Friday, July 26, 2013

About Cemeteries

by Audrey Barclay

I like to visit cemeteries, particularly old ones. The older they are, the more fascinating I find them. The inscriptions on the ancient gravestones intrigue me, as do some of the names I've found. To me such places are of great historical interest. I can spend hours letting my mind's eye travel backward, trying to visualize an individual to fit the name and the era. I don't believe I am any more morbid than most people just because I find such peaceful places interesting.

A few years ago my husband and I toured the eastern states and visited the graves of many of our famous people. We never failed to find others of special interest, for one reason or another. One that especially intrigued me was found in a small churchyard cemetery in Williamsburg, Virginia. I was first attracted by the apparent age of the monument. On inspection I discovered the date to be in the late 1770s, but I was so impressed with the inscription that I forgot to copy the vital statistics. Quite legibly inscribed were these words:

"Remember, friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, you soon will be,
Prepare thyself to follow me."

I have since found out the inscription was not new, but, nevertheless, there is much truth to it and I liked it!

I suppose my interest in burial places was largely due to my having lived near such places during most of my childhood. Not large cemeteries; on the contrary. The first one was that of a tiny premature infant, not large enough to justify a regulation burial, but large enough that the young parents were impelled to give it a decent burial at the corner of their backyard garden. I was but four years old when we moved next door. I soon discovered the little mound and was told it was the grave of a baby. I couldn't imagine a baby so tiny, as kids my age didn't know about "preemies" in those days. How often I wished we had moved there sooner so I could have seen the baby! As it was, I made it my special project to see that flowers were added to the other ornaments--shells and pretty colored glass--all during clover blossom time for the five years we lived there.

The next place I remember was the grave of my paternal grandfather who had lived in another county. The man who lived on the adjoining farm had recently donated an acre of land for a community cemetery when my grandfather suffered a heart attack and was the first to be placed there. It was but a short time until Mr. Rowland, who had donated the land, became the second occupant. A pen of split rails was erected around the plot to protect them from being trampled by animals.

I went to spend a few weeks with my grandmother the summer I was eight years old, and my day was not complete if I failed to take my twilight walk to stand atop the rails beside grandpa's grave and remember him. I felt no sense of sadness, and I still don't, when I visit that tranquil, well-maintained place, as I did only a month ago. Needless to say, the seventy years since my grandfather was laid there has eliminated the rails, and many families are represented there.

In 1912 we rented a farm and moved to it. Within sight of the house--only a few hundred feet, in fact--the owners had set aside a small plot for a family cemetery years before. It contained the graves of probably eighteen or twenty members of the family, a few of whom I could remember.

There have been others, but not of such special interest, except for the latest one. In 1960 my husband and I bought a new home in a new addition of homes. After moving, we discovered an ancient cemetery at the end of the block. It was sadly neglected and overgrown with weeds and brush. We were told it was a slave cemetery, but I was never able to verify that fact. Shortly after we moved there a greedy contractor decided to confiscate it and erect another home on the land. I don't know how he planned to obtain legal title to it. When he moved in and started stacking up the modest gravestones, the nearby citizens discovered what was happening and objected violently. It was not in time to prevent much desecration, but did stop it from being completely destroyed. The stones were left in a pile, where they are to this day.


Editor's note:  In the above essay Audrey mentioned that it had been seventy years since her paternal grandfather was laid to rest. Her paternal grandfather was Samuel S. Smith, who died August 6, 1903; therefore, Grandma Audrey would have written this piece about 1973. 

Now, about that graveyard where Sam Smith was buried: I've searched online for it for years with no luck at all. Today, after retyping Grandma's "About Cemeteries" for posting here, curiosity took hold of me once again. Armed with one new piece of information (the name "Rowland"), I did another Google search. Here's what I found:

It's hard to read the inscriptions, but this is the gravestone of Samuel and Amy Smith. Since Amy is buried here, too, this obviously isn't the original gravestone that eight-year-old Audrey stood "atop the rails" to see, but we can assume she stood right at this spot many times in later years, after Amy's death in 1923. 

The name of the place where Sam and Amy are buried is Nolan Cemetery, located in Crossroads, Stone County, Missouri. Their son (and Audrey's father), Ernest Ray Smith, is buried there, too, as are his brothers, Arba, Omar, and Samuel Junior, as well as Omar's wife, Annie, and Samuel Junior's wife, Frances (herself a Rowland). If you want to view their gravestones, find their names on this list and click on them. Further substantiating Audrey's essay, I found four people with the surname Rowlands buried at Nolan Cemetery, including one Jasper Rowlands, who passed away only three years after Samuel Smith. 

Based on what seems to be a fairly recent photo, Nolan cemetery is still well maintained:

I can't say enough good things about the  Find A Grave website that helped me on today's search and on so many others in the past. The information I found there today is available only because a volunteer named Maria was kind enough to post it on the Find A Grave site just two short months ago. Thank you, Maria!

If any of you readers are close enough--and curious enough--to check out Nolan Cemetery in person, click here to find Crossroads, Missouri (about 145 miles northeast of Springfield) or, better yet, click here for a map to the cemetery, complete with GPS coordinates. And, if you actually do go visit the graves of Sam, Amy, and their sons, as Grandma Audrey liked to do, please write and tell us about your experience there.

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