Sunday, June 26, 2011

Graveyard ghosts

I intended a drive out to Last Chance Cemetery to catch graveyard ghosts in the act Saturday, but it rained.

So these ghosts, marching uphill alongside a set of steps marooned mid-lawn at the Stephens House and just beginning to bloom, will have to do. I pulled the weeds and cut the volunteer walnuts out of them Thursday, went back Friday to see if they could be artistically photographed (they couldn’t). The cemetery would have been better.

But you can see why yuccas are called graveyard ghosts sometimes.

Think of a moonlight night at Last Chance, deep in the country, some distance off the road. It’s too dark to see the spiky foliage, just the shapes of these these disembodied masses of bloom, faintly illuminated, moving in the breeze among the tombstones.

Yuccas are not native to this part of Iowa --- only to the loess hills along our western coast --- but many old gardens and graveyards around here once had them, passed from gardener’s hand to gardener’s hand, and many still do.

Once established, a charge of dynamite is required to dislodge a yucca.

My cousin the alternate Frank stopped by as I was taking pictures Friday and got to talking about a ghost he and his brother had exorcised from an ancestral grave at Last Chance one time. They drove out lightly armed --- and couldn’t budge it. Went back again, armed this time with heavier gloves, a heavy-duty shovel and a pickaxe.

My bet is the yucca’s back, one of the reasons I wanted to get out to Last Chance.

The worst case of haunting I’ve ever seen was at the ghost-town cemetery of Mendota, just across the state line in Missouri south of Cincinnati (Iowa, not Ohio).

Once you figure out that the stub of a road leading off through the woods where Mendota used to be is not just someone’s driveway and cross a rickety bridge, you find the graveyard climbing a hill so steep some of the occupants are going through eternity hanging on for dear life.

The first impression is that practically every old tombstone has a companion yucca --- or a clump of them.

The last time I was there, visiting Tommy and Mary (Brown) Demack, a great-uncle and great-aunt, I ran into an elderly couple from Unionville equipped with shovels and empty feed sacks.

They were on the cemetery board and had been told by the lawn mower that he wasn’t going to submit a maintenance bid unless something was done about the ghosts --- he was getting battered every time he tried to get near them.

So there they were, like Sisyphus contending with his boulder, trying to remove yuccas --- a task that looked as if it would take a small army to handle.

I’m not sure how that turned out --- I’ve not been back since. But my money’s on the graveyard ghosts.

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