04/26/18

Remembering When Americans Picnicked in Cemeteries

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For a time, eating and relaxing among the dead was a national pastime.

A small group picnics on ledger-style tombstones in Historic St. Luke’s Ancient Cemetery. The photo is not dated but is believed to have been taken prior to St. Luke’s 1957 Pilgrimage Service.

Within the iron-wrought walls of American cemeteries—beneath the shade of oak trees and tombs’ stoic penumbras—you could say many people “rest in peace.” However, not so long ago, people of the still-breathing sort gathered in graveyards to rest, and dine, in peace.

During the 19th century, and especially in its later years, snacking in cemeteries happened across the United States. It wasn’t just apple-munching alongside the winding avenues of graveyards. Since many municipalities still lacked proper recreational areas, many people had full-blown picnics in their local cemeteries. The tombstone-laden fields were the closest things, then, to modern-day public parks.

In Dayton, Ohio, for instance, Victorian-era women wielded parasols as they promenaded through mass assemblages at Woodland Cemetery, en route to luncheon on their family lots. Meanwhile, New Yorkers strolled through Saint Paul’s Churchyard in Lower Manhattan, bearing baskets filled with fruits, ginger snaps, and beef sandwiches.

A historic image of the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

One of the reasons why eating in cemeteries become a “fad,” as some reporters called it, was that epidemics were raging across the country: Yellow fever and cholera flourished, children passed away before turning 10, women died during childbirth. Death was a constant visitor for many families, and in cemeteries, people could “talk” and break bread with family and friends, both living and deceased.

“We are going to keep Thanksgivin’ with our father as [though he] was live and hearty this day last year,” explained a young man, in 1884, on why his family—mother, brothers, sisters—chose to eat in the cemetery. “We’ve brought somethin’ to eat and a spirit-lamp to boil coffee.”

The picnic-and-relaxation trend can also be understood as the flowering of the rural cemetery movement. Whereas American and European graveyards had long been austere places on Church grounds, full of memento mori and reminders not to sin, the new cemeteries were located outside of city centers and designed like gardens for relaxation and beauty. Flower motifs replaced skulls and crossbones, and the public was welcomed to enjoy the grounds.

Enjoying a book and a snack in a Lower Manhattan cemetery.

Eating in graveyards had—and still has historical precedent. People picnic among the dead from Guatemala to parts of Greece, and similar traditions involving meals with ancestors are common throughout Asia. But plenty of Americans believed that picnics in local cemeteries were a “gruesome festivity.” This critique, notably from older generations, didn’t stop young adults from meeting up in graveyards. Instead it led to debate over proper conduct.

In some parts of the country, such as Denver, the congregations of grave picnickers grew to such numbers that police intervention was even considered. The cemeteries were becoming littered with garbage, which was seen as an affront to their sanctity. In one report about these messy gatherings, the author wrote, “thousands strew the grounds with sardine cans, beer bottles, and lunch boxes.”

Though the macabre picnics were considered “nuisances” in some communities, they did give participants a sort of admired air. One reporter lauded the fact that the picnickers looked “happy under discouraging circumstances,” and even said it was a trait “worthy of cultivation.” The fad of casual en plein air dining among the crypts would soon come to an end, though.

A reproduction of an admittance pass to Woodland Cemetery from 1926; it notably prohibits bringing in refreshments.

Cemetery picnics remained peripheral cultural staples in the early 20th century; however, they began to wane in popularity by the 1920s. Medical advancements made early deaths less common, and public parks were sprouting across the nation. It was a recipe for less interesting dining venues.

Today, more than 100 years since Americans debated the trend, you’d be hard-pressed to find many cemeteries—especially those in big cities—with policies or available land that allow for picnics. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, for example, has a no picnic rule.

