Apr 14, 2008

Walking in a Cemetery on a Sunny Day

Left: Front gates of Toledo's Calvary Cemetery

Even as a young child, I was always fascinated with cemeteries. I liked to wander around in graveyards, looking for the most ancient headstone I could find, or practicing my subtraction skills by comparing birth and death dates to find the person who was the oldest at death. I also found the abundant plant and wildlife to be a curious contrast with the primary reason for the places: death.

Yes, I was a little odd even as a kid - just ask my mom and dad.

Anyways, I still find a stroll through a cemetery to be relaxing, and I spent some time this afternoon walking through Calvary Cemetery, a 140-acre burial ground in the center of Toledo. Founded in 1886, Calvary is the final destination for the bodies of over 102,000 former residents of Northwest Ohio.

Left: Headstones of infants who died decades ago

I stumbled across one of the infant burial sections of the cemetery, and many of these markers did not contain first names of the buried babies. I assume that these were stillborn infants, or perhaps babies who died during childbirth, and that local hospitals had an arrangement with the Calvary administrators for these youngest of cemetery residents.

As a parent, I find the idea of the death of a child to be horrifying, but I think that the death of an infant must be especially difficult to bear. There is something about such a sad event that seems completely contrary to the natural order of life, and - unless one adopts a coldly rational and detachedly robotic viewpoint - the death of a tiny child is one of those conundrums that makes me want to raise my arms to the heavens, demanding an answer from God.

Left: Freshly-decorated grave of a long-dead child

But then I came across the headstone of an infant named Maryann Brantmyler, who died in September 1938. A wooden white cross stood above the etched marble stone, dressed with a pink ribbon, some daisies and asters, and highlighted with a few branches of Gypsophila.

Seven decades have passed since Baby Maryann died, and her grave is still visited and decorated by a family member. Her unknown mother, should she still be alive, is likely in her nineties, while her siblings must be in their sixties or seventies.

This selfless devotion to the memory of such a short life brought a few tears to my eyes, and I found myself clearing off a few markers on the long-forgotten babies, moist earth collecting under my fingernails as I dug away clumps of turf that served as a reminder of the ground's relentless efforts to swallow the last physical memory of young lives taken too soon.

And I thanked God I have never had to bury a child.


Anonymous said...

Crap - now you made me bawl! Nice thoughts, though.

historymike said...

(hands Anonymous a Kleenex)

Linda said...

My mother's younger sister died when she was 3 years old. I don't remember the specifics of the story but I think that it may have been meningitis. Had her sister lived she would now be in her late 70s. To my mom and her siblings, their sister is forever a 3 year old. It is like in that portion of their lives time has stood still.

Hooda Thunkit said...

The odd thing was that I was also at Calvery the very same day Mike.

We buried my Godmother in Sec. 51, near the mausoleum.

Were you in the blue sedan?

historymike said...

Thanks for your poignant story, Linda.

historymike said...

Hi Hooda:

No, I was in the purple Hyundai near the front of Calvary, and I was in the cemetery from 3:00 to about 4:15 Tuesday.