I don’t know if I want to rest in one. I plan to be cremated. But anyhow, I find them peaceful and spiritual. When one is in a cemetery they are literally on holy ground. When I travel I often go to famous cemeteries. I can’t imagine a trip to Paris, for example, without visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery (been there three times), or a trip to New Orleans without visiting one of their famous above ground cemeteries (three times there as well). On a trip to New Orleans a couple years ago I went on a search (unsuccessfully) to find the grave of New Orleans Storyville photographer, Ernest Joseph Bellocq; though I did see the grave of the famed Cajun chef, Paul Prudomme. I also have plans to visit the grave of New York artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Locally I regularly visit the ever-beautiful Forest Lawn Cemetery. The reason I mention this is that there is an actual term for people who enjoy spending time in cemeteries (while they are still this side of the ground), taphophile. I recently learned the term and suppose it applies to me.

Anyhow, back to Concordia. What I think is interesting about this cemetery is its location; it is located in a densely populated area on the east side. It is fronted by a busy thoroughfare and bordered by a residential street, railroad tracks, and a defunct factory. Unlike the aforementioned Forest Lawn—also located in the city—which is designed to be more like a park with rolling hills, meandering roads, and a stream running through it, Concordia is more straightforward utilitarian...a road straight through it with plots on both sides.

Concordia Cemetery was founded in 1859 by three German Churches...First Trinity Lutheran Church, St. Peter's German Evangelical Church, and St. Stephen's
German Evangelical Church. The cemetery is divided into three sections, each corresponding to one of the three churches and noted with an iron cross (see the St Peter’s cross below). According to one website, there are more than 450 war veterans including 125 from the civil war.

One of the things that draws me to cemeteries is that it makes me remember my own mortality. Looking at the headstones and reading the names and dates I try to imagine the lives of those resting there. They, like us, had their joys and also, health, romantic, etc.

It helps me remember that none of it matters, that the only thing that does matter is now.

Concordia, of course, has a lot of old graves but there are recent ones as well, and two of the newer are those that I’ll comment on. The first is in the image of the quart bottle of Budweiser beer. When I first saw it I thought someone had disrespectful, I thought. Then on closer inspection I saw that the bottle was full, likely left as a gift from a friend, someone I’m assuming that had shared drinks with them. The bottle is sitting on the edge of the flat gravestone of Willie Marble, a WW II vet who passed away in 1998.

Another, and this I found particularly moving, is in the image with plastic flowers and a sort of bumble bee protruding. This is another flat stone so the only thing one sees from the distance are things left behind by loved ones. This is a father and son grave. The father, Cecil Lynch, passed away in 1975, and  his son, Kevin, in 2014. Kevin was born the same year as I and we would have been nearly the same young age when our fathers died. I was also surprised at not only the young ages of so many but also of the amount of children resting here. Some are represented in the photos below.

As I made my way to the back of the cemetery I noticed a section fenced off so I walked over to it. It turns out it was a separate cemetery all together; a smaller Jewish cemetery. It is visible as the sort of panhandle in the map at the bottom of this post. To get to it I had to leave Concordia and circumvent the cemetery via a few city streets until I came upon the entrance at the end of a deadend street which was part industrial and part residential; it looked like the scene out of a movie. The partial sign above the entrance read, Beth Jacob Cemetery.

Separated by a fence, which is visible in one of the photos below, I went from a cemetery where many of the stones were engraved in German to those that are engraved in Hebrew. This cemetery seemed unkempt, almost abandoned. When Googling it there is not much information. Even in maps, which shows Concordia but Beth Jacob is represented in land mass only (again, refer to the panhandle in the map below), the name did not come up. One website says that it was founded in 1882 though another source tells me that Beth Jacob is older, probably mid 1800's. The last burial took place in Beth Jacob was in 1970.

As I stood in Beth Jacob, with Concordia in plain view behind the fence, I tried to imagine the world back then...what this area looked like when these cemeteries were founded; 18?? and 1882.

A light wind blew and I shivered a bit. Crows cawed as they flew about, and looking up I saw a couple birds of prey circling for their lunch. After saying a brief prayer aloud but quietly, I questioned whether the prayer was for those at rest around me or for myself. It was then that I realized social distancing was not at work, because while I thought I’d spent the morning by myself in these two cemeteries I was in fact surrounded by thousands of souls.