But the fad isn’t entirely dead in the United States. The country’s immigrant population includes families carrying on traditions that call for meals with departed loved ones, and cemeteries will hold occasional public events in the spirit of this era. There are still scattered graveyards where you can picnic among tombstones, too, particularly if you know someone with a sizable family lot. In those cases, all you need is a picnic basket filled with treats, and you and your undaunted party can partake in an old American tradition. Just remember to clean up after yourselves. The penalties for doing otherwise may be grave.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/3/16

Why the First Cremation in the U.S. Was So Controversial

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It was a scandalous topic before Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne in 1876.

By Amy Elliott Bragg

LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania.

LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania.

“Things were a little ghostly,” wrote a reporter for the Philadelphia Times, setting the scene for a morbid public spectacle. The press had been invited to the first “modern” cremation performed in the United States. It was December 6, 1876.

The Times reporter was among a crowd of journalists and townspeople gathered at the top of a hill in Washington, Pennsylvania to witness the first run of a new crematory built by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne. The furnace, designed by LeMoyne and built on his own property, was based on a working model presented at the Vienna Exposition in 1873. The remains to be cremated were those of Joseph Henry Louis Charles, Baron de Palm, a Theosophist who was fascinated by “Eastern” philosophy, and besides that had once known a woman who had been buried alive, and was terrified by the prospect.

Burning the dead is an ancient practice, and in some cultural traditions, it’s a thousands-year-old norm. Today, cremation in the U.S. is soaring in popularity; by 2018, the Cremation Association of North America predicts that over 50 percent of Americans will choose to have their bodies cremated.

Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne.

Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne.

But in late 19th-century America, cremation was a radical, tradition-bucking idea. LeMoyne and other cremation advocates believed that burying the dead in the ground allowed germs to seep into the soil, thus contributing to the spread of diseases like cholera, typhus, and yellow fever. Cremation promised to sterilize human remains and bypass the altogether slow and icky process of decomposition. When performed in a state-of-the-art indoor furnace, it was a sanitary and high-tech alternative to burial.

Cremation was also a solution to an urban problem. As cities expanded, they surrounded burial grounds that had once been miles away from town—and rested on prime real estate. “In and about New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, 4,000 acres of valuable land are taken up by cemeteries,” wrote Hugo Erichsen in his 1887 pro-cremation treatise The Cremation of the Dead. “It is calculated that with the probable increase of population in the next half a decade, 500,000 acres of the best land in the United States will be enclosed by graveyard walls. … It is an outrage!”

But cremation didn’t catch on with the masses right away. LeMoyne had first approached a local cemetery with an offer to build the crematory on their land; they dismissed him with disgust. The Times reporter who witnessed the de Palm cremation was horrified: “If [de Palm] could have foreshadowed the startling scenes his poor bones would have to go through he would have thought twice before he jumped into the fire.” Anti-cremationists put aside their religious discomfort with cremation to argue that burning bodies would encourage crime—you can’t exhume a cremated corpse!—and dismissed the public health claims of cremationists as unfounded fear-mongering. (They weren’t wrong; there’s no evidence that in-ground burial encouraged the spread of epidemics.)

Cremation was also a solution to an urban problem. As cities expanded, they surrounded burial grounds that had once been miles away from town—and rested on prime real estate. “In and about New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, 4,000 acres of valuable land are taken up by cemeteries,” wrote Hugo Erichsen in his 1887 pro-cremation treatise The Cremation of the Dead. “It is calculated that with the probable increase of population in the next half a decade, 500,000 acres of the best land in the United States will be enclosed by graveyard walls. … It is an outrage!”

But cremation didn’t catch on with the masses right away. LeMoyne had first approached a local cemetery with an offer to build the crematory on their land; they dismissed him with disgust. The Times reporter who witnessed the de Palm cremation was horrified: “If [de Palm] could have foreshadowed the startling scenes his poor bones would have to go through he would have thought twice before he jumped into the fire.” Anti-cremationists put aside their religious discomfort with cremation to argue that burning bodies would encourage crime—you can’t exhume a cremated corpse!—and dismissed the public health claims of cremationists as unfounded fear-mongering. (They weren’t wrong; there’s no evidence that in-ground burial encouraged the spread of epidemics.)

