Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Beautiful and the Dead Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LXIII

This is the grave of Reverend Jedidiah Mills and his wife, Abigail.

Revered Mills served for 32 years as "the first and faithful minister of the Gospel of Christ at Ripton" until his death at the age of 79 in the year 1776.  Though the graveyard Reverend Mills and his wife are buried in is now adjacent to Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Mills was a Congregationalist and served at the Puritan church that once occupied the spot where the gas station now stands until it was removed to the Victorian Gothic structure across the Green.  Mrs. Mills' epitaph as "the amiable consort" of her husband is darkened by the addition that she died "a lingering and painful death".  Though the final portion of the stone is obscured by weeds, it gives assurance to the reader that the "happy pair" are now united in heaven.

I helped lead a group of seniors on a trip to Italy a few years back and we visited one of the catacombs in Rome.  We were with two other groups and one of my students, a practicing Christian, fell in with students from another group who were not.  They asked my student why he was so happy to be in the catacombs when they found the tunnels fearful and oppressive.  He responded that for him it was a trip to visit family and explained the Christian belief in the Resurrection of the Dead and the unity of all believers as siblings in Christ.  Though it wasn't exactly a comfort for them, the other students admitted that they could see his perspective and that it made more sense of the experience.  I remembered what my student said because that's what it feels like for me when I go wandering through the old graveyards of New England.  At any point, I might discover family.

Rest in peace Reverend and Mrs. Mills.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Dead and Beautiful Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LXII

Things are made to endure in the Shire, passing from one generation to the next.  There has always been a Baggins at Bag End and there always will be.

This is a memorial plaque dedicated to the Bulkley Family.  It stands in the same cemetery as the graves of Lewis, Minerva, and Nancy Shelton and Annie J. Hinman.  The Bulkleys and the Sheltons intertwined at numerous points of their respective family trees and the name "Nancy Shelton" recurs several times (though none of them are Lewis and Minerva's daughter).  The plaque is an testimony to the aristocracy or "old bloods" of New England.  These are the sorts of lineages that mics like my family and other new arrivals were measured against.  This is what it means to have "roots" in the community.  What can drifters like us throw in the balance against almost 400 years on this side of the Atlantic and another 800 on the other side?  We may be descended from Brian Boru, but isn't every Irish-American these days?  Before monuments like this, we melt away as smoke.  We are flowers of the field: by evening we are gone and our place remembers us no more.

He who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, he will never leave it.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Dead and Beautiful Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LXI

There are many beautiful places in the world.  I've stood in San Marcos in Venice, Saint Peter's in Rome, Saint Patrick's and Trinity in New York, Westminster Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral, and heard Easter service in London's Saint Paul's.  If you asked me, however, where I've felt the sublime, it would be as the evening sunlight is falling over the farms of White Hills.  This little baptist church is tucked away there on a small side road.  It hasn't been in use for a hundred years.  The burial ground is still active, however, and an association of families keeps the church in good repair and allows it to be used for weddings and other special occasions.  It's rather unremarkable, and one of the most beautiful things I've seen.

I suppose a Baptist church didn't stand much chance in a town like Shelton.  The first Sheltons were staunch members of the Church of England and Patriarch of the Family, Lieutenant Daniel Shelton, was a loyalist during the War of Independence.  Of course, being New England, many of the town's inhabitants (it was called Ripton back then) disagreed with the Sheltons on both counts and threw their lot in with Congregationalism and the Republic.  Over time, Catholic immigration added Saint Joseph's to the list of churches.  The small Baptist community made a valiant effort to insert themselves into the charged ecclesiastical atmosphere and held out for less than a hundred years.  The building is beautiful, however, and a brief look at the cemetery discloses that there was some real power and money behind it.

This is the Hubbell monument that forms the rough center of the cemetery.  Numerous signs proclaim that the head of the clan was a prominent Mason.  Under an inverted triangle, we find and arch with the legend HTWSSTKS (Hiram the Widow's Son Sent to King Solomon).  Beneath that, we find Jacob's Ladder and another arch(for the Temple?) under a rising sun(the Divine).  Below these are the mason's tools, the trowel and the spade and a clock with a crescent moon reminding us that we are all headed toward death (it would signify membership in the Elks if it was stopped at 11:00).  I knew a Hubbell many years ago and I wonder if he was a relation.  One way or another, this is a monument that was made to last, the fact that it sits in an out-of-the way corner of town by a church that hasn't been in use for a hundred years is a sad irony.  Yet I'm glad for the church and for the stone.  Whatever Mr. Hubbell and his fellow Baptists intended, they have left a legacy; a legacy of beauty.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Beautiful and the Dead Rest (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part LX

