...to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free....

20 November, 2011


Any time of year, I love to go to Evergreen Cemetery,
a "garden cemetery" located in the Deering section
of Portland Maine.

"Garden cemeteries", as they are called,
began to be created in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Founders and designers of these cemeteries 
shifted from the idea that graveyards should be
solemn places where the dead rested, 
often near a church, or on the property
of the deceased.

The founders' revolutionary idea
was that the dead should be laid to rest
in places of tranquility and beauty,
and that cemeteries should also be places for the living,
with carriage paths, walkways, large and stately trees,
ornamented with sculptured monuments and natural plantings.

The first cemetery of this sort, I believe,
is the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in 
Cambridge, MA, which was founded in 1831.
It is a spectacular place of 175 acres
a short distance from Cambridge center.

Evergreen Cemetery, undoubtedly inspired by 
Mt. Auburn in Cambridge,
was established in 1854.  It is a 239 acre parcel,
resting place for the deceased,
sanctuary for the living,
and refuge for many small wild animals.
Here you find gardens, footpaths, ponds and rolling terrain.
The birds are amazing here.
The trees are majestic.

Only a part of the Evergreen cemetery is devoted to graves.
There are also extensive woodlands and 
walking paths adjacent to the burial grounds.

What draws me to this place is its natural beauty.

Soon, however, I am seduced by the stories
the gravestones suggest.
As is true also at Mt. Auburn,
you can see the graves of many locally important people here.

Mostly, though, I think about the women--the wives of sea captains,
soldiers lost in battle,
enterprising businessmen who helped to 
establish the city commercially and culturally.

I am constantly doing math when I am at Evergreen:
How old was she when she died?
Did she die in childbirth?  Did she leave children behind?
Or, alternately, how many children died in this family?
What were their ages, and how many in the space of too few years?
How did their parents stand it?
How many other children did this couple have who survived to adulthood?

Here are some examples.

This is Susie Hanson.  She died when she was 31.

Here is Warren Hanson, her husband.
He died the next year at 31 years and 2 months.
Not even a full year later.

...and look. 
Here are two of their children, who died when they were small.
Their gravestones are tiny. 

Did the mother Susie die of grief, or illness, or another childbirth?
Did Warren die of grief less than a year later?
Were there other children??

There are few family plots that don't have tiny gravestones
for lost children.
These two below are marked:  "Little Harry" and "Little Bimmy."

Often you will find a family plot
where there is one husband and more than one wife.
...and often little children as well.

You can imagine the stories--men finding second wives soon
to help to tend their children.
Women and babies dying in the same year.
Childbirth deaths?  Illnesses that today we treat with antibiotics,
or prevent with vaccines?

What was life like for these second (third) wives--
raising other women's children as well as their own?
Was there love between husband and wife,
or were there marriages of convenience
for one, and not the other?

Miranda lived for six years,
Ivory for one.
William lived for one year,
Cyrus for six.
(The last three died within three years.)
What was this like for Charles and Miranda the mother?
How many other children survived?

Oh, the stories.

There is also an eerie beauty in these stones and borders.  
Not only were they meticulously carved and sculpted,
but nature has mottled them as well.
At times, the weather and the lichen have obscured their names and dates.

And what remains is hauntingly lovely.

There is one place I visit every time.
My favorite plot, it is way in the back, just up from the pond.

Come closer.

The largest stone in the back reads:

"In Memoriam
Home for Aged Women"

Way to the right, sheltered by a huge Norway Spruce,
is the stone below.

Look at the dates.
She is 'Mother"--did she found the home?
What inspired her?
Did she work there all her adult life?
Was the home her life?
Did she die there?

If Abigail was "Mother", then here are her "children":

These women below were born after Abigail died.
Yet the Home was there for them, as well.
Who ran it after Abigail?
Was it a good place to live?
Someone cared enough to put up these stones.
Who was that??

How did women come to live in the Home?
They lived very long lives--
did they outlive all their family members?

What stories they could tell.

How many questions I would ask them if I could.


  1. I feel like we have just taken a walk together. Lovely images. Lovely comments. Lovely graves. Lovely garden.

  2. Mike, great post! All the stories of lifetimes! If you drew a line from the stones the ancestors must reach around the world. I always like the history of it all. I Also like the trees in a place like that. They are always so grand! Then again I suppose they should be. All that time and great fertilizer!
    Your pics are wonderful!
    Here's one for you, that you'veprobably heard: Here lies Lester Moore, four shots from a 44. No Les, No More!

  3. Wonderful post. The history about garden cemeteries, why they were started, and the walk through with you through your photos is so very interesting. I too often wonder about the story each headstone holds. Who were these people, how did they live, about their deaths. I enjoyed this post so much.

  4. This was such an interesting post, Mike, and I enjoyed learning about how garden cemeteries came about. Most cemeteries around here are garden cemeteries, though there are many, even in the midwest, in church yards.

    If you ever find out the history of the Aged Home for Women, please share it.

    Growing up, there was a home for Civil War and then other war widows. We would go there to sing carols as children. I remember it a being well kept and the women loved it when we were there. I recently drove past it and felt so sad to see it all boarded up and in a state of condemnation. As an adult, I wonder at the stories the walls could tell.

    Thank you for such an interesting post today.

  5. I love visiting cemeteries. Of course where you live they are much older than here where I am. My favorite photo was the one of the rusty iron fence!