Cemetery by the Highway: Remembering Fort Wayne’s German Roots

Urban expansion offers many benefits that come with a cost.  Since the rapid spread of the metropolis began in the 1950s we’ve had to move a few bodies around. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for example, which now powers over 150 cities disinterred a record-breaking 20,000 souls in order to urbanize the terrain. My hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana found an interesting way to deal with a small graveyard hindering its development in 1956. Instead of decimating the dead populace the city chose to encircle them in an interstate. item353_full.jpg(The TVA maintained detailed records of each displaced cemetery including Hickory Grove Cemetery in Eddyville, Kentucky, 1939. Credit)

When I-69 began construction the area around the Coldwater Rd. interchange was owned by Saint Paul Lutheran Church. The cemetery originally belonged to the church and predated the highway by 72 years. Adjacent to the cemetery was the Rural Branch School also owned by the church in use from 1844 to 1920.st-paul.jpg(Photo Credit: Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter, NSDAR)

Sandwiched between a busy exchange at the highway’s northeast corner the cemetery has its own access road and parking lot off Coldwater Rd. The Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter (Daughter’s of the American Revolution) has catalogued 87 headstones. Though there may have been more that were damaged or removed. In 2010 a drunk driver plowed through the grounds destroying some of the earliest markers including the historical plaque shown above.Screenshot 2017-12-09 11.58.57.png(Google Maps)

I went to high school just up the street at Northrop and looked forward to driving past the tiny graveyard every morning on my commute. I stopped in a few times and was surprised to find the inhabitants were much older than expected. The earliest were laid to rest in the 1850s. The cemetery is no longer in use and the last person buried there is dated 1940. It wasn’t until my latest trip and subsequent research project for this blog that I realized how truly remarkable this historic site is: many of the engravings are in German verse. This is an important cultural touchstone for this particular region and time period because of anti-German sentiments that arose during WWI.
IMG_4325.jpg(German verses like this accompany many of the headstones though some are very worn. Photo by Alysen Wade)

During the 1840-50s German immigrants flocked to many cities in the Midwest due to affordable land and rail access. At its peak roughly 60-80% of Fort Wayne’s population shared German roots. Ethnic identity was strong in the city which published three daily newspapers entirely in German and put several high-ranking political figures in office. The German-American bank and Berghoff Brewing Co. were economic powerhouses. German parochial schools actually preceded the public tax-supported school system by a decade or more and conducted exclusively German curricula. Even the Indiana Constitution circulated an all-German version published in 1858. When the U.S. officially entered WWI in 1917 all that changed.Berghoff+Photo1+copy(Credit)image(Credit)

Within weeks German residents were mandated to file Alien Enemy Registrations. Local churches and schools were forced to stop conducting activities in German by 1918. Some financial institutions like the German-American bank changed their names to avoid the perception of any Kaiser links. The Allen County Public Library pulled German language books or anything German-sympathizing from the shelves.
1918-june-17-register-alien-german-women-fwnslang(Registration: Credit) (Speak American: Credit)

The effects of wartime propaganda shook the foundations of Fort Wayne’s German community for years to come. Historical accounts reveal that German-language use all but disappeared from public life during the years between the World Wars. Fort Wayne would not revitalize its pride until Germanfest began in 1981. While some families were reluctant to continue using their native tongues in public, I have to wonder if putting German verses on their tombstones was a subversive act. It was at least some small way of restoring a sense of dignity and heritage. I cannot be certain because I found no records to verify, but I wonder if Fort Wayne’s willingness to build around this uniquely German burial ground instead of destroying it was something of an apology. This cemetery and other memorials like it are good things to keep in mind next summer when you’re celebrating with a beer at your city’s cultural fests. For some people who live right in our backyards the simple expression of ancestry costs so much.IMG_4332(Photo by Alysen Wade)

 

Cemetery Fast Facts: Holiday Edition

Around the holidays awkward family silences scare me. If you’re the kind of person who needs to fill those horrendous pauses with weird stuff you read on the internet you have come to the right place:

1. Cemetery guns. This one might come in handy if you’re struggling to connect with that NRA-loving uncle. Not more than 200-300 years ago grave snatching was a serious problem all over the U.S. and U.K. The Murder Act of 1751 stipulated that bodies of murderers could not be buried. In attempt to deter other criminals, a person’s executed remains were publicly dissected or strung up on gibbets (a.k.a the post thing you draw when you’re playing a game of Hangman with your niece).

