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.

09 September 2011

Gravestone Project- First Attempt

I dragged my poor husband out to Sharp Cemetery after work on Wednesday to attempt my first set of data for The Gravestone Project.

I chose that location over Killeen City Cemetery because Sharp Cemetery is smaller and more remote, which means there were likely to be fewer people to be offended by and/or ask awkward questions about what those two crazy people were doing to the gravestones with all those weird instruments.

The "new" GPS (actually a fifteen-year-old Magellan GPS 2000 in suprisingly good condition, which is very basic but does what I need it to do) works pretty well if you give it a minute or to to pick up enough satellites. I knew this already because I spent Wednesday morning at work playing with it, and I now have a partial GPS plot of the funeral home to show for it. Locations were easy enough as a result.

Determining the direction the gravestones were facing was also pleasantly simple despite the fact that I forgot to bring a compass (no excuse since I own three or four) thanks to the fact that Sharp Cemetery is coveniently laid out on pretty close to exact east-west lines (who needs a compass when you have a beautiful sunset because you put off the trip until too late in the day?) so all of the graves are facing either due east or due west, and it's not hard to tell those two apart, especially in the late evening.

Measurements were slightly more problematic. I had acquired a nice set of digital calipers on Amazon.com, and except for one afternoon of enthusiastic fiddling with them, I hadn't really spent as much time practicing measurements as I should have before actually going to the cemetery. I quickly discovered that the digital calipers were technically easier to read than the analog ones I had used back in grad school, but slightly trickier; I must have measured the same spot on one particular marker five or six times, because I kept getting different readings on my calipers.

Determining ground level- which is important in the placement of the measurements, and which also has to be recorded if you're measuring a gravestone on a pedestal, which most of the marble ones at Sharp Cemetery seem to be- was also a little tricky thanks to uneven ground and thick tufts of dried grass. I had forgotten something vital about field work of any sort, in any discipline- it's never as cut-and-dried or neat as the plan says it should be.

By the time we had to leave, after less than an hour of working time- we were late to our planned dinner anyway- we only had one set of measurements which I didn't quite trust, and I was grumpy, frustrated, and disappointed. My remarkably patient husband chalked it up to a learning experience and made a few helpful suggestions, mostly centered on practice, instruction-reading, and a few more items of equipment, like a small level.

With that in mind, I'm hoping to make another attempt this weekend, hopefully with better and more useful results.

06 September 2011

Wednesday's Child: Ruby Lee Overton

Ruby Lee Overton (1910-1914) has a pretty marble gravestone beneath a tree in Sharp Cemetery, with a bench alongside it. It's a pleasant and peaceful spot.

Her stone is engraved with a dove carrying an olive branch, imagery reminiscent of the Noah's Ark story.

The allusion is particularly evocative combined with her epitaph, which reads, "Our darling one hath gone / before to greet us on the / blissful shore."

Reading that verse and looking at the image of the dove, I thought of the story of the dove being sent out from Ark to seek dry land- shore- and returning with an olive branch as proof of its presence; compare this to the idea of a little child going before her parents to a metaphysical "shore"; the image of the dove and its assurance that something was there waiting must have been spiritually comforting in that context.

Dau. of
J.A. & M.A.
OCT. 22, 1910
JULY 11, 1914
Our darling one hath gone
before to greet us on the
blissful shore.

The sources I have read on gravestone iconography describe the lamb as a symbol of innocence primarily used on children's gravestones, but in my wanderings through local cemeteries, I have so far noticed that doves seem to be as common a symbol on children's graves as lambs, though neither doves nor lambs seem to be exclusively children's symbols, as I have mentioned before.

I am in the process of collecting some data on this to try to determine whether a pattern of age or gender distribution in the use of either of these symbols actually exists, at least in my area.