Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grave News: Duffy's Cut Mass Grave

No Cemetery Sunday today, the thesis has demanded most of my time. Instead I’m going to talk about the Duffy’s Cut mass grave and the project to find it. A mass grave, especially one that has been kept secret for over 150 years, is arguably not a cemetery. However, since it is the resting place of many individuals, I'm going to go ahead and pretend it is. You may have seen news reports lately about the mass grave found at Duffy's Cut. The story seems straightforward enough, an archaeological dig to discover a mass grave of cholera victims. When you start really reading deeper the story takes some strange twists and turns though. Hang on for the wild ride of the ghostly gandy dancers of Duffy's Cut. There are all the elements of a grand Shakespearean play - murder, sickness, ghostly omens, family secrets, and maybe even closure.

The story begins in 1832 near Malvern, Pennsylvania. Construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was underway and Philip Duffy hired 57 Irish laborers straight off the boat (literally). During the construction of what would become known as "Duffy's Cut", a cholera epidemic swept the area, and all 57 Irishmen died. Only the local blacksmith and a few nuns from the Sisters of Charity in Philadelphia attempted to help the men. According to lore, some of the nuns died of cholera and were buried in a ditch with the Irish laborers. The surviving Sisters of Charity could not find anyone willing to provide transport back to Philadelphia and had to walk back. For the next 170 years or so Duffy's Cut would maintain a reputation as a "haunted" spot, with reports of the dead Irishmen dancing jigs on their grave filtering back from individuals who had passed near the area. There are persistent rumors that at least some of the men were killed by Anti-Irish gangs which were known to be operating in the area in that time as there was a strong anti-Irish sentiment at the time. The Irish were sometimes held responsible for causing cholera outbreaks, and were often ostracized because the American citizens of the day felt they were just coming here to “steal our jobs”. Come to think of it, that’s a familiar refrain even in the 21st century (admittedly with a different group of immigrants). I recommend Charles Orser’s The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America if you’d like to know more about the development of race and racism in the United State in general. Wikipedia has a short article on anti-Irish discrimination as well.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Dr. William Watson, a professor at Immaculata University in Malvern, and a colleague were on campus one evening when they saw the apparitions of three glowing men standing on the campus lawn on Ember Night, which according to the article is when “the souls of the dead can leave purgatory and seek Earthly assistance”. Two years after this event, Dr. Watson discovered that his brother (Rev. Dr. J. Frank Watson) had inherited a sealed account of the events at Duffy’s Cut. As it turns out, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had acquired the Philadelphia and Columbia line along with its records. In 1909 the PRR assembled a secret file on the events at the cut, and kept it sealed. Joseph Tripician, the grandfather of the Watsons, was director of personnel for the PRR and was allowed to take anything he wanted following the collapse of the PRR. Among the files he took was the “secret” file on Duffy’s cut.

So, now Dr. Watson not only has the memory if a spectral visitation, he has the sealed files from the railroad, and he is a professor at the university that owns the land where the grave is supposed to be! Dr. Watson put together a team and began The Duffy’s Cut Project, which is dedicated to finding the remains of the workers. The Project was able to have a State Historic Marker erected in 2004, and during archaeological investigations found domestic items that could be associated with a railroad workers’ shantytown such as forks and ceramics. In 2007 The Duffy’s Cut Project had a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey performed that returned some interesting results. Work continued throughout 2008, still no human remains were found. That all changed last week: on March 23, 2009 the team uncovered human remains. So far the remains of 2 individuals have been found. You can find links to local news reports on the Duffy’s Cut Project’s Updates page.

Now, I have to put on my archaeologist’s hat for a minute. Looking at the videos on the update site, it appears that the team is just shoveling and scooping up remains. That’s not good archaeological practice, especially since they want DNA testing done. You see, where an object is located in the ground is as important as (if not more important than) the object itself. Re-read that sentence. In this case, seeing as these are human remains, the location of the bodies and the way they are arranged can tell an archaeologist a lot, things that would be good to know like: were the bodies laid out in the grave, or just tossed in a pit, were the bodies buried all at the same time or were they buried in sequences – meaning did all the workers die close to the same time or did it occur over a period of time. The location of any bullets can, of course, provide clues to the causes of death. Unfortunately, it seems that archaeologists did not do the first digs, and a lot may be lost already.