VC414-dissection scene-MOMedColl-ca1889_0.jpg(Students working on a cadaver at the MO Medical College, 1889. Credit)

Murder rates in Victorian-era England and the United States were relatively low. This made providing cadavers for important medical research difficult. The illegal corpse trade arose to fill a tremendous gap since an estimated 500 cadavers were needed each year to keep up with the burgeoning field of medicine. An offender dealing in this illicit industry (who was often an anatomy artist or physician himself) was known as a resurrectionist. Various methods were deployed by the bereaved to thwart grave robbery including bolted neck collars, special gates, and exploding coffins. Equipping cemeteries with firearms was another option.

Two_men_placing_the_shrouded_corpse_which_they_have_just_Wellcome_L0014659.jpg(Drawing by T. Rowlandson, 1775. Credit)

One of the last known cemetery guns is housed at a museum in Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, PA. The gun would have been attached to a swiveling mechanism that was set at the foot of a newly dug grave. Stumbling over tripwires arched across the plot, body snatchers met their violent fate in the dark. But this trend didn’t last long. Guns had to be rented at an expensive weekly rate making them unaffordable to everyone but the upper classes. They were finally outlawed in 1827.CemeteryGun2.jpg.CROP.article920-large.jpg(One of the few remaining cemetery guns housed in PA. The museum dates it to 1710. Credit)

2. Public Executions. Hosting a law student or family lawyer? Strike up a conversation about this bewildering topic. No surprises here, the Romans were the first great champions of spectaclized death. Built specifically for the exhibition of blood sports the Colosseum was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people. Damnatio ad bestias, Latin for “condemnation to beasts” was the favored form of capital punishment around the 2nd century BC.Museum_of_Sousse_-_Mosaics_2_detail.jpg(Leopards attacking a criminal, Roman floor mosaic, 3rd century AD, Archaeological Museum of Tunisia. Credit)

Private executions were thought to be less humane because they robbed the damned of delivering a dramatic final speech. The state also used public executions to bolster public support and control over dissenters. For the sake of space I won’t go into the centuries-long tradition that includes common methods of punishment like crucifixion, burning, and the guillotine. Suffice to say public executions were standard practice in Europe and the U.S. until the 19th and early 20th centuries.The-Bells-of-St.-Sepulchre-1.jpg(The Execution Bell of St. Sepulchre was used to mark the execution of offenders at Newgate prison which is no longer in existence. Kept in a glass case at St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate church. Credit)

We now look upon this practice with legitimate distaste. Yet in its heyday those who supported public capital punishment likely thought they were doing right by the citizenry by taking a preventative stance against crime and forcing onlookers to confront the complexities of death. However, historians note that these events had quite the opposite effect by encouraging crimes such as pickpocketing and public drunkenness. It was also common for fatal crowd stampedes to occur. The last formal public executions occurred in 1868 in Britain, in 1936 in the U.S. and in 1939 in France (warning, linked video contains material not suitable for children).bethea1a.jpg
(The execution of Rainey Bethea, who confessed to the rape and murder of a 70-year-old woman. Credit)

3. Potter’s fields. Got an aunt who loves genealogy? Demonstrate your knowledge of family detective work by mentioning the preponderance of these unmarked gravesites. It can sometimes be difficult to trace family roots because those buried at these locations were poor, homeless, or otherwise unidentified at the time of death. The term comes from Matthew 27:3 in the New Testament of the Bible and alludes to the non-usability of land which would have been full of holes after digging up clay for pottery making.17HART2-master675.jpg(A trench at the potter’s field of Hart Island, circa 1890. Credit Jacob A. Riis/Museum of the City of New York.)

