Historical Poetry: Memorial

Historical Poetry: Memorial
Weathered grave markers at Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this peaceful cemetery lies the remains of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and other well know people both in their time and in ours. Here, too, there are markers where time and the elements have rendered unreadable.
By: Daniel Derasaugh

Here; a crafted stone once stood.
Now weathered and leaning.
Beneath which rests an anonymous life.
How it began, how it was lived;
Now as mysterious as the craftsman,

And how it ended?
Dissolved into the abyss of time.

When looking at old grave markers where the inscriptions have been worn away by time and the elements, it is natural to be curious about who is buried beneath it. Perhaps, too, it is natural to easily dismiss these people as not likely having any historical significance. Yet, they were important enough at least to someone who saw it fit to ensure the location of their burial was marked. We can not simply dismiss them. Their life, whatever it may have been, did have some impact on history. In some way, no matter how small, everyone who has lived has contributed to where we are today.

I wrote Memorial a few months before my trip to the Northeast, but it was not until this trip that I found a perfect location to take a photo for the featured image. Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has many markers that fit the theme of “Memorial”, so this provided the appropriate subjects. The hardest part was trying to decide on which photo was better. I wanted to choose one that honors the poem’s theme, carries a mixed sense of wonder, mystery, and a hint of sadness, along with maintaining a respectful nature.

Benjamin Franklin, the most famous and well known resident at Christ Church Burial Ground, along with Benjamin Rush; another signer of the Declaration of Independence among other significant achievements. Franklin attended  services at the church as well, and his pew is a draw for tourists. While the Benjamins are two of the most famous people buried here, there are others of historical significance. I think will further explore this burial ground in a later post.

The point here is to wonder and lament for the unknowns. Not just weathered markers in Christ Church Burial Ground, but everywhere. My inspiration for “Memorial” came from seeing multiple markets in several cemeteries that have weathered to the point of just being a stone jutting from the ground with surfaces worn away, or the carvings of words so faint they are illegible.

These markers are also a way to put time into perspective with our lives, or our lives into perspective with time. They are reminders that sometimes, despite our best efforts not to be forgotten, time eventually forces the issue.





Historical Cemeteries

Historical Cemeteries

For me, Texas Historical Markers inspire a great deal of awe and excitement. They do not have to mark a significant moment in history to catch my interest. Sometimes the mundane, little known events and locations can be just as fascinating as the more significant, well-known ones. History has occurred everywhere, and the smallest moments recorded are often the ones that provide the most significant connections to the past. They are stories of regular people’s lives; the kind of people we can more easily relate to.

David McCullough has said:

History is about people. History is human… You have to get to know the people. You have to get inside their lives.

So, when I stumble upon a state historical marker I get excited, but that thrill is heightened when the marker is there to mark an old cemetery. I stumbled upon such a pairing this past weekend.

On the northern side of The Shops at Legacy in Plano, Texas, there is a hill surrounded by an iron fence where inside lies the remains Henry Cook, a veteran of the War of 1812, and a member of the Peter’s Colony. Braccus Cemetery, named after Cook’s daughter’s married name, was founded by Cook when he buried his son there in 1847. A Texas Historical Marker provides a brief history of the location.

Braccus Cemetery Historical Marker
Baccus Cemetery Historical Marker

The cemetery was not my reason for going to The Shops at Legacy, I did not even know it was there. I went because I had only been in the area two times before, briefly, and wanted to take a more in-depth look around. It was a pleasant surprise to find.

Standing tombstones in the Baccus Cemetery in Plano, Texas.
Standing tombstones in the Baccus Cemetery in Plano, Texas.

Cemeteries offer something special that many historical sites do not. Historical sites can be impacting places to visit if you allow yourself to fully comprehend and reflect on what occurred in the area. Yet, in most cases the people who caused, played a part in, and/or simply experienced these occurrences cannot be found there.

While a cemetery is not always the host to a notable historical event, it does provide the resting place of the bodies of those who had lived those events. It is one thing to walk the ground of an historical site, but a cemetery can be significantly more profound since the remains of the men, women and often children who lived it are a few feet below the ground where you stand.

Some smaller cemeteries can be found in the most unlikely places. The Riley and Warner cemeteries in Carrollton, Texas are two examples of small cemeteries, not much bigger than a house lot, and are found in the middle of neighborhoods. They are an odd sight. You have a series of houses that are unexpectedly interrupted by a little hill capped with a fence and old native trees. Mixed within are grave markers more than a century old.

The Riley Cemetery in Carrollton, Texas.
The Riley Cemetery in Carrollton, Texas.
The Warner Cemetery in Carrollton, Texas.
The Warner Cemetery in Carrollton, Texas.

Perhaps the title “Historical Cemeteries” is a bit inappropriate. There are those that are declared official historical sites, but in truth, all cemeteries are historical, aren’t they? They contain the remains of people who have lived in a different time. Their bones may be all that remain, but consider this: those bones are what carried their bodies and supported them as they lived through all the events we are taught about, and many more that we are not. Their bones are the most profound connection to our past.