The below photos are in chronological order to which I captured them today. You’ll know which cemetery because the two groups are headed by the iron arched entrance and also the language on the stones. Slowly scroll through hallowed ground.

Information for this post was found here, here, here, and here

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Cinnamon Girl said…
So interesting. And good to know there is a term for those of us who like to visit cemeteries. As a child I begged to drive through them. I too like to visit cemeteries while vacationing. Thank you for sharing and I'll add these to my bucket list to visit.
Concordia said…
Thank you for your observations and beautiful photos! As a volunteer at Concordia I am awed by the hard work and commitment of all our volunteers, sometimes in the face of devastating challenges. Last year, just days after the cemetery celebrated its 160 anniversary with an open house and presentations, thieves broken into the house and storage barn and stole all the maintenance and landscaping equipment leaving the cemetery without a way to continue to care for the grounds. Many generous people came forward and donated lawnmowers but there is still a need for commercial grade riding mowers and zero turn mowers. Donations can be made on our website:
Joe George said…
Cinnamon Girl...yes I was excited to learn of the term also. We are not alone! Thank you for visiting.
Joe George said…
Concordia, Thank you so much for maintaining this beautiful and contemplative treasure in the heart of our city.
DJSpeth said…
Thank you so much for this wonderful blog! Just to clean up a few little things... (1) St. Peter's and St. Stephen's were Protestant but not Lutheran. They were German Evangelical, one of the groups that later formed the United Church of Christ. St. Peter's survives today as New Covenant UCC, and St. Stephen's as St. Stephen's-Bethlehem UCC. Concordia, however, is now a public cemetery and receives no major support from any religious group. (2) My understanding is that the Jewish cemetery behind Concordia, Beth Jacob, was actually founded a few years before Concordia, as it shows up on old maps when Concordia does not. Also, a blog by an Ian MacDonald states "One of the oldest headstones showed a rabbi buried here in the mid 1800s." It's possible that Concordia was placed where it is, because there was already a (Jewish) cemetery adjacent. (3) I'm glad you got a photo of (I assume) St. Joseph holding baby Jesus. It looks old (and it probably is) but it is actually a transplant from elsewhere (maybe somebody's garden) which we helped a family install a couple years ago, for somebody who didn't have a stone. Concordia is still very active. We have 2 or 3 dozen full-size graves left to sell, lots of cremation space, and also we help install flat markers for people who don't have them yet. Still we depend greatly on the yearly donations from our lot owners, who know the importance of our work in maintaining a safe, attractive and respectful site for their loved ones' final resting place. We can be contacted at 716-674-6293, DJSPETH@JUNO.COM, or by mail at Concordia Cemetery Inc., PO Box 1773, Buffalo, NY 14226-7773. Regards, David J. Speth, President, Concordia Cemetery Inc.
Joe George said…

Thank you so much for your comments and this info. I find it truly interesting. Regarding stating all three churches were Lutheran...yes, my mistake. Since corrected. Fast typing on my part. I did have the others listed as Evangelical but lumped in with Lutheran which doesn’t make sense. I was actually baptized in an Evangelical church on Genessee Street in 1961. The wooden building still functions as a church I believe but has not been Evangelical or UCC for years. I was raised in the UCC and am still active within a UCC church; Pilgrim-St Luke’s on Richmond Avenue. I’m also an ordained deacon within the denomination. What I found interesting in your info was regarding St Stephan’s... St. Stephen's-Bethlehem UCC was my mom’s home church the last years of her life and I still have family that attends there.

Regarding the Beth Jacob...I am with you on this but could not find much info. I did find one snippet from a local magazine (which I have linked in the blog under sources) and that’s where I got the date of Beth Jacob. I know the author of the article and questioned her on it and she says she spoke to an archivist from the Jewish Federation. Anyhow, I agree that it seems older. Does anyone care for that cemetery? What a little gem it is hidden down that street.

Also, that’s really interesting about the St Joseph Statue; it caught my attention as I pedaled past. I love looking at all the various stones and relics that remain and people leave.

I assumed there were still graves available in Concordia as I saw some newer ones. This is good to know. Thank you so much for caring for this sacred ground. As a lifelong Buffalonian with deep roots on the east side, I had only discovered it about 10 years ago. Thanks again,

Joe George