DNA testing brings up a whole new slew of concerns. If you’re hoping to get DNA information from human remains, ideally you want to excavate the remains carefully, wearing paper coveralls, hairnets, masks (surgical type), and surgical gloves to minimize the chance of contamination. You also want to have as few people as possible excavating and handling the remains. Every person that breathes on the remains is possibly contaminating them, you see, and by controlling the number of people who come in contact with them you can control for the chance of contamination through several methods including having every individual who has worked on the remains submit a DNA sample. Check out the videos though – the remains are just laying on a table at a press conference. That’s not a good thing. Now, they are planning on extracting DNA from teeth, and they do at least have a better chance of getting a good sample there, so all is not lost.

In defense of the project, they do seem to be trying to do the right thing. They have apparently put a call for archaeologists to assist in the excavation, and some articles have reported that they have secured the assistance of the Smithsonian in identifying the remains. I really am not sure what to think about this project, it alternates between seeming like the set-up a tourist attraction, what with the stories of ghosts and dark deeds and a legitimate attempt to find out what happened to these individuals. The project has already published The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut: The Irish Who Died Building America's Most Dangerous Stretch of Railroad and a video. The GPR survey had to have been expensive though, so a little fundraising can certainly be forgiven.

I’ve just found this whole story fascinating. It’s like a modern folk tale in so many ways. Ultimately I do get the impression that The Duffy’s Cut Project is a group of individuals who are trying to do the right thing for the individuals buried there, and I wish them well (and I hope they find an archaeologist or two who’s willing to take over the excavation portion of the project).

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Theory: Upland South Folk Cemetery

Today I'm going to dip a toe in the realm of cemetery theory - in this case regarding the layout and place of cemeteries on the landscape. It's good to know some of the different styles of cemeteries and associated theoretical reasoning behind them - you can get a better idea when the cemetery was first used, what its original purpose was (family plot, commercial cemetery, church yard, etc), and where it belongs in the community. The discussion may get a little dry at times, but I'm going to try to just present a thumbnail sketch of the ideas involved and tell you where to go to find out more on your own if you are interested.

There are cemeteries that are formally laid out, for example, most city cemeteries (many of which follow the ideas of the Rural Cemetery movement, but that's a topic for another day), then there are the folk cemeteries - those that follow a folk, or vernacular, pattern. The distinction is roughly analogous to that between Landmark Architecture (created by professionally trained and schooled architects) and Vernacular Architecture (everything else - often applied to barns, houses, and other structures). Like Folk/Vernacular Architecture, Folk Cemeteries follow a cultural pattern developed through tradition and practical experience. There are many different traditions in cemeteries, one of which is the Upland South Folk Cemetery as defined by D. Gregory Jeane. I'm going to prevent a sort of thumbnail sketch of the Upland South Folk Cemetery (USFC), if you'd like to know more check out suggested reading at the end of this post.
The Upland South can be loosely defined as the area of significant log cabin construction. There is academic debate as to whether this area is defined more by geography or by culture, although for the purposes of the USFC culture is considered the defining characteristic. Jeanne notes that cemeteries, once established, are resistent change in the form of remodeling (people rarely dig up all their relatives so they bury them in a straight line or arranged by death-dates) but change may occur over time as new cemeteries are created and as old cemeteries continue to be used. To this end he has identified 3 phases in the USFC, the Pioneer, the Transitional, and the Modern. These three phases are identified by seperate traits for each phase. The Pioneer phase is distinguished by having all (or nearly all) of the following traits:

1) Hilltop location
2) Mounded graves
3) Scraped ground
4) East-west grave orientation
5) Creative decorations that emphasize "making do"
6) Cults of piety including work days which emphasized upkeep of the burial ground grounds as a memorial to the deceased (a cult of piety is made up of the various functions meant to remember and honor the dead, for example, decoration days and cemetery clean-up days)

The trait I have seen the least is scraped ground. This particular trait has to be maintained to really be visible, and it seems that while it might have been prevalent in the past, it is no longer being maintained in many areas.

The Transitional phase, as implied by the name, is a period of change within the USFC. Scraped areas begin to give way to grassed plots - the same cemetery may contain both grassed and scraped areas. Grave mounds began to dissapear, the use of grave markers increased, personal items on adult graves vanish (although this practice is maintained on infant and children's graves), grave shelters dissapear, and family plots come into use (among other changes). Family plots are often outlines with decorative items of convienence, ranging from rock to turpentine cups and the type of decorative plantings used changes. This phase lasted a significant amount of time, from the mid-18th century through the mid-to-late-20th century. The Rural Cemetery Movement (despite the name, this is a formal design and layout done by a professional landscaper) began in the United States in 1831, and it is perhaps this influence which brought about some of the changes in the Transitional Phase of the USFC.

