Saturday, September 27, 2014

New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LIII



...and cold hic jacets of the dead...

I have loved and feared cemeteries for as long as I can remember.  I grew up surrounded by them and so some sort of reaction to their ubiquitous presence was inevitable.  While the fear has lessened to the point of being negligible, the love has grown to make them one of my favorite places.  Fortunately, my wife shares this attraction so that our summers in New England have involved numerous trips to grave yards.  Featured here is a gem I found while looking for the graves of several Sheltons in Derby.  It's a family plot, but contains only three burials that I could identify.  This is common in 19th century cemeteries: acquiring wealth gave one generation a desire for permanence but keeping wealth required the next generation to embrace mobility.  The oak sighs in Mamre, but there is no one left to bear a coffin up from Egypt.
The funerary arch at the rear of the mortuary garden gives the name of the Family.  The words "come unto me" inscribed beneath the pediment are taken from Matthew 11:28, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest".  In context, the verse has to do with the present life, but one can see why the Mason's chose it for this particular use.  Here, the rest Jesus promises to the Christian in life is extended into eternity, the "Sabbath rest" that is the reward of the saints.  The style of the arch is reminiscent of Baroque churches in Italy and the use of Baroque elements in American funeral architecture was common during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is interesting that the arch here is not an entrance to the complex, but instead serves as a back-drop for the graves and, presumably, for the grave-side services that once took place here.  As a personal speculation, I wonder if it isn't meant to represent a doorway into eternity.
The open book as a tombstone or monument is another common piece of funerary architecture from this time period.  The book can represent the Book of Life found in Revelation or it can symbolize that this couple's story has come to an end.  Roses are usually associated with women who died young, so it is odd to find them here.  I can't find the original context for the phrase "we will all go home tomorrow," but it may be taken from a hymn or spiritual.  Whatever its origin, in context it serves as a sentimentalized "memento mori" and is typically Victorian.  Cemeteries also tell stories, and it's sad to note that this couple was separated by death for more than thirty years.  I wonder how often Eva Mason came here and if any of her descendants still visit her grave.
Some tombs take the form of benches, but this one seems to be merely an architectural feature. There is a grave associated with the bench, and it can be seen in the picture below.  The bench tells us that the area is the "Court of Peace" and it is still a wonderfully peaceful place on a warm summer day. The date on the bench, 1912, tells us that the Masons had this plot constructed two years before the first member of the family was interred, suggesting that Mr. Mason's final resting place reflects his own particular tastes and wishes,  Beneath the date is written Revelation 21:4 "and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying.."
This grave may tell another story from the Mason family.  The maiden name on this tombstone is the same as Mrs. Mason's perhaps indicating that this is a child from a previous marriage.  I wonder if the Masons had any more children.  If they did, I couldn't find their graves in the Court of Peace.


*Once again, I am indebted to Douglas Keister's Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography.
**Update: Since the writing of this post, I have been able to identify at least two more graves in the Mason-Terrell plot: at least one Terrell and the second may be a another Child.

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