The first known potter’s field was at Aceldama/Akeldama or Hakeldama (Aramaic for field of blood) located in Jerusalem. During the Crusades it was used to bury foreign patients who died in the hospital run by the Knights Hospitaller. It continued to be used as a burial place for non-Jews up to the first quarter of the 19th century. Early potter’s fields were not separate cemeteries but vacant portions of an existing churchyard or monastery. It is often difficult to trace the history of potter’s fields since they were usually unmarked or used only for short periods of time. Akeldama1.jpg(The hillside on which the Aceldama monastery stands is honeycombed with burial caves and tombs of unknown pilgrims. Credit)

Most major cities have potter’s fields that were designated by the municipality. If you do some digging in your own city you’ll likely find evidence of public cemeteries that were used to inter unclaimed inmates or those who died at psychiatric facilities for example. Even if they are given proper titles or housed within existing cemeteries these grounds are all characteristically known as potter’s fields or pauper’s graves. Sites may have few monuments and have often been repurposed for other public space. One of the best historical and heartrending accounts I found was published in this New York Times article about Hart Island in the Bronx. Among varying demographic groups laid to rest in potter’s fields the greatest percentage of interments are occupied by infants and immigrants. potters1.jpg(Ceremonies have not been conducted at Hart Island since the 1950s and no individual markers are set. Credit)

Happy Holidays and thanks again for supporting this weird little corner of the web!

-Alysen

Ritual Sacrifice: Bog Bodies and Beyond

Ritual Sacrifice: Bog Bodies and Beyond

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If you’re like me, when the state of the world gets you down your mind goes to introspective places like, “how did humankind get this way?” I keep returning to an old grad school steady, Kenneth Burke and his theory on the cult of the kill. Then I recently found an article on the ritual killings of bog bodies in Europe and thought I’d share the results of my recent rabbit hole:

Evidence of human sacrifice has been discovered deep into prehistory. Ritual human sacrifice was thought to have originated in complex societies such as the Aztecs but archeologists are finding ties to hunter-gatherers throughout the Upper Paleolithic period as well. This is an important development because it suggests that our earliest ancestors were far more advanced than previously thought. It also poses the question if humans have been observing the symbolic importance of burial and death since our species began. sunghir-burial.jpg(Credit)

The photo above is an artistic rendering of two preteens whose bodies were found in modern Russia radiocarbon dated to the Stone Age. They were discovered with grave inclusions consisting of over 5,000 chipped ivory beads and fox teeth. Their bones were covered in a pigmented clay called red ochre. Because of their elaborate decorations and odd placement the remnants did not match other funeral sites documented from that period. The photo below depicts another odd burial of three teenagers from the same time found in the Czech province of Moravia with similar anomalies. Scholars argue that these strange similarities can be explained by ritual sacrifice.

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Other instances of ritual sacrifice have shown up along the vast cultural timeline including the Japanese tradition of Hitobashira in which a person was buried alive under a public building like a dam or bridge in prayer to the gods for protection from natural disasters and enemy attacks. This tradition took place as early as 323 AD.

1024px-Maruoka_Castle_20100529-01.jpg(Maruoka Castle, one of the oldest surviving castles in Japan is rumored to have been constructed with a human pillar, found in the legend of “O-shizu, Hitobashira.” Credit)

Human sacrifice is common in Western myth and practice including Greek mythology and religious texts. In Homer’s Illiad, Iphigenia was to be sacrificed by her father in hopes of winning the Trojan War. According to the Bible, Judges 11:30-34, Jephthah vows his daughter as a burnt offering if he won the battle against the Ammonites. The Celts ritualistically impaled victims in order to foretell the future from their death moans. Many pre-modern tribes practiced headhunting or the ceremonial beheading of an adversary for magical purposes. I hate to use Wikipedia as a reference here but honestly the list of examples is so long you can explore evidence yourself spanning every continent and epoch all the way through the European colonization of the Americas. It is still practiced in parts of the developing world. Of course, the Aztec’s popularized the tradition having purportedly killed a few thousand people each year who were both members of the Aztec community and prisoners of war.