The Modern Phase is the third phase in the USFC, and it does draw from the Rural Cemetery movement. This form became common following WWII, brought about by changes in the rural Southern landscape such as improved roads, automobiles, and television. This phase takes one of two forms of what Jeane describes as a "rural version" of the perpetual care cemetery or urban memorial garden. In both of these grassed areas replace scraped completely, headstones transition to mass-produced models which are very similar in dimensions and decoration, and the task of caring for the cemetery may be given over to perpetual-care organizations rather than dedicated groups of family members.

An important tradition in the USFC complex is that of "making do". Families "made do" by constructing markers of materials which could be worked by relatives of the deceased - often wooden markers, although in some areas with a strong ceramics tradition ceramic markers were made. In addition family plots might be outlined by turpentine cups, wooden rail fences, old bed frames, or other materials which could be adapted to the purpose. This ability to creatively adapt materials to a new purpose characterizes the "making do" ethic.

One additional note, the USFC complex is predominately a Euro-American tradition (ie "white" tradition) in that is draws heavily from the culture of the British Isles along with elements of Continental European culture. There are similarities in the material uses between the USFC and African American cemeteries, for example, the use of shells on graves, but to assume that either group was "merely" copying the decorative traditions of the other is an insult to the traditions and culture of both groups. African American cemeteries contain their own cultural traditions, which include elements such as making do, but were developed under different pressures from a different set of source traditions and are as rich and varied as those in any cemetery. That concludes the "soapbox" portion of the blog - I managed to touch on one of my own pet peeves!

There you have it, the USFC in a nutshell. Genealogy has a long tradition of "mining" cemeteries for genealogical information, but cemeteries can offer more to a researcher - they can give the researcher an insight into the people and place that led to the development of this cemetery, their beliefs, and what they considered to be important. It's important to keep this in mind when you visit a cemetery, whether you are there are an amateur genealogist or a professional academic researcher. Take a look around and see what the cemetery has to tell you, you might get a glimpse into the world of your ancestors that goes far beyond just names and dates!

If you'd like to read more, look for the following:

Jeane, D. Gregory. "The Upland South Folk Cemetery Complex: Some Suggestions of Origin" in Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cemetery Sunday: Hardee Chapel Cemetery with bonus Video Visit

This is a small cemetery in Greenville, NC. It's located off 10th Street, one of the busier streets in town, but it's barely visible from street level since the cemetery is located on a small rise or hill. The steps up to the cemetery are steep and narrow, constructed from cinder blocks with steel pipe for a handrail. The cemetery is particularly interesting for the variety of grave markers present, the earliest markers of John Hardee, his wife, and his son, are the earliest in the cemetery, and quite possibly the earliest surviving markers in the county. They are black New England slate with some unusual iconography. John Hardee and his wife's markers have a sun motif - a rising or setting sun.

Sorry about the quality of the image - it's hard to get a clear picture of slate, especially when the marker is in the shade. You can at least get an idea of the Sun motif. Whenever I see this particular motif I'm reminded of a (possibly apocryphal) story about George Washington. It seems he was seated in a chair that featured a sun carving on the back. He would comment that he had spent some time deciding if it were a rising or setting sun and had decided it was a rising sun appearing over the new republic.
Anyway, back to Hardee Chapel. As I said, for such a small cemetery it has quite a collection of markers. You can get a glimpse into most styles in this small cemetery. There are 3 slate markers, John Hardee's and his wife's grave both share the same sun motif.
Slate marker

john hardy's marker

Their son's grave has a different motif:
dual symbols on slate

The winged hourglass and cherubim isn't entirely uncommon, but I have not seen a grave where the two occur on the same marker anywhere else in NC. He was relatively young when he died, in his 20's. His marker details his life, unfortunately I was not able to transcribe the lettering as it wasn't legible the day I was in the cemetery. Sometimes it takes several visits to get all of a long inscription - the light, moisture, and everything else has to be just right!
Moving along in time from the colonial, there are a few markers that are either a compressed sandstone or weathered marble:
sandstone or marble

Along with late 19th century/early 20th marble:
Marble marker

And finally 20th century concrete and granite:
concrete slab

Modern granite marker

As a special treat, this Cemetery Sunday is combined with a Video Visit! Check out the video below for more details of the cemetery and the markers in it, along with a glimpse of the surrounding neighborhood!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave any comments or feedback on the blog, always like to hear what people like, don't like, and any suggestions for new content. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grave news: Cremation Urns and Small Businesses

