A few nights ago, I went out during Blue Hour to explore and shoot at a fascinating graveyard here in town, St. Augustine’s. I was looking for texture and the deep, saturated colors that can be found at this time of day. I found something else as well…
The Catholic cemetery sits on a hill, facing west to catch the sunsets, and has headstones dating back to before the Civil War. And, because this is Central Vermont, the granite carvings can be stunning.
Yet what I was struck by more than anything was the stories buried here.
While I recognize names of famous early residents and eminent families, there are also the luxurious Italian names of immigrants – many of whom came to work in the granite quarries from which these stones were hewn.
Yet frequently I would come across a stone that gave the hint of a life story, one I am sure I will never know, but one which is nonetheless fascinating to imagine. Like Spoon River Anthology, which I recall reading in high school, these stones are secret poems that offer a faint glimmer of lives long gone.
For instance, there is a set of four modest stones set upon a chest-high ledge above the road. I am drawn by their symmetry. Looking closely, I see that the two in the center – Julian and John Goodrich – are brothers, twins in fact. Their birth date, in 1922, plus the flags, leads me to suppose that they both fought in the second World War. And buried beside them (but not between them) are their wives. Surely these four must have spent much of their whole lives in this little town, perhaps living just down the street from one another, getting together for Sunday suppers and bridge.
Or there is the pathos of the simple stone for Raymond E. Talty, with the simple inscription 1909-1909. What a weighty name for a boy to carry, not even living out a year.
Some stones have face inscriptions that are barely legible above the line of the rising soil. But their tops, easily visible from a standing height, say Mother, Father, Brother, Brother – as if to say that their relation to one another was more important than their individual selves. There are many stones fashioned like this here.
And finally there is the curious case of Delbert (Butchie) Jones, who lived only from 1952-1956. Yet, in this small cemetery – where there seem to be very few stones from the current century, and where most date from the middle of the last century or before – this 60-year-old stone with its regal lamb, is by far the most decorated and cared for plot in the whole cemetery. There is a story here, surely a very interesting one. I’ll have to ask around.
And I will keep looking. There is another, larger cemetery in town, where Protestant and Jewish bones lay side by side. It faces south and west, toward a bend in the river. The sculptures are even more impressive there. Some are even said to be haunted.