Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

Graceland Cemetery
4001 N Clark St, Chicago
https://www.gracelandcemetery.org

I could tell you how Chicago’s Lincoln Park used to be the city’s premier burial ground until Chicago’s City Council banned burials there. Or that it was decided to move the city cemetery to what’s now Graceland. I could tell you that the cemetery spans 121 acres, and holds the remains of the city’s most eminent residents, including architects, sportsmen and politicians. I could harp on about how beautiful a garden cemetery it is, how it feels like you’re taking the most magnificent nature walk when you’re in the middle of it, which Chicagoans have been doing since it’s establishment in 1961.

Instead, I’m just going to show you how absolutely stunning Graceland is through some pictures I took when I visited late last year…

Cemeteries get a bad wrap for being creepy places. They generally don’t rank very highly on the traveler’s list of things to see and do. But Graceland felt much more like a museum crossed with a park than a burial ground. Visiting in autumn was magic, with all the leaves turning gold and red. The map you collect when you arrive is also particularly helpful, and adding to the museum vibe is the list of the important citizens buried there and a little biography of them all. And the only remotely creepy thing was the Eternal Silence statue below, and that’s only because Atlas Obscura told me that “looking into its eyes a person could see the nature of their own death…”

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Through my eyes: Beechworth Cemetery, Victoria

We had a quick backyard adventure last weekend, spending a night in Beechworth – with the old streets lined with big, leafy trees, it’s the most stunning place in autumn as they all turn golden, orange and crimson…

Last Sunday morning, husband asked what I wanted to do with the morning. I wanted to take a nice stroll; through the cemetery. I know, I’m weird.

The Beechworth Cemetery sprang up in the 1850s, along with the gold rush, huge influx of people to the town, and outbreaks of disease as a result of the less than civil living conditions. Their website states that “Between 1853 and 1860, an average of one child per week died of disease including measles, scarlet fever, dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid.” Pretty grim numbers…

Despite the nasty start, the cemetery is an important place to the community. Again, from their website (because I couldn’t possibly word this any more eloquently),

Lives are commemorated – deaths are recorded – families are reunited – memories are made tangible – and love is undisguised – This is our Cemetery.

Communities accord respect – families bestow reverence, historians seek information and our heritage is thereby enriched.

Testimonies of devotion, pride and remembrance are recorded and preserved to pay warm tribute of accomplishment and to the life – not the death – of a loved one. Our Cemetery is homeland for memories that are a sustained source of comfort to the living.

The Cemetery is a history of people – a perpetual record of yesterday and a sanctuary of peace and quiet today.

Our Cemetery exists because every life is worth living and remembering – always.

The cemetery is laid out in sections – Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Methodist United, and so on. Two of the more fascinating areas for me were the Chinese Section and the Strangers Section.

The Chinese Section was introduced to accommodate the Chinese who passed away after coming to Beechworth to get in on the gold rush, so that they’d have a place to cater for their cultural needs. This includes not only grave sites with simple markers, but also the two Chinese Burning Towers, used to burn offerings and gifts for the afterlife.

As for the Strangers area, as per the Cemetery website: “An area has been set aside for the purpose of the burial of bodily remains of deceased poor persons.” This was an area for those who came to Australia to look for gold, and were killed before they could return to their homes. This was also an area for those whose religions were unknown. And, given there was an asylum located there, well…

 

Next time you’re in Beechworth, take a drive down Balaclava Road and take a stroll through some local history. It may not be the most obvious romantic weekend walk, but it’s more peaceful and beautiful than you’d think 🙂

From my travel journal: New Orleans, 2015 (2)

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“Funerary and burial rites and traditions are a little different here, which allows many, many generations of a family to be entombed together. For a start, the tombs are all built above the ground, in order for them to stay buried; before this, floods frequently dislodged the dead and saw their caskets float on down the street. One year and one day after death, it is customary to retrieve the remains if the body – teeth and bones – place them in a bag, and toss that bag back into a deep pit below the family tomb. With temperatures scorching in summer, the bones are generally turned to dust within another year, allowing the bags of bones to pile up almost indefinitely. “Wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole” – that’s what’s used to retrieve the remains, or so we overheard from a tour guide in one of the cemeteries we visited.”

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Corner Washington Ave & Prytania St, New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/lafayette-cemetery-no-1/

After yesterday’s New Orleans read, I thought I’d stick with this favourite city of mine for another day, with another cemetery photo tour…

In stark comparison to the clean lines of the mostly shiny white marble of the St Louis Cemetery No. 3 and a little closer to the beautifully dilapidated St Louis Cemetery No. 1, Lafayette No. 1 was surrounded by the most beautiful trees (as one might expect for a cemetery located in the middle of the Garden District),  most of which had shed their leaves in the winter month we visited onto the tombs below, which gave me the feeling that the elements of nature were somehow protecting their residents…

This cemetery is not only the oldest of the seven city-operated cemeteries in the city, but it’s also a non-denominational and non-segregated resting place for not only natives, but also immigrants from 25-odd other countries – over 7, 000 souls in total entombed in the cemetery.

