Tuesday, October 08, 2013

My life as a stalker (of tombstones)

I've been hanging out more than usual lately in the Chariton Cemetery, stalking tombstones. Flickr's to blame.

Flickr, for the uninitiated, is an image and video hosting and sharing Web service that at its basic level is free. Basic level includes a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of storage, which for most of us should be enough. You also can pay a fee if you want to offer an advertising-free experience or double your storage capacity. As a rule, images are uploaded at full resolution --- files of considerable size.

My Flickr (pronounced "Flicker") account dates to February of 2011 and has been underutilized. But lately, I've decided to try to tell some stories using captioned photos arranged into sets. You can kind of see where I'm going by going here, to my "Sets" cover page. The "Wayne County Cemeteries" set is turning into a prototype. Nothing else is very well developed.

Another thing I want to do is develop a caption- and photo-guided tour of the Chariton Cemetery, which as the title here suggests involves stalking, going back again and again to try for the best light, the ideal angles. 

That's the Edward Ames Temple family lot and tombstone at the top here. Edward was the founder of what now is the Principal Financial Group, but his legacy also includes this unique arrangement in the Chariton Cemetery. The deceased are arranged in apple-pie formation (eight slices, six occupied), feet-first around the central tombstone. 

You have to think a little to realize why Edward, a meticulous man with lots of money, did this --- but it's not really that complicated. A devout Episcopalian, he firmly believed in what Christians call the Resurrection. So on Resurrection morn, in this configuration, he and his kinfolk would be raised to their feet facing the central cross.

It's a complicated arrangement to photograph, dependent on position of the sun, and I've been playing with it for years. Each grave is marked on the central stone with an inscription scroll above an appropriate symbol. Each turning of the marble curbing that defines the "pie" contains a keystone bearing the initials of the deceased reposing beyond it.

I'm liking now the image on top here, taken in late afternoon with the whole arrangement bathed in warm light. I'm going to go back when the maple in the distance has turned more. I wish the sky were bluer. And I wish that tree had leafed out a little more solidly, but there's little that can be done about that.

As anyone familiar with the Chariton Cemetery knows, it's a busy place --- joggers, walkers and gawkers from sunrise to sunset. 

Some aren't quite sure what to make of a guy with a camera cavorting among the tombstones (it is necessary now and then to sneak up on a tombstone lying flat on your belly, inching forward with assistance from elbows, which must look a little odd).

I like the ones who speak or wave or come over to ask (nicely) what the heck I'm doing. Others avert their eyes and walk on, apparently not wanting to risk dealing with someone who obviously is deranged. Some seem entirely self-absorbed, plugged into listening devices and jogging or power-walking grimly forward. And then there are those who seem to be spooked --- pets are forbidden in the cemetery but apparently not madmen.

But I've got to tell you, it's almost as much fun to watch the watchers as it is to sneak up on the tombstones.

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