Inside the Detroit Crematorium columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery.

Inside the Detroit Crematorium columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery.

Throughout the 1870s and ’80s, as debates about cremation raged in the papers, local cremation societies were organized to argue their case and — more importantly—to raise funds to build crematories. The first public crematory in the U.S., at Lancaster, Pennsylvania—funded by the Lancaster Cremation and Funeral Reform Society—was built in 1884. By 1887, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Los Angeles, and Detroit had all built crematories, many of them designed to look like chapels, with stained glass and stonework. These crematories operated independently of cemeteries, which saw cremationists as competitors.

A few of these early crematories still exist; in Cincinnati, the building is hiding behind deceptive new construction.

The opening pages to 1887 book The Cremation of the Dead.

The opening pages to 1887 book The Cremation of the Dead.

Sometimes the dead traveled hundreds of miles to have their last wishes fulfilled. When Barbara Schorr died in Millersburg, Ohio in 1887, her family honored her wish to be cremated by sending her body to the Detroit Crematorium—nearly 200 miles away, it was nonetheless the closest crematory. But it was still under construction, so Barbara Schorr lay in state for several weeks while it was completed.

Today, a portrait of Barbara Schorr, commissioned by her sons, hangs in the columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery, honoring her as a pioneer of the cremation movement in Detroit.

 A stereoscope view of Lancaster Crematorium, Pennsylvania.

A stereoscope view of Lancaster Crematorium, Pennsylvania.

Because cremation was a moral crusade for the betterment of public health, it attracted sympathizers from other moral causes to its ranks, including no small number of women activists. The suffragist Lucy Stone was the first person cremated at the Forest Hills Crematory in Boston in 1893. Frances Willard—suffragist, temperance activist, and avid bicyclist—was also a vocal advocate of cremation. In 1900, the New York Times ran a satirical news item about the cremation of Willard’s cat: “Each of Toots’s human friends will sprinkle a little myrrh or frankincense over the body, and while it is being consumed the incense will counteract any odor which might be emitted through the furnace chimney.”

By the early 20th century, the sensationalism of cremation had waned, and the practical case for cremation was winning minds. After all, cremation, which requires no elaborate monument marker or plot purchase, is significantly less expensive than in-ground burial. Eventually, cemetery directors realized they might be better off joining the cremationists than trying to beat them. In 1899, Mount Auburn Cemetery—famously one of the original rural cemeteries in the U.S.—hired an architect to renovate an existing chapel on the grounds into a crematory. It was the first cemetery crematory in the state of Massachusetts, and it marked a turning point in the history from what was once a “ghostly” spectacle to an agreeably American way of death and burial.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/19/16

Dying traditions, and new life, in the funeral industry

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Vice president Arthur DeFilippo prepared a headstone at Woodlawn Memorials in Everett, a family-run business where sales have been declining for a decade.

Vice president Arthur DeFilippo prepared a headstone at Woodlawn Memorials in Everett, a family-run business where sales have been declining for a decade.

Death is inevitable, but, increasingly, traditional burials are not.

From diamonds made from cremated remains to eco-friendly interments, the $20 billion funeral industry is being reshaped, creating opportunities for the entrepreneurially minded — and financial hardship for those with business models more set in stone.

Consider:

At Rockland Golf Course a few years ago, a kayaker paddled to the middle of a pond with the cremated remains of a golfer who had hit many an errant ball into the water. As the rower released the biodegradable container and the ashes dispersed, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and 75 members of the man’s golf league chipped shots into the water.

A Great Barrington woman wrapped her mother’s body in a cotton sheet and laid her in a cardboard coffin lined with dry ice. The family then held a three-day vigil at her home dance studio, inviting people to play music and see and touch her face for the last time.

In Woburn, a carpenter with a degenerative brain condition is set to be buried in a suit embedded with mushrooms, which will neutralize the toxins in his body as it decomposes into the earth.