CNN is running a series called "Small Business Success" on their website. One of the featured businesses is
Funeria, a small business specializing in artist made funeral urns. Cremation is not a new practice, but it is one that has only recently become more widely accepted and practiced in the United States. Maybe we'll see art galleries filled with sculptures, ceramics, and other art forms containing the ashes of the deceased and with an endowment to maintain the piece and/or gallery in perpetuity. Sort of a mausoleum meets art gallery.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Video Visit: African American section, Cherry Hill Cemetery

Welcome to the first edition of a new feature here on Cemetery Space! I am adding video to the site and kicking things off with a Video Visit. What's a Video Visit? Well, it's pretty much what the name implies - a recorded visit and brief walk-through of a cemetery or portion of a cemetery. I'll talk about the history and other items of significance along with a few tips and tidbits of cemetery lore.

The first VV is a visit to the African American section of the Cherry Hill Cemetery in Greenville, NC. This was featured in a post a few weeks ago, so I decided to re-visit it and film a video for the new feature. 

I hope you like the new feature! My video skills are still being polished, so expect them to improve over time. Sphere: Related Content

Helpful research tools

I'm deviating from cemeteries a bit today and talking about some useful research and blogging tools. I've had trouble organizing and tracking sources, especially when they're spread over multiple sources. For any one project I may have articles, books, web-sites, pdf files, and any number of other materials. In addition I tend to maintain a fairly large bookmark library that I divide into categories and I use a couple of different computers on a regular basis! The following tools have really helped me keep things a little more organized.

1.) Mozilla - in my opinion, it's the best web browser available. Fast, flexible, and expandable. It's also cross-platform, with versions available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. This makes life a lot easier for me since I use a Mac and Windows machines interchangeably.

2.) Foxmarks - an excellent bookmarks synchronization tool. If you use multiple browsers and different computers this is a must-have. It lets you keep a common set of bookmarks across several different browsers and/or computers automatically. Works with IE, Firefox, and Safari. Highly recommended!

3.) Zotero - a Firefox extension that helps collect, manage, and cite research sources. Zotero lets you collect citations easily from Amazon or a library catalog page, you can then add notes about what you've found useful. It will also let you cite PDF files and keeps a copy of the PDF locally. It's been a great tool for thesis writing, but I can see it being very useful for genealogists or anybody else who needs to keep track of sources!

4.) Scribefire - I'm trying this out. It's a Firefox extension that gives you a full-featured blogging tool in the browser. Very handy to have and it provides links to services such as Reddit and StumbleUpon.

5.) Picasa - this is an excellent photo catalog and editing tool from Google. It lets you do basic editing along with some more advanced features as well as maintaining a catalog of images.

All the software I've mentioned is also FREE. That's a great bonus for a poor student (or poor researcher in general).

There are a few physical tools I find myself using quite a bit. A notebook computer is always useful, and the new netbooks are a great relatively inexpensive research tool. A netbook is a small notebook that's designed to be a good email/web browsing/word processing tool. It's small, usually less than 2lbs, with a small screen (10" or less, often) but newer models boast impressive battery life - up to 8-9 hours for the Asus 1000HE and excellent portability. It's great to carry around for notes and internet access on the go. Usually the processor isn't powerful enough for heavy-duty photo or video editing, but it's fine for just about everything else. You can pick up a model with good battery life, a 120-160gb hard drive, and a decent screen for around $300-$400. Most office superstores and electronic stores are carrying a version of these, I'd recommend trying one in person to see if you like it because the keyboards do tend to be a bit smaller than full size laptops and not everybody is comfortable with smaller keyboards and screens.

Digital camera - I have a dSLR I use a lot, but I've found a good point & shoot is more than sufficient for most blog related tasks. A compact tripod like a Gorillapod or an Ultrapod can help you get good shots, especially if the light isn't great, or if you want to be in the shot. The best thing about newer point and shoot cameras is that they can take decent quality video and/or act as voice recorders. If you're on a budget, a digital camera can be a great tool because it's a digital swiss army knife. Use it to take photos to include in your blog, videos for youtube or your own later reference, and voice memos to jog your memory later when you're back home.

Of course, every researcher has their own favorite tools and techniques. I've tried to cover what I use on a regular basis and why I use it. If I missed your favorite, let me know!

