Cemeteries hold memories and reassuranceWhen I was in my 20s I dreaded funerals and going to cemeteries. As I grew older, and maybe wiser, I came to appreciate them as parts of American life.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
When I was in my 20s I dreaded funerals and going to cemeteries. As I grew older, and maybe wiser, I came to appreciate them as parts of American life.
All of that came back to me when I got a tour of the Newport Cemetery from Glen Boyd, former cemetery superintendent and member of the cemetery’s board of directors.
The South Washington Heritage Society toured the cemetery on Saturday, July 19. I enjoyed that tour but wanted more information.
In May of 1995, I did a story about Boyd and how he came to be superintendent. He and his wife, Irene, buried their son there in 1981. Stephen, 18, was killed in a car accident.
I was touched when he said he got to visit Stephen’s grave every day.
I went back to the story I wrote 13 years ago about Boyd and the cemetery. Though full of information, I missed something important.
Boyd cares about the cemetery because he wants to help others through the grieving process with as much ease as possible.
When mistakes are made during the burial process, no family member forgets it.
It happened to our family and it took a long time to set it right.
My mother-in-law, Hope Spooner, and my mother, Marjorie Booth, died within a year of each other in 1976 and 1977, respectively.
At her request, Hope was cremated. No headstone was erected.
Husband Gary’s older sister, Carol, was sad that she had no cemetery to go to. It just never seemed right.
When my father-in-law, Bob Spooner, died, the family buried him outside Alma, Wis., alongside relatives. Hope’s name, including birth and death dates, were put on the monument and things were put right.
I learned from that experience.
Before my dad died three years ago, he was very clear that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered. Just before he died, however, I got his permission to put his ashes beside my mother’s grave where there is a marker.
Though it didn’t matter to me, I was concerned about my descendents. Maybe no one will visit the gravesite, but I left that opportunity.
The National Park Service has much information on its Web site about the history of American cemeteries.
Before the 1800s, people were not buried in coffins, according to the service.
Most people were buried in church yards but Puritans rejected this as heretical and too reminiscent of religions from which they escaped.
Coffin burials gradually came into use but not when people were on their way west in wagon trains. When people died, they were buried along the trail, frequently in handmade quilts.
Cemeteries built on hills, filled with monuments hark back to the 1830s when cemeteries were thought to be places for artwork. Beautiful landscaping reflected a very romantic notion of nature.
That movement gave way to perpetual-care cemeteries that allow only stones set in the ground so all that can be see is a spacious lawn.
Newport Cemetery is a combination of both movements.
Before leaving the cemetery, I realized that for most of my life, 47 years, I have lived in this community. It’s not just area history and the people I knew who are there.
It’s my history, too.
Judy Spooner can be reached at email@example.com.
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