In Seattle, plans are underway for a facility to turn corpses into compost; in Italy, a pair of designers is working on a biodegradable burial seed pod that will allow a person’s decaying body to provide nutrients for a tree planted on top of it.

But the number of alternatives to caskets and cemeteries is making life tough for undertakers and monument makers.

At Woodlawn Monuments Inc. in Everett, sales have been in a “freefall” over the past 10 years, said co-owner David DeFilippo. His family has been making tombstones since his great-grandfather opened a shop in 1907, but DeFilippo, 50, said the company – which also employs his mother, aunt, and uncle — is likely to end with him.

“People always say to me, ‘You’re set, people are always going to die,’” said Jeff Hardy, of the Chelmsford burial vault company Hardy Doric Inc. “Well yeah, it’s what happens to them after that keeps changing.”

Death rates are rising as America’s population ages, but with some estimating that cremations surpassed burials for the first time last year, and other cheaper alternatives becoming more popular, profits are being tamped down.

Lewis Funeral Home on Nantucket closed its doors in 2013 after 135 years in business, citing the rise in cremation as a cause. Families who opt for cremation spend 42 cents on the dollar compared with those who have traditional burials, said Teresa Gyulafia, strategic communications director at Batesville, a funeral product manufacturer in Batesville, Ind. — “a big economic burden to the industry.”

Interest in cremations has risen swiftly in recent years, particularly among the growing ranks of the nonreligious. In the 1960s, less than 5 percent of deaths resulted in cremations, according to the Cremation Association of North America. But after the Catholic Church lifted the ban on cremations in 1963 and started allowing cremated remains at funeral Masses in 1997, the practice has become more common. In Maine, which has one of the country’s highest cremation rates, 73 percent of deaths resulted in cremations last year. In Massachusetts, it was 45 percent.

By 2030, the national cremation rate is expected to be 71 percent.

The movement toward cremation and natural burials harkens back to the way things used to be done. Cremation was big during the Roman Empire, before the practice became associated with pagan rituals. Embalming arose during the Civil War as a way to preserve the bodies of fallen soldiers being shipped home from the battlefield.

In response to a shifting market, traditional funeral providers are branching out, offering more custom products and personalized service. To counter a drop in domestic sales, Dodge Co. in Billerica, the world’s largest supplier of embalming fluid, has been selling more sports-themed urns and video tributes. New England Casket Co. in East Boston, founded by an Italian cabinet maker in the 1930s and now run his grandson, makes a casket with a camouflage lining and a rifle holder, among other unique offerings, and has started making more oversized caskets for an increasingly larger clientele.

At Magoun-Biggins Funeral Home in Rockland, owner Bob Biggins offers concierge services: making arrangements with caterers, helping plan dinners at country clubs, and arranging bereavement rates at hotels for out-of-town guests.

Biggins coordinated the golf course memorial. He also put together a funeral procession for an ice cream man led by his iconic truck, complete with popsicles for guests at the grave site, and had a body shop paint a casket to look like a school bus for a local driver.

“You have to adapt to meet what your clients’ needs are,” Biggins said, “and it’s not the old-fashioned cookie-cutter funeral.”

As death becomes less of a taboo topic — at “death cafes” the end of life is discussed over tea and cake — people are also increasingly looking for unique ways to memorialize the dead. Off the coast of Florida, a manmade reef serves as an underwater mausoleum for cremated remains. The Daytona International Speedway considered creating a place to house urns, known as a columbarium, to accommodate NASCAR fans who had been scattering ashes inside the track.

The burgeoning natural burial movement is also changing the industry. The Green Burial Council, which certifies environmentally friendly providers, started with a single funeral home in New Mexico in 2006; today, there are more than 300.

When Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge held a workshop on green burials two years ago, on a sunny Saturday in June, 150 people showed up. “It was the first beach day of the summer, and all these people came to hear about death and disposition,” said Candace Currie, director of planning and cemetery development.