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grave News: Reach out and touch someone...on the other side.

People have many different ways of memorializing their dead. Some write tributes. Some have special rememberance ceremonies. Some build memorials.

Some call the dead on their cell phones.

When Mariann Seltzer's husband died, she and her children had him buried with his (fully charged) cell phone. His number is engraved on his tombstone, and his bill is paid every month. His family calls and leaves voicemail to update him on noteworthy events.

Isn't human adaptability great?

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cemetery Sunday: Confederate Soldiers of America Plot, Maplewood

Maplewood Cemetery is the city cemetery for Durham, North Carolina. The old part of the cemetery contains some incredible monuments including elaborate statuary and massive crypts. Today's Cemetery Sunday is about a small part of the cemetery, the Confederate Soldiers of America (CSA) plot and was inspired by my recent visit. I was in Durham to pick up a piece of photographic equipment, but I can't resist visiting a new cemetery or two whenever I travel!

The CSA plot is marked by a small granite marker:


and by a large gun (which apparently dates to the Spanish-American war, not Civil War):


as I climbed the steps to see the gun, I noticed several broken grave markers around its base:


I took a closer look:



There are a lot of grave markers here, in a variety of sizes, although most are uniform in size and shape. Several include epitaphs such as "A Faithful Confederate Soldier". I wondered what was going on with all these stones, obviously uprooted and piled against the marker. One of my first thoughts was vandalism, I've seen a lot of vandalism in cemeteries and these thin marble markers seem to be particularly attractive targets! There's something particularly sorrowful about rows of veteran's stones arranged like this, reminiscent of war photos showing the fallen dead.



When I turned around the question of what was going on was answered:


It seems that the markers with replaced with new ones. A little bit of research online and I find that the Durham chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) replaced the headstone earlier this year. I'm not sure how old the stones that were replaced are, but if they date back to the 19th century (I suspect they do) it'd be nice if a few of them found their way to the state museum.

I was looking for the African American section of the cemetery, but I didn't locate anything that seemed to fit the bill. It turns out that Durham had a seperate cemetery, Geer Cemetery, for African Americans. Segregation of cemeteries is very common in the South, whether by having two separate cemeteries or by having one cemetery divided into "white" and "black" sections. One thing I did stumble upon in Maplewood is the Durham Hebrew Cemetery. Jewish cemeteries are not that common in the South (or at least, not very visible). This particular one is owned by the Beth El Synagogue in Durham, and is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) in the area.

That just about wraps up Cemetery Sunday. The Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, NC is certainly worth a visit, there are some very unique monuments and lots of area history, GK's Endangered Durham blog has a good summary of the history of the cemetery and some pictures, worth a look if you'd like to know more!

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cemetery Sunday: Evans Cemetery, Greenville, Pitt County, North Carolina

Today I'm introducing a new feature on Cemetery Space, "Cemetery Sunday". It's a spotlight on a cemetery - perhaps because of its history, an unusual feature, or just because it caught my interest. Today's cemetery is the Evans Cemetery in Greenville, NC. It's a small family cemetery, containing 20-30 burials or so. It was in use from the 19th century through the 1940's. What makes it unusual is it's one of a few cemeteries that are located in the middle of parking lots. Yep, you read that right. It's in the middle of a mall parking lot, surrounded by a brick wall. The story goes (based on word-of-mouth) that when the mall was built ithey decided to leave the graves in-situ as it was less expensive than moving them. Here's a Google map of the area, it's not the highest resolution, but the cemetery is the small square of lighter brown in the middle of the parking lot, behind the white rectangle.

View Larger Map

The first photograph shows the gate of the graveyard, tucked away behind some dumpsters.

From Evans Cemetery

The next photograph is a shot through the gate, showing the paved cemetery and the front of the mall.

From Evans Cemetery

The remaining three shots show the variety of graves in the cemetery, ranging from marble slabs to 20th century granite.

From Evans Cemetery

From Evans Cemetery

From Evans Cemetery

It's unusual to see the cemetery paved over like this. I'm guessing it was paved to cut down on maintenance - no need to cut the grass or worry about keeping plants alive. The wall surrounding the cemetery is brick, but it's painted a rather hideous shade of beige. People enter the mall every day, never stopping to glance over the fence and see the cemetery. You can find graves like this tucked away in parking lots and back lots of businesses all over the U.S.A. There's a sampling of other cemeteries in parking lots over at Wesley Treat's Roadside Resort, if you'd like to see more examples of these out of place cemeteries!

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