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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