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Remembering the fallen on Purple Heart Day: a walk through Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Arlington National Cemetery
Virginia side of Memorial Bridge, Washington DC
http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/

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I’m not a supporter of war. I’m not saying I don’t support our troops when they’re called upon. I’m not saying I’m not extremely proud of the men and women who have fought for us and the comfortable and relatively safe lives we lead here. I’m not saying I haven’t been extremely humbled by the willingness of every day people to take up arms to defend their country and people. But a quote I read years ago that’s always stuck with me is “war doesn’t determine who is right; only who is left.”

I’m not going to write this post about my feelings and beliefs towards acts of war; I don’t want to open the debate, because I believe it’s too sensitive and personal. But yesterday marked Purple Heart Day in America, the day they choose to honor the men and women who have been wounded or killed in military service, and I thought it an appropriate and poignant time to share a few photos from my visit to Arlington National Cemetery in January. To call over 600 acres of tombs an overwhelming experience would be a disrespectful understatement. I wasn’t at all prepared for the enormity of it, or the impact seeing all of those tombs would have on me. It wasn’t easy to walk through, yet I felt it was a necessary walk, not just for me but for everyone. I think that in order to continue to justify the waging of war and hatred and taking of lives, everyone should walk through here; it completely takes your breath away to be standing among so many lost souls who needn’t have lost their lives so violently and horribly…

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“Finding myself” in St Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans

St Louis Cemetery No. 1
425 Basin St. New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-1/


I wrapped my oversized cardigan around me a little tighter as my feet crunched over the leaves that peppered the footpath, and the early morning wind blew as if it were trying to pass right through me. I’d woken up that morning in New Orleans, the city I’d been inexplicably drawn to, and a long way from home back in Australia.

 

It was with some trepidation that I passed through the entrance of the St Louis Cemetery No. 1. It wasn’t the whole being in a cemetery thing that had me unnerved; I’m oddly at ease among the graves and stories of the past. What I wasn’t at ease with at that time was myself. I arrived in New Orleans with this feeling I couldn’t shake, like I didn’t fit in anywhere, like I didn’t belong. On that thought, the wind blew through me once more, as if urging me on through the front gate, as if pushing me toward answers.

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I moved silently through the decaying tombs, many dating back to the 1700s. Generations were contained within single crumbling structures; how many were truly remembered? What were their stories? The tombs would have been beautiful originally, but the deterioration they faced over the centuries only made them even more striking. Intricate wrought iron crosses and arrows decorated gates encircling tombs, while large stone and marble placards listing the names of the souls resting within lay on the floor beside many of tombs, gently pieced back together, having fallen from the places they’d originally occupied.

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Looking out over the praying angels perched on top of mausoleums, eyes turned to the heavens, I could see Treme Street and the housing projects beyond. Arriving just as the gates were unlocked for the day proved to be the perfect time to visit, with no one else around. I was a long way from the mayhem and commercialism of the tourist hub that is Bourbon Street; I was, proverbially, definitely not in Kansas anymore.

 

I guess travel is the ultimate opportunity to reflect and recharge; we all know the cliché of people “finding themselves” while travelling. New Orleans was so different to anywhere else I’d been. The people there seemed to live authentically, fearlessly. Free. As someone who’s spent the best part of her life held back by fear, I was hypnotised by that thought, ready to start my own new chapter. And, as if the spirits had me in their hands, the last thing I saw before I left the cemetery was an old book, the pages browned and torn, sitting on top of a tomb; as I walked past, the wind blew the open pages shut.

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St Louis Cemetery #3, New Orleans

St Louis Cemetery #3
3421 Esplanade Ave, New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-3/

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This was the third of the cemeteries I visited in New Orleans, and it was by far the most modern looking and well tended, despite being established in 1854. It’s in the Bayou St John area, which is gorgeous to walk through on a sunny day, and the cemetery itself is quite a bit bigger than numbers 1 and 2.

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It’s laid out in three main “aisles” of tombs, which makes it very easy to navigate your way around. There are individual and family tombs, as at other cemeteries, but also large tombs containing the remains of priests and nuns, which I didn’t notice anywhere else.

The tombs here seemed, for the most part, to be well cared for and maintained, gleaming white marble with fresh inscriptions; some were also in various states of disrepair, which only made them even more beautiful next to the uniformed white ones.

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