This month marks the second anniversary of my blog! When I started Adventures in Cemetery Hopping, I didn’t know if I’d even last six months. It’s hard to believe I’ve made it this far.
These six posts are among my favorites for 2014. I also have updates on what happened after I wrote them. Do you have a favorite?
The Elephant in the Room (or Under the University)
Looking strictly at the numbers, this blog post was by far the most read in 2014 and for good reason. How often do you get to learn about how a circus elephant ended up buried on the campus of a prestigious Atlanta college like Oglethorpe University?
Not every college can say they have an elephant buried under their library, but Oglethorpe University can.
The elephant story attracted a lot of attention from Oglethorpe alums (like my husband) and current students who themselves enjoy re-telling the tale to friends and family. As I pointed out then, it’s highly unlikely today that two college students could drive downtown, pick up an elephant carcass and haul it back to campus to dissect it as part of their anatomy class. But it really did happen!
I did get a chance to ask Oglethorpe President Dr. Larry Schall what he thought of my idea of putting up a plaque to commemorate the elephant, but I think he thought I was either joking or crazy. Maybe someday I can make that wish come true.
Alkaline Hydrolysis: Water Cremation and the “Ick Factor”
After I wrote my post about alkaline hydrolysis, also known as water cremation, it got the attention of one of my heroes, Caleb Wilde (who writes a blog called Confessions of a Funeral Director). To get an email from someone of his standing, asking to reprint my post on his blog was something I’d only dreamed about. Yes, I literally screamed when I read it! I think it was so bizarre a topic that it struck a chord with a number of his readers.
Anthony A. Lombardi, division manager for Matthews Cremation, demonstrates a bio-cremation (AH) machine. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel.
AH is a process in which you put a corpse in a long, metal tube, pulverize it with a mixture of lye and water at a high temperature, then capture the leftover bone fragments. Those are crushed into a powder similar to cremation ashes. The other bi-product, a dark petroleum-like ooze, goes right back into the water.
That “ick factor” makes many people uncomfortable. It’s not a process I’d choose myself. Also, it’s still only legal in a handful of states. Despite the “ick factor” of AH, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it just yet.
A Climb Up The Wedding Cake: Visiting Myrtle Hill Cemetery
Another favorite post was about my visit to Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Ga. People had been telling me about it for months but when I finally did get there, it was obvious what a treasure it is. Many of my readers told me they also enjoyed visiting it via Facebook. I also reunited with my good friend, Valerie.
Not only did Myrtle Hill serve as a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War, the wedding cake-like tiers that ring the sides of the hill are fascinating to climb. Situated high above Rome, it has a landscape unlike most cemeteries. Myrtle Hill is also home to the only First Lady buried in Georgia: President Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Ellen Axson Wilson.
Ellen Axson Wilson is buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Ga. She was not only very intelligent but a talented artist.
I hope to return to Myrtle Hill Cemetery again in 2015. It’s the kind of place you want to go back to over and over again.
Finding Grave #153: The Athens Asylum Cemeteries
The story of my ancestor’s final resting place at the Athens Asylum Cemeteries on the campus of Ohio University was one I’d wanted to write for quite a while. So many graves like Levi’s, bearing only a number, are the only memorial to a a life lived.
There’s still so much I wish I knew about Levi Mercer’s life. How he ended up being categorized as “insane” after many years of being a husband, father and farmer. Things I’ll probably never know.
Grave #153 contains the remains of Levi Martin Mercer, a relative of mine who died in 1888 at the Athens Lunatic Asylum in Ohio.
I’m still trying to find out how to get a marker with Levi’s name on it placed at his grave. I got an email from someone who promised to call me about it but she never did. Regardless of whether it ever gets resolved, I plan on traveling to Athens, Ohio to pay homage to Levi. He may have been forgotten back then, but he isn’t now.
Nineteen Years is Not Enough: The Short Life of Joshua Stulick
Hearing from Joshua Stulick’s mother after I wrote about him was one of the most moving events for me in 2014. Rarely do I take a photo of a grave knowing nothing about the person only to be contacted later to be told the rest of the story. His murder was a heinous act that still affects many of his friends and family to this day.
Joshua Stulick’s grave is in Sharon Baptist Church Cemetery in Cumming, Ga.
As a result of this post, I was contacted by Joshua’s mother, Kathleen. I’ve thought about her often since I’d heard Joshua’s story, hoping she had found some kind of peace in the years following his murder. Her words touched me deeply:
I wanted to say thank you for this story. Knowing Joshua’s life touched many is a blessing that God continues to touch my heart…The God I serve took care of the judgement, hurting hearts, and the ability to forgive. I will see him in heaven; no tears or hurts every again. I have learned to love others in a special way as I know that is what Joshua would want me to do.
Thank you, Kathleen, for showing me what true love looks like.
When a Cemetery is Reborn: A Happy Ending For Old Greencastle Cemetery
The fate of Dayton’s Old Greencastle Cemetery had been on my mind from the day I visited in 2012 and again when I first wrote about it in 2013. It alarmed me that a cemetery that I now know is the final resting place for several of my ancestors was sliding into a state of ruin. I’ve seen it happen to many cemeteries over the years and I didn’t want it to happen to this one.
Now I can happily report that Old Greenscastle is no longer in sad shape.
Many Sherman Camp #93 members are making sure that the history and sacrifice of veterans will not be forgotten. It looks dramatically different than it did in 2012.
Thankfully, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, General William T. Sherman Camp #93, were already working to turn this sad situation around. For years, they’d been taking care of the section where many veterans were buried.
Not long after I wrote about Old Greencastle the first time in 2013, things began to happen. The city sent a work crew over to start cleaning it up. A landscaping company offered their services free of charge. The Sherman Camp members played a huge part in the clean up, also resetting some of the headstones that were in a sad state. I wrote about that in January 2014.
A bugler from the Sonds of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Sherman Camp, plays at the Veterans’ Day rededication ceremony at Old Greencastle Cemetery in Dayton. I was invited to attend as a special guest but was unable to do so.
When I saw the pictures of the Veterans Day rededication at Old Greencastle that I could not attend, I felt such peace. Knowing that my ancestors are being looked after by wonderful people who care is a huge relief. My goal is to visit in the spring and to thank the Sherman Camp members in person.
So what’s in store for 2015? I’m excited about visiting more cemeteries, helping people find lost loves ones, explaining funeral customs and exploring new trends in the death care industry.
Want to come along?
Visiting Colonial Cemetery in Savannah in February 2014 was a big highlight of my year.