1280px-James_Cook,_English_navigator,_witnessing_human_sacrifice_in_Taihiti_(Otaheite)_c._1773.jpg(Depiction of a human sacrifice in Tahiti c. 1773. Credit)
800px-Tollundmannen.jpg(Tollund Man lived in the 4th century BCE and is one of the best studied examples of a bog body. Credit)Borremose_Man2.jpg(Borremose Man:Credit)

Bog bodies are some of the best known examples of mummified human remains. They vary wildly in age, spanning as far back as 8000 BCE until WWII. Due to high levels of acid found in decaying peat moss, a few of the bodies are in perfect condition showing details like hair and follicles. While the exact number of cadavers found has been contested, hundreds of full and partial bodies have been catalogued and studied. Most of them are casualties of ritual sacrifice scientists now believe.

Weerdinge-men_1904 2.jpg(By Geert Jannes Landweer (1859-1924), Public Domain)Moselig-fra-Stidsholdt-Mose,-Torslev_DO-637_original.jpg(Stidsholt Woman, severed head discovered in 1859. Credit)

What I can’t stop thinking about is how pervasive this practice has been. We cannot deny that modern civilization bears a common thread. Ritual sacrifice has touched every continent and many major religious groups. Modern Christians worship a man who was publicly tortured and offered up to a greater deity in exchange for life beyond the grave.humansacrifice2.jpg (Credit)

It’s easy to cleave whole parts of the story and use it draw lines between the civilized and barbaric world. It’s a lot like what I talked about in my post on cannibalism. Again, this isn’t a discussion on the acceptability of murdering humans, rather an exercise in deducing why things are the way they are. In fact, a recent study suggests human sacrifice might have yielded many of the social hierarchies that now exist. This common early behavior made societies less egalitarian and eventually gave rise to strict class systems. In other words, ritual killing helped thin the crowd from dissenters and kept the powerful in place. Because power elites have been able to solidify their positions over centuries we’ve evolved to less obvious forms of social control like policing, taxation, and war to keep class systems in place.humansacrifice9.png(Egyptian stone carving of human sacrifice. Credit)

Regardless of how we arrived at present state at least we have more or less stopped the sanctioned killing of folks. I don’t know if I’m convinced that ritual sacrifice alone caused complex class distinctions to emerge but I do think it’s important to take stock of where we came. When people wonder why things like gun violence and war are so difficult to stamp out I shudder to think the answers are much closer than we care to admit.

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Better Know a Taphophile: Courtney

Better Know a Taphophile: Courtney

Happy Saturday everyone. I’m thrilled to share my first guest interview today! Courtney and I met in my home state of Indiana. She was one of my favorite patron’s when I worked at Allen County Public Library in early to mid 2000s. Besides her genuineness and great taste in library material I always knew there was a reason I immediately liked her! Here is Courtney’s story about why cemeteries have been an important place since her teen years:

I’m drawn to the stories of cemeteries. In the small town where I grew up there was a large historic cemetery where my friends and I liked to go. We rambled around picking out our favorite stones and tried to imagine the deceaseds’ lives based on dates, family plots, and the monuments themselves. My favorite was a tall white obelisk that had a man’s name on the front. The right face read, “His Wife” with dates. Not uncommon for a woman’s life to be entirely whittled down to that. More memorable was the left side which read, “His Other Wife.” She was dead and yet only rated trusty #2 in memorium. It says so much about that time and family. The inscription has remained with me.