 One of the Shelton plots that are ubiquitous in the town that bears their name as well as across the water in Derby.  The central monument is a modified obelisk with funerary urn and laurel wreath, signifying the race well run.  Below the laurel wreath is the Masonic compass and square indicating that Lewis Shelton (d. 1875 ae. 79 years) was a member of that society.  He is buried with his wife, Minerva Pierce Shelton, who also lived a full life for the time period (d. 1866 ae. 66 years).  From a distance, this monument exudes quiet, and genteel affluence, position, respect.  Now let us look to the right.

This is the grave of Nancy M. Shelton, daughter of Lewis and Minerva.  She died in 1859 at age fifteen.  The lily over her name symbolizes purity.  There is an inscription at the bottom of the stone, but I can't read it or find a transcription in the cemetery database.  How did she die?  During this period, Consumption killed up to a quarter of the population.  Nancy was too young for childbirth to be a likely cause of death.  The number one killer of women aged over twelve years in this period was cooking accidents.  Fifty percent of all children failed to live past their twelfth year.  Whatever the case may be, Nancy's stone reminds us that wealth and position are not bulwarks against tragedy in this or any age.  What were Nancy's hopes and dreams?  Did her parents have an eye on a young Wheeler, Clark, Hurd, or Hubble as a suitable match for their daughter?

This isn't the end of the story, however.  Step around Nancy's stone yo your left.

Here we find that Nancy's death wasn't the only tragedy to strike Lewis and Minerva's family.  They lost at least two more children in infancy, Mary and one too young to even have a name.  The death dates are recorded under the words "Our Children."

All the works of men may lie, but there is truth in tombstones.  They remind us that we aren't guaranteed anything.  That as T.S. Eliot said we are all dying -with a little patience.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Dead and Beautiful Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LIX

While walking through old cemeteries in New England, I can't help but notice that the larger stones often have a flock of little markers nestling in their shadow.  Sometimes, closer inspection reveals these to be old markers that the larger stone has replaced.  Other times, they mark the graves of infants, still clinging shyly to mother's skirt in death.

This tiny stone stood by itself at the far end of the cemetery.  If Mother and Father were about, I could not find them.  The care they lavished on "little Artie's grave" tells me that they aren't neglectful.  They'll come by and by.

Arthur Peck Somers, died May 13, 1862 aged 2 years 9 months 

Monday, March 09, 2015

The Dead and Beautiful Rest: Platypus Travels Part LVIII

 If there is fear in a handful of dust, then there is truth in tombstones.  Dust and tombstones are both considered unsightly in modern America.  In California, that most cosmetic state, the Lawn Cemetery is king, with its rows of unobtrusive, ground level stones hiding the unpleasant reality of Man's mortality from all but the most curious of eyes.  But the stones are still there, and with them the truth that they tell.

When I was a child, adults always spoke to me as if certain things were my right by simple virtue of being human.  They didn't say "if you get married," they said "when."  They didn't say "if you have children," they said "when."  We were to "live our dreams" and remember that  we could "do anything we wanted" because we were "special."  To cap it all off, it was an unquestioned assumption that we'd have some seventy to eighty years to do it all in.  Tombstones tell a different story.

This is the stone of Annie J. Hinman, wife of R.N. Griffing.  She died March 15, 1875, aged twenty years.  She isn't buried under her husband's name, and I could find no trace of his grave in the cemetery.  I suspect that this is or was going to be her parents' plot.  Did she die in childbirth?  Was she a victim of Consumption?  How long was she married to R.N. Griffing?  Did he remarry?  Did he move away?  What promises were made to Annie when she was a little girl?  What did the adults tell her she could expect from life?  Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.  He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.  We do know what they said when she was gone for they wrote it on her tombstone: Let the Dead and Beautiful Rest.

More Fun With Pastels

Another one from my college days.  This is a pastel sketch I did of one of John Howe's early Tolkien paintings.  The original by John Howe can be found in the collection Myth and Magic.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Fun With Plain Pencils

Concept art from a Charles Williams-esque novel that has spent several years in edit Purgatory (with help from many indulgent friends).

Azanulbizar: Creative Platypus

Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies were almost worth it for the glimpses they gave us of Dwarven culture.  In that spirit, here are a few paltry takes at the Battle of Azanulbizar.