02 February 2012

What's in a name? Maybe a cemetery!

I learned something interesting about the last town I lived in. The town was named Killeen in 1881, after Frank P. Killeen, the assistant general manager of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe railway, who built the town on land along the tracks being laid through Central Texas. The Killeen family apparently stuck around, because there are number of them buried in Killeen City Cemetery.

I always thought the name sounded vaguely Irish, but according to an article I recently read about a children's burial ground in Ireland, the name "Killeen" itself is an old Celtic word (cillĂ­n/killeen) for a burial ground for unbaptized children, the mentally disabled, those who committed suicides, and others prohibited from burial in consecrated ground in the 16th century.

The especially interesting part about this is that in order to have gotten such a thing as a surname, some distant ancestor of the Killeen family must have been very closely associated with such a burial ground.

01 February 2012

Wednesday's Child: Darling Infant Son (and Family)

The Darling Infant Son of John Franklin and Lecy (White) Brothers is buried in the Brothers family plot with his parents and his father's first wife, Susan Tennessee Brothers.

Infant Brothers' obelisk is surprisingly ornate for an infant in this area. Obelisks for infants seem rare in Central Texas; most of the baby gravestones that I have seen in Bell County tend to be smaller, often engraved with a resting lamb or a dove, but less ornate than that of the Brothers baby.

The obelisk features a resting lamb, which is a fairly common motif for infant gravestones, but Darling Infant's lamb rests beneath a radiant star. The scene is reminiscent of the nativity, with the Lamb of God resting beneath the star.

John Franklin Brothers' first wife, Susan Tennessee, died in 1901.

J.F. and Lecy must have married by the end of 1902 (not an uncommon practice at the time), because their son was stillborn on September 7, 1903. Lecy would have been about twenty years old on her wedding day, and her husband would have been more than twice her age (also not uncommon at the time). J.F. preceded her in death in 1937, when he was buried beside his first wife and his son.

His gravestone is beautiful and interesting in its own right, a massive stone block rather than the slender obelisks of his infant son and first wife.

Lecy lived on until 1973, when she was laid to rest between her late husband and their son.

31 January 2012

Tombstone Tuesday: Come Ye Blessed

M.P. Beck (1860-1920) is buried in Killeen City Cemetery alongside her husband, Samuel Vivian Beck (1859-1931). Her gravestone is a beautiful podium bearing a closed book, with an open gate motif on its front above the epitaph.

This open gate iconography was evidently a popular choice for Central Texas graveston
es of the early twentieth century. I have seen and documented several in cemeteries around Killeen. Once, I mistook the open space in the middle of a particularly weathered example for a willow tree (a much rarer image in this area). Most depict an open gate with a a star in the sky on the far side of the gate. The image symbolizes the gates of heaven, open for the faithful to enter (hence the caption above the gate, "COME ALL YE BLESSED.")

Atop the podium, the closed book is a slightly less common (though not unheard of, by any means) sight in Bell County, especially in combination with the gate. Open books are slightly more common than closed ones, but either usually represents the Bible.

I am still trying to identify the plant whose branch adorns the sides of the podium. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?

Samuel Vivian Beck died eleven years after his wife, and his gravestone sits alongside hers, smaller and much simpler in a more modern style (although plenty of gravestones from the 1930s still bear more of a resemblance to Mrs. Beck's than to Mr. Beck's; the 1930s seem to have been a period of transition in gravestone art, although my evidence for that is strictly anecdotal so far).

Mrs. Beck's epitaph is weathered with age, but it still says:

M.P. Beck
wife of
S.V. Beck
Feb. 10, 1856
June 16, 1920
Gone but not forgotten

30 January 2012

Once More, with Portraits!

Last Words is finally back, after a slightly disruptive relocation to El Paso, Texas! This week, I'll be posting the last of my photos from Killeen. On that last visit to Killeen City Cemetery back in September, I found the shared gravestone of Clinton Lewis Shafer (1886-1954) and Sadie H. (Parmer) Shafer (1890-1970).

The Parmers are a fairly prominent family in Killeen's history, and they are still part of the community; I recall serving some of Mrs. Shafer's relatives when I worked at the funeral home.

The portraits were what caught my attention, though. Gravestones and epitaphs become very familiar once gravestone photography becomes a hobby and/or mortuary iconography becomes a serious research interest, but there is something immediate and personal about seeing a person's face there that often catches me by surprise.

Portraits on gravestones were fairly popular in the early twentieth century, and black-and-white photographs set in stone dot the older sections of most cemeteries. These photographs are printed on ceramic plaques which are then mounted into an indention in the gravestone, which you can see in this (otherwise sort of oddly angled) picture of Mr. Shafer's portrait.