I also had a picnic in that same cemetery with the first boy I really loved. It was for prom. It was a small group. We were 17. It is one of the most precious memories I have from high school. We were weirdos and happy to have a place to go that captured the melancholy of that time. We used to say that witches were burned at the stake in that spot because it seemed fittingly spooky. We didn’t really believe it though. IMG_5573.jpg(Photo courtesy, Courtney K.)

If I could be buried anywhere I would want to be there in Batavia Cemetery…but I know it’s full. I also get the practicality of cremation or the allure of being buried in a tree-growing pod. In my wildest dreams I want people to wonder who the hell I am. Buried under a block of granite with some weird quote and my name, maybe there will even be a picture and the lyrics to my favorite song. Screenshot 2017-11-04 10.19.56.png

My favorite novel, Wuthering Heights centers around graves, death, and ghosts. I am also a HUGE Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. At least 25% of that show takes place in cemeteries. Buffy refers to herself as “She Who Hangs Out In Cemeteries a Lot.” I have definitely ran around the cemetery pretending to be Buffy. I don’t think our culture focuses enough on death and dying. It’s shocking when death is the most normal thing there is next to birth and more certain.batavia185085nph.jpg(Credit)

Thank you so much for sharing your charming story, Courtney! You definitely win my vote for best prom!

If you have a story that you’d like to tell please leave a comment below and I’ll send you contact info. Or see this post. I’d love to interview you or share your cemetery story here!

Hanging Coffins: Burial in the Sky

Hanging Coffins: Burial in the Sky

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Doing research for my last blogpost about the Madagascarian custom of dancing with corpses I found another touching ritual that was too good not to share. Nailed among the cliffs in various parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, and China you can find solemn effigies of early Eastern culture. For some ethnic communities this centuries old practice has survived and involves suspending wooden coffins hundreds of feet in the air.

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In areas where hanging coffins have been discovered but the local population is no longer practicing the custom, exact reasons for the bizarre tradition are scarce. For native people who have maintained their heritage the process is thought to prolong decomposition and also prevents rivals or animals from stealing off with bones.

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In preparation for the ceremony the cadaver usually undergoes a smoking process to stave off rot. A funeral is then given at home while the corpse is blanketed and seated in a special death chair. After a period of mourning a celebratory procession is held. Family members sometimes try to acquire samples of the loved one’s blood for the purpose of rubbing it into their skin which is thought to absorb the spirit. The consecration concludes with remains being shuttled vertically to coffins suspended in the rocks.

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Sadly, the tradition itself is passing away. Younger members of such practicing ethnic groups have adopted more Christianized funerals and many of the ancient sites are in danger of falling down. There are very few resources devoted to preserving the sites. Although, recent efforts by preservationists have seen more governmental funding and research being devoted to the cause.

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What’s fascinating is that these burial sites are not always easy to locate. As you can see from the establishing shot regions in which memorials have been discovered are extremely mountainous and difficult to traverse. Coffins are often hidden within crags or lined along crevices invisible from the ground.

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This CNN Travel video describes one hanging coffin enthusiast who travels by boat to some pretty remote locations. The article concludes by stating that new sites are still being discovered and that experts remain puzzled by the logistics of dragging heavy remains up hundreds of feet. I know I’d be damn grateful if my friends and family took the effort to drag me up the side of the mountain to be buried with the clouds.

Dancing Dead: Dans Macabre and Famadihana

Dancing Dead: Dans Macabre and Famadihana

If you happen to be a real-life Indiana girl the music video for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was something of a novelty. Forget dirty dancing, dead dancing suddenly became a sexy date idea, at least for Tom Petty. Then again stranger things have happened in Indiana.

Actually, dancing with the dead and its many visual forms have been around since plague gripped the Middle Ages. This genre of art depicted the horrifying realities of being surrounded by the dead and came to be called dans macabre. Today it’s an actual burial rite still practiced in Madagascar known as famadihana.

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Dans macabre fits also into the category of momento mori, which you can read about in my other blogpost here. Imagine that everyone you loved was plague-stricken or could be taken away at any moment due to starvation or war. That was pretty much the scene in 14th and 15th century Europe.