Mount Auburn has sold about half of its 50 natural grave sites in the past two years, and the nonprofit Green Burial Massachusetts Inc. is working to establish the first all-natural cemetery in the state. Mourning Dove Studio in Arlington has seen a sharp uptick in demand this year forbiodegradable caskets made of recycled paper, woven banana leaves, cardboard, and pine.

The process of alkaline hydrolysis, in which bodies are dissolved in a lye-like solution with the help of heat and pressure — seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation — is legal in a handful of states, including Maine and Vermont.

Some question the movement toward scattered ashes and unmarked graves as too ephemeral.

“How are we going to record our existence?” said Jacquelyn Taylor, a former professor of funeral service education at Mount Ida College in Newton who works as a data analyst for the Dodge Co.

But just because people want a natural burial doesn’t mean they don’t want a place to be remembered.

Dennis White, the Woburn carpenter with a degenerative brain disease, will be the first person to be buried in a Coeio mushroom suit. White, 64, liked the idea of returning his body’s energy to the earth, free of toxins, but wanted a plaque to mark his final resting spot. In Limington, Maine, he and his wife found a cemetery that would let them do both.

Ann-Elizabeth Barnes, the Western Massachusetts woman who held a home funeral for her mother and helps others do the same, said the experience helped bring her closure.

“The first day she looked like herself. She had a little smile on her face. She looked quite peaceful,” she said. “The next day she was just a little bit caved in. The next day she was definitely a cadaver.”

At that point, Barnes knew, “It’s time, she’s gone, we can really say goodbye.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/10/16

Final resting place: 11 celebs you might not know are buried in Las Vegas

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Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis sits for a photo in the art studio of his Southern Nevada home Friday, Nov. 30, 2001. Curtis was buried at Palm Eastern Cemetery in 2010.

What do Sonny Liston, one of boxing’s all-time best, and Pat Morita, the Japanese-American actor who played Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid,” have in common?

Both are buried in Las Vegas area cemeteries. So are many other notables.

Here’s a list:

Tony Curtis — The Bronx-born actor, who died in Henderson in 2010, appeared in more than 150 films spanning more than six decades. Curtis, who was married six times, was buried at Palm Eastern Cemetery’s “Garden of Legacy” in October 2010 in a memorial service attended by his daughters, Jamie Lee and Kelly Curtis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kirk Kerkorian, Kirk Douglas and Phyllis McGuire, among other celebrities.

Redd Foxx — A stone’s throw from Curtis’ grave, in Palm Eastern’s “Garden of Devotion,” is the grave of Redd Foxx, a 1960s standup comedian. Fox, whose real name was Jon Elroy Sanford, was best known for his role as Fred Sanford on the TV sitcom “Sanford and Son,” which ran for six seasons from 1972 to 1977. He died in Los Angeles when he suffered a heart attack on set while rehearsing for a sitcom.

Rick Fabroski

Rick Fabroski, a groundskeeper at Davis Memorial Park on Eastern Avenue, stands by Sonny Liston’s grave, Feb. 18, 2008.

Harry James — Born to circus performers in a rural Georgia hotel, James became one of the most well-known trumpet players of the 20th century and has two songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame. James, who was married three times and had five children, died July 5, 1983, in Las Vegas, the same year he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He was buried in Bunkers Eden Vale Memorial Park in Las Vegas, where former colleague Frank Sinatra gave his eulogy.

Pat Morita — A native of Isleton, Calif., Morita was best known for his acting roles in “Happy Days” and as Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid.” After nearly dying from spinal tuberculosis as a toddler, Morita went on to have one of the most successful careers of any Japanese-American actor in the 20th century. He died of kidney failure on Nov. 25, 2005, at age 73 and was cremated at Palm Eastern Cemetery five days later.