When researching an earlier post about portraits a few months ago, I discovered that some contemporary marker companies still offer this service, though I haven't seen many gravestones from the last couple of decades that incorporate pictures.

26 November 2011

Orange Gravestones- Halloween 2011

We're in the process of moving, so while I'm unpacking my camera and my stash of gravestone photos, and while I'm finding new cemeteries to explore here in El Paso, enjoy these slightly outdated photos of the gravestone-themed pumpkins I carved for Halloween!

My zombie hand turned out much better than I expected it to, but it "wilted" pretty quickly. The creepy part came after that, when it stood up on its own again for another day or so. Zombies... What can you do?

I thought the inversion of this pattern was really cool. I also thought the creepy overhanging branches were challenging to carve and ended up looking oddly like a pair of lungs.

It's sort of simple, but I thought it was really pretty. I had to edit out a goofy-looking cartoon ghost when I transferred the pattern onto the pumpkin.

Pictures of all 18 of our pumpkins should be up on Shutterfly and/or One Day at a Time as soon as I get around to it, which will hopefully be within the week.

Pictures of, and notes about, actual gravestones from out here on the border should be up sometime next week, and I'll continue running pictures from back in Killeen while they last.

15 September 2011

A Sailor in Central Texas- Eddie Bishop (1898-1919)

A couple of months ago, I was intrigued by a Gravestoned post about a soldier's grave in Ohio. The gravestone of George Snyder, Jr. (d. 1862) featured a carving, in deep relief, of a soldier in the uniform of the Union Army, standing at attention with his rifle.

Curious, I asked Pugbug whether she had seen similar imagery elsewhere. She replied, "I do not see that often in this part of Ohio. In fact, I only remember one other--and it was mixed with other symbols (flag, etc) and badly weathered."

That response explains why I got so excited last weekend when I discovered a remarkably similar carving on a gravestone in our city cemetery here in Killeen, Texas.

This World War I sailor standing at attention is a 21-year-old Gunner's Mate, Third Class from Alabama.

His name is Eddie Bishop (1898-1919), and after serving his country in World War I, he died of the measles while in South Carolina.

I recently contacted his great-great nephew Don Clark to request permission to use the wonderful personal photographs Mr. Clark shared on GM3 Bishop's memorial page, which he very kindly gave me, along with a note that Eddie Bishop was the youngest of the fourteen children born to Benjamin Henry Bishop (1850-1929) and Susan Elizabeth (Belcher) Bishop (1849-1936).

Sadly, 21-year-old Eddie was not the Bishops' first lost child, nor the last; the couple lost an infant son, Barnie Vinson Bishop (1883-1884), in 1884, and would lose another son, George Henry (1879-1925) before Mr. Bishop's passing in 1929. Mrs. Bishop lived on to see the death of her daughter Laura Alma (1878-1932) just four years before her own passing in 1936.

Benjamin Henry and Susan Elizabeth Bishop and a number of their children are also buried in Killeen City Cemetery.

The epitaph on Eddie Bishop's gravestone, though weathered and faint, lovingly refers to this 21-year-old combat veteran as "our baby."

I found myself oddly moved by that small detail- first, because it spoke poignantly of his parents' obvious affection and grief, but also because of the apparent universality of parents' endearing tendency to see us that way no matter what we might do in life or how old we might be. "Parents," I thought with a fond smile and a shake of my head that referred to both GM3 Bishop's parents and my own, and wondered whether Eddie Bishop would have shared my sentimental musings.

As a soldier's wife, I understand that not all of the hazards of service come from enemy fire. George Snyder's epitaph reminded the viewer, in very expressive first-person, that "I have laid down my life for my country's sake." So did Eddie Bishop- like many other young men of his generation and countless others before and since.

Rest in well-deserved peace.

(All photos of Eddie Bishop and his parents are borrowed from the Eddie Bishop memorial page on Find-A-Grave with the gracious permission of Don Clark)

14 September 2011

Wednesday's Child: The Blair Twins (1900)

In the old section of Killeen City Cemetery, beneath matching gravestones with matching stone doves, rest a pair twin girls, Jennie Blair and Jimmie Blair.

Born together on November 19, 1900, the girls' deaths were separated by only a week; Jennie died the next day, November 20, and her sister Jimmie followed on November 27.

[date images]

They share the same sadly hopeful epitaph.

Our darling one has gone before, to greet us on the blissful shore.

I can only imagine what must have caused the deaths of these newborns, or how their parents must have grieved.

