Whose stone this is I think I know.
His house is in the heavens though.
He will not mind my stopping here.
To see where he was laid below.
I trust Mr. Frost would forgive my altering slightly his lyrical phrasing from the classic poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It fit well with our outing to the historic Jacksonville Cemetery. Call me strange again, but I have long enjoyed the serenity of cemeteries, especially historic ones. I love wondering about the people and how they lived before they died.
I thought a storm scuttling through might prevent the visit, but like all good spring showers, it hurried on. I met Lane in Jacksonville, and we drove through the not-so-pearly gate, up the hill and into a different time altogether. Walking that hill is a great workout, also for another time altogether.
Everybody who was anybody rested at the top among the madrones — the Beekmans, the Plymales, the Robinsons, the Bybees — plus about 6,000 more somebodies, positioned respectfully over about 30 silent acres. In earlier times, many believed the higher up one was interred, the closer he would be to God.
It might be noted here that the cemetery is segregated into seven divisions for various denominations and fraternal organizations. The Catholic section is at the top of the hill. There’s also a pauper or county section reserved for those with little or no means. I imagine them now like children — free from all prejudices, hopping outside of their boundaries and playing together nicely.
Dirk Siedlecki is president of Friends of the Jacksonville Historic Cemetery, an all-volunteer, nonprofit group of caring citizens whose purpose is to educate, preserve and restore the pioneer resting place. He showed us several examples of tablets or headstones that had toppled and broken, either from vandalism or age, and had been repaired. Some could only be laid flat because they’re in too many pieces.
Dirk and others conduct a variety of interesting talks and strolling tours at the cemetery every second Tuesday evening from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on second Saturdays through August. Donations are welcomed. Minimal walking is involved, but the ground is uneven, so comfortable shoes, water and insect repellent come in handy. It’s that time of year, but I was surprised at the swarms of mosquitoes on the make.
The evening’s topic centered on monument styles and makers, three of whom were talented local artisans in granite and marble — J. C. Whipp and husband and wife team James and Ann Hill-Russell.
People during Victorian times certainly cherished elaborate memorials and headstones, provided they could afford them. Elaborate in life. Elaborate in death. A tall and ornate monument that cost the family $1,200 was a sacrifice then, but the same monument today would demand a hefty $25,000. Entire family blocks held 10-12 gravesites and kept the family together after death. Initialed footstones reveal the diminutive lengths of so many gone too soon.
We stopped by one bittersweet example carved in the shape of a cradle, with the center bed for flower plantings. There was a poem on one end, difficult to make out from years of wind and rain. But it told of a young life no longer weighed down by illness or tears.
Maybe visiting cemeteries helps prepare us for the inevitable. I mean, the evidence for death is indisputable. I noticed there were no young people in the crowd, though classrooms of schoolchildren arrange to make the rounds there on a regular basis. Some of us simply enjoy the history and satisfying our curiosity about those souls who have gone before us. Cemeteries are an optimum place for quiet meditation.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Reach her at email@example.com.