Sonny Liston — One of the best boxers of all time, Liston compiled a 50-4 record in the ring before dying mysteriously in 1970. Still fighting through the year of his death, Liston was found dead in his bedroom by his wife, Geraldine, when she returned home from a two-week trip on Jan. 5, 1971. While the Clark County Sheriff’s Department ruled Liston’s death a heroine overdose, then-County Coroner Mark Herman said the amount of heroin found in his system was not enough to have caused his death. Authorities listed Liston’s official date of death as Dec. 30, 1970, and his birthdate is still unknown. He was estimated to be from 38 to 42 years old when he died. Liston is buried at Davis Memorial Park on Eastern Avenue, with a headstone bearing: A Man.

Pancho Gonzales — A 17-time men’s singles champion who won two U.S. Championship tournaments in 1948 and 1949, Gonzales is considered one of the best men’s tennis players of all time. Married and divorced six times, Gonzales fathered nine children and lived in Las Vegas for the last two decades of his life. Even after 16 years as tennis director at Caesars Palace, Gonzales was broke and out of a job when he died of stomach cancer in July 1995. He is buried at Palm Eastern Cemetery.

Albert Collins— Known for an uncanny stage presence, which often resulted in him leaving the stage to chat with the audience, or on one occasion order pizza, blues musician Collins was one of the 20th century’s most revered electric guitarists. Known for his mastery with the Fender Telecaster, Collins produced 10 studio albums and six live albums during his storied 30-year career. Ranked in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists,” Collins died of lung cancer at his Las Vegas home on Nov. 24, 1995, and is buried at Davis Memorial Park.

Danny Gans — The “Man of Many Voices” on the Las Vegas Strip, comedian and impressionist Gans was once named Las Vegas’ entertainer of the year. An aspiring baseball player before he took up comedy, Gans had his own show on Broadway in the early 1990s before moving to Las Vegas in 1996. After stints at the Stratosphere, Rio, Mirage and Encore, Gans died in May 2009 due to a toxic reaction to hydromorphone, a common pain medication, according to the Clark County Coroner’s Office. He’s buried at Palm Eastern Cemetery.

Zakes Mokae — Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1934, Mokae moved to Great Britain in 1961 and the United States in 1969. The star of “The Blood Knot” and “Master Harold … and the Boys,” among 16 feature films, Mokae won the 1982 Tony Award for Featured Actor in a Play. A Las Vegas resident at the end of his life, Mokae died on Sept. 11, 2009, after suffering a stroke. He’s buried in Palm Northwest Cemetery.

Liz Renay — A one-time girlfriend of Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen, Renay served more than two years at Terminal Island federal prison in California on perjury charges from 1959 to 1962. She played a starring role in John Waters’ 1977 film “Desperate Living” but was best known for her relationship with male celebrities. In a tell-all book about her relationships, Renay’s “My First 2,000 Men” claimed affairs with Joe DiMaggio, Regis Philbin and Cary Grant, among other celebrities. Renay was married seven times, divorcing five times and widowed twice. She died from cardiac arrest in Las Vegas on Jan. 22, 2007, and is buried in Bunkers Eden Vale Cemetery.

Dolores Fuller — A one-time songwriter for Elvis Presley, Fuller was known for acting roles in 1950s films “Glen or Glenda,” “Jail Bait” and “Bride of the Monster.” Born in South Bend, Ind., Fuller first appeared onscreen at age 10 in an acting and songwriting career that lasted nearly 50 years. Twelve songs written by Fuller and recorded by Presley include “Rock-a-Hula-Baby,” “Steppin’ Out of Line,” “Do the Clam” and “I’ll Take Love.” Fuller died in May 2011 at age 88 and is buried in Palm Eastern Cemetery.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/19/16

Woodlawn Cemetery Memorial Tells A Coney Island Story Of Unusual Death

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Brighton Beach Lightning Strike Felt By Thousands, Kills Six – July 30, 1905

Demmerle-1110354-Wide

When walking through Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, you can come across fancy mausoleums and simple grave markers of the famous and infamous. F.W. Woolworth, Fiorello LaGuardia, Duke Ellington, Bat Masterson and Herman Melville are among the half million souls interred in this historic place.