13 September 2011

You're certainly welcome, Mr. Polk

Last weekend, my husband and I were out in our local cemetery trying to fill in some missing photographs on Find-A-Grave.

We were working in the older sections of the cemetery, so not many people were around; the couple of people who were at the cemetery so early on a Saturday morning were all visiting more recently deceased family members in the newer sections, so I wasn't too worried about having to answer questions about what we were doing there with our camera and our notebook.

Maybe there wouldn't be questions anyway, but I always worry. Maybe I just have a guilty conscience.

About midway through the morning, a family parked not far from our car and strolled into the section we were walking through. They paused at a family plot a couple of lots over, then one of the guys walked over toward where my husband and I were- Greg with his camera and floppy hat and I with my notebook and pen.

"Who are you looking for?" he asked conversationally. I shrugged and held up my notebook in a vaguely explanatory gesture and replied that we had a long list. He asked if I had any Polks on my list, and I apologetically explained that I was only as far along as A's and B's in this section.

That got a politely questioning look.

I was oddly reluctant to just say "I'm doing this for Find-A-Grave," because I tend to be sort of absurdly self-conscious about pretty much everything anyway, and I was afraid that someone out visiting deceased relatives who was unfamiliar with the site might somehow be offended or think we had no business being there, and I didn't want either odd looks or a confrontation. Like I said, I think it's a guilty conscience.

Instead, I stammered something like "Well, I'm a volunteer photographer- even though I'm making my husband take the pictures today- for this online grave database for genealogy researchers-" and nodded.

"Oh, I know that website," he said. As we talked a bit more before they left for the day, it turned out that his daughter had recommended Find-A-Grave to him as a resource. "It's helped me a lot with my own research. Thank y'all so much for your work."

I haven't really done much yet (though my husband was able to point out another plot of Polks to him), so I'm passing that along to any other Find-A-Grave volunteers who happen to read this.

12 September 2011

Optical Illusion- Willow Tree and Gate

Willow trees are a rare sight here in central Texas, whether you're looking in nature or on gravestones. They are also one of my favorite symbols, so I always hope to see one when I visit a cemetery.

Yesterday, while walking through our city cemetery with my husband, looking for something else entirely, I spotted a willow tree on a marker and enthusiastically pointed it out to him, requesting a picture (Greg is my photographer when he comes along, because most of my leverage for convincing him comes from the fact that he wants to pursue photography as a serious hobby, and practice is practice).

He obligingly took the picture I wanted, but when he zoomed in for a closer shot of the image, he said "Hon, I don't think this is a willow tree. Take a look." On closer inspection, he was right. The picture on the stone was actually an open gate- a fairly common motif around here- with a lighter area behind it for contrast which just happened to be shaped like a tree.

I stubbornly insisted that maybe it was a deliberate optical illusion, like that ubiquitous painting that is simultaneously a picture of a lamp and of two faces staring at each other. Finding one of the gravestones we were actually looking for, which also featured an open gate motif, pretty much put that idea to rest for me (though I still think it would be pretty cool).

I seem to be developing a habit of getting things confused where willow trees are concerned.

11 September 2011

In the Service of His Country in Tutulia, Samoa

While walking in our local city cemetery this weekend, I encountered the grave of a young sailor named Zack Marvin Bonds (1896-1926).

I was (and still am) curious about what had become of this young man half a world away in Tutulia, Samoa, a place geographically and culturally quite distant from central Texas.

The Naval Historical Center maintains a helpful and interesting list of "Casualties: U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Personnel Killed and Wounded in Wars, Conflicts, Terrorist Acts, and Other Hostile Incidents" from the Revolutionary War through 2010. A review of that list revealed only two incidents of enemy action in 1926, both in China. On 5 September, "USS Stewart (DD-224) fired on by Chinese troops near Wuchang, Yangtze River, China," an action in which two U.S. sailors were wounded, but no one (on USS Stewart) was Linkkilled. Then, on 19 September, "USS Pigeon (AM-47) fired on Chinese below Hanyang, China," and three U.S. sailors were wounded, but USS Pigeon suffered no fatalities.

(It is interesting to note that these isolated events were reported as discrete incidents in the Navy's casualty listing, since they were not part of any wider declared conflict; World War I is listed as a single item, with 431 sailors killed in action and 819 wounded, and 2,461 Marines killed in action and 9,520 wounded.)

Anyway, the Naval Historical Center's list pretty firmly rules out a "hostile incident" as the cause of Mr. Bonds' death.

The note on his gravestone that he "died in the service of his country" indicates that he was on active duty at the time of his death, but the death need not have been directly related to his duties; illness and accident are the most likely possibilities.