Friday, July 11, 2008

Tombstones that talk

By that I mean tombstones that say in one way or another something about the people whose graves they mark --- not stones that acutally speak.

But as you might expect, there was mild excitement a couple of years ago when a guy named Robert Barrows of San Mateo, California, obtained patent for what he called a Video Enhanced Grave Marker. The idea was to create a hollow tombstone that contained video and audio devices in a weather-proof, tamper-proof chamber that would allow the deceased to speak his or her piece from beyond the grave --- turn a graveyard visit into an interactive multimedia experience. It doesn’t seem to have caught on, yet.

Here are three tombstones at Iowaville that speak without technology. They mark the graves of three children of A.L. and Mary J. Garrison who died within a month of each other during the early spring of 1880.

I know next to nothing about the family, or what its connection to Van Buren County was. But the mortality schedule attached to the 1880 federal census shows that Effie, Wilber and Frank died in Chicago of scarlet fever complicated by meningitis. All three were born in Iowa, although their father, a druggist and physician, was in business in Chicago when the youngsters died. He, in fact, was listed as their attending physician. How sad.

The parents obviously selected matching tombstones for their children that were intended to tell us something about them --- what their interests or talents were. I’ve seen this type of tombstone before. The tree-like shape was intended to signify a fallen branch. In the big cemetery at Forest City there’s a log like this only resting length-wise on the ground with a saddle on it --- reflecting the fact that the youngster whose grave it marks loved horses and died in a fall from one.

Here at Iowaville we have Effie B., “Our Pet,” who died 16 March 1880, age 13 years, 10 months and 20 days, memorialized with an open book on which her inscription is carved.

And Wilber N., who died April 3, 1880, age 11 years, 4 months and 29 days, memorialized with a ball, a bat and small straw hat.

And finally Frank C., “Our Pride,” died April 6, 1880, age 16 years, 5 months and 25 days, whose stone is topped by a concertina.

Books, sports and music.

Iowaville is a long way from Chicago and 2008, a long way from 1880. But at least we know something about these young people long dead.

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