Pompeii-skeleton.jpg(Credit)

Even before the Middle Ages skeletons were a common motif. This skeleton with jugs adorned a cistern at the famous House of the Faun in Pompeii , built during 2nd century bc.  In order to cope with the bleakness people took to art. Debate surrounds the particulars of how dans macabre became such a public sight but most scholars agree that the murals painted at Cimetière des Saints-Innocents in Paris between 1424–25 launched the imagery to fame.  Charnier_at_Saints_Innocents_Cemetery.jpg(Credit)

Above is a rendering of the murals found along the churchyard ossuary (i.e. storage facilities filled with bones). The murals were destroyed in 1669. I’ve also written about this churchyard here. These panels were celebrated in Paris and likely kicked off the morbid illustrations that spread throughout Europe.

7b8c3c58a92c91942349076ba295ea6c--wrap-style-danse-macabre.jpg(From La Danse macabre written in 1486. Credit)

Dans macabre is powerful because it forces the onlooker to think about death as a person and perceive it as an active force. It’s also a useful religious tool reminding god-fearing souls to repent. More than anything I think dans macabre is a way to be darkly humourous about death. Many of the images involve dancing skeletons and clergy or wealthy lords. This functioned as a form of political satire reminding upper classes that death keeps us all inextricably linked. Unfortunately, most murals that adorned public places like churches have been lost to time. But there’s a ton surviving in print. This amazing book called Simolachri, Historie, e Figure de la Morte holds a bunch of peculiar illustrations collected from original manuscripts published in Germany, 1538:

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Here is a skeleton playing xylophone for a hobbling old woman while death dances behind her. Other famous images include Michael Wolgemut’s woodcuts found in Historia mundi, 1493:

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There’s something so perfect about dancing and death. In it we find a sense of poetic justice or triumphing over the sadness of dying. It’s reasonable to consider that for some cultures this has become more than images on a page.

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The celebration above is called famadihana, a funerary tradition of the Malagasy people in Madagascar. Known as the turning of the bones, people dig up bodies of their ancestors every 5 to 7 years from the family crypt and redress them in fresh cloth. Entire families take turns dancing with corpses around the tomb to live music.

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To begin the dearly departed’s burial garments are removed, the bodies dusted and re-dressed in fresh silk. Family members then dance until sunset at which point the remains are returned to their graves but placed upside-down to symbolize the cycle of life and death.

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While the ceremony is dwindling in popularity due to costs of exhuming and re-interring loved ones, many have been undeterred. In fact, this practice recently made headlines because of public health concerns involving contact with corpses and a rapidly developing new plague. According to the article those who participate in the ritual have been reluctant to desist because they feel it is an intrinsic part of their way of life. It’s clear from watching this first-hand experience of the celebration that famadihana is an important part of the grieving process for those who know nothing else than dancing away their sorrow while clutching someone’s bones.

Maybe Tom Petty was onto something after all…

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Taphophile Interview Series: Why do you like cemeteries?

Taphophile Interview Series: Why do you like cemeteries?

Thanks everyone who reached out to share your love of cemetery talk! I wanted to keep the dialogue going by hearing more about you. I devised the following interview questions and if you feel so inclined I’d love to share them here! Please be as open-ended within 500-900 words. Pictures are also helpful but not required. Respond with your answers to diggirldesigns@gmail.com. I can’t wait to hear from you!

  1. What draws you to cemeteries?
  2. When did you develop this interest?
  3. Do you have a favorite cemetery or burial place that you’ve visited (or always wanted to visit)? Where is it?
  4. Are general topics of death and dying important to discuss? Why or why not?
  5. Tell us more about yourself—any other hobbies or interests?
  6. How do you want to be memorialized (if at all) after your death?

Thanks again for your continued support in this blog!

-Alysen

13423838_576381755854388_1951536562035813735_n(Photos Copyright Alysen Wade 2017)