Then out of the blue you may stumble across the lives of ordinary New Yorker’s memorialized in an extraordinary way. Such is the Demmerle monument.

Unlike many other tombstones which record a name and birth and death years with a short epitaph, the Demmerle memorial is an ornate series of carved monuments which tells and shows the story of one family’s tragedy.

Demmerle-1110355-Charles-EmilieSunday July 30, 1905 started out as a beautiful, sun-filled, hot day and an estimated 250,000 New Yorker’s sought out the seashore of Coney Island for pleasure and a refuge from the heat. Charles Demmerle age 51, his wife Emilie age 49 and their two sons, Frank C. age 23, and Charles R. age 22 all residing at 372 East 16th Street Flatbush, spent the day with their cousin Robert T. Wasch age 16 at Brighton Beach.

After a day of swimming the weather started changing. At 4 pm the sky darkened and swimmers left the water as rain began to fall, coming down heavier and heavier as the minutes passed. Many took refuge near the Parkway Baths on the beach at Ocean Parkway.

As the rain fell, thunder and lightning approached the beach, a large flagpole topped by an eagle on the Boardwalk near the Parkway Baths became a gathering spot for thousands of beach goers seeking shelter. They congregated around the pole, on the boardwalk and under the boardwalk which covered the beach.

There were a few vivid flashes accompanied by thunder cracks before the big one came.

John Manzer, a witness standing on the boardwalk and looking up  described what happened next. “A ball of fire seemed to start right up at the eagle’s beak and travel downward around and around the pole. Right at the crosstrees it spread out and seemed to drop into the earth with a noise I will never forget.”

The flagpole was split in half. Everyone on or under the wet conductive boardwalk and sand beneath it was given a jolt and those nearest the flagpole were literally thrown to the ground. Thousands of people felt the electrical shock.  After the screaming subsided, it was noticed that five people were blue from head to toe and stone dead. Frank and Charles Demmerle, their cousin Robert and two others, all near the base of the flagpole were killed instantly. At least nine others suffered serious burns. Simultaneously, a sixth man standing under a tree in nearby Gravesend was killed by what was believed by some to be the same bolt that had struck in Brighton Beach.

The dead were taken to a nearby room when Mrs. Demmerle came by looking for her missing boys.

The New York Times reported that she took one look at the bodies stretched out on the floor and fell forward crying “Oh, my boys! The dear boys to whose future I had looked forward with so much pride. I warned them not to go into the water when the storm came up. I feared even then that some evil was about to befall”

The Demmerle’s put up this poignant monument to commemorate their loss. The large memorial stone has three bronze reliefs showing the young men. The monument also has set into the stone in bronze relief  the depiction of the lightning bolt striking the flagpole and the boardwalk.

The words on the front of the monument read simply “Our Fondest Hopes Lie Buried Here!” with the names and ages of the three young men. Beneath that it says “TAKEN SUDDENLY IN AN HOUR OF HAPPINESS. STRUCK BY A BOLT OF LIGHTNING.” The rear of the monument contains a long anguished poem.

Parents, Emilie and Charles’ Demmerle’s monument to the left of their sons and nephew depicts a life size statue of mother Emilie, sitting on a tree stump, offering flowers, her head cast down in mourning, with a broken tree limb above her.

It is truly a magnificent work of funereal art and it certainly calls attention today to the fact that this family’s anguish is worthy of remembrance and a retelling.

Complete Article HERE!

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01/24/16

WELCOME TO THE TOWN OF THE DEAD

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For 75 years, Colma, Calif., has been steadily collecting bodies and it’s constantly getting deader. As of 2009, the city had 1,500 living residents and 1.5 million marked graves. Seventy-three percent of Colma’s land belongs to the dead with the rest occupied by people who have a great sense of humor. The town’s motto: “It’s Great To Be Alive In Colma.”

 

Complete Article HERE!

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