Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring, Cemeteries and Victory: No, really.

One of my favorite places to take a walk is a cemetery, you see, most of the time when you walk in the cemetery there isn’t a soul to bother you. (Bad pun, but true.) I have walked some very well known cemeteries in Indiana and Kentucky and there are some that I would like to take a stroll in, but haven’t yet. Then there are some places that feel like cemeteries that really aren’t, I’m going to make an effort to not talk about those.

I have walked in obscure country cemeteries that I just happened upon while out walking, some of them when I was out for a drive. I have snooped around in the Nast Chapel Cemetery, I have some ancestors buried there. I have walked in the Deer Cemetery and I have combed the Harris Cemetery where my father is buried. All of them have a charm of their own, if a cemetery can have a charm, and I do believe that they can, I believe that they do.

There have been walks through much larger graveyards, I have walked through Our Lady of Peace, St. Joseph’s and Concordia in Indianapolis, I have walked through Forest Lawn where some of my friends are interred. I enjoy walking through Greenlawn in Franklin, Indiana, an old cemetery with giant trees and gravestones that are unique and amazing for the period of time that they were erected. My great grandparents, grandparents, a third cousin and several friends are planted there.

Two of my favorite cemeteries are Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, I believe that at one time it was considered the fifth largest in the country, Arlington being the nations largest, Crown Hill may still be number 5. I think my absolute favorite is in Louisville, Kentucky known as Cave Hill.

Cave Hill isn’t a cemetery really, you don’t notice the graves because of the beauty that surrounds them, there are awesome trees, magnolias, dogwood and redbud for spring viewing and when the autumn colors come the area is second only to the New England area, and I can only judge that comparison to pictures as I’ve never been to New England in the autumn. There are stones with bronze sculptures that are amazing, headstones that have stained glass encased in them, older stones of limestone and marble that are intricately carved to look like angels, tree stumps covered with ivy and many have amazing flowers chiseled into them. There is a great pond that is home to many swan, thousands of birds of many varieties, speaking of birds, I have had the unique experience of leaving a special memorial at the grave of Colonel Harlan Sanders, the famous fried chicken magnate. I left a small red and white stripe box with a few chicken bones in it. Since I’m sure that he has contributed to my cholesterol reading it only seemed like the thing to do. There are other notables, many of Kentuckian-only-knowledge and some people very famous from history, not only purveyors of chicken.

Crown Hill in Indianapolis is one of the places where I have stomped the most, so I know it better of course. Not quite the arboretum that Cave Hill, though Crown Hill boasts some 400 different varieties of trees. There are many Hoosier native sons buried here of course, President Benjamin Harrison, a stack of early history vice presidents, the man who invented the Gatlin gun is there just outside of the national cemetery section of the graveyard, the irony isn’t lost on me. The man who laid out the mile square section of Indianapolis, aka downtown; his monument has a map of the city on it, he is also famous for laying out the original, “downtown” area of Washington DC. There are doctors, lawyers and race car drivers, wife beaters, knaves and scoundrels. There are people who have their epitaphs in their native languages and of course, I can’t read them. There are the good citizens of the city and the man who played Uncle Remus in Song of the South is laid to rest there, not too terribly far from John Dillinger, famous gangster.
The high-light and if you have been there, you will see that the previous statement is a pun, there is a place known as Crown Hill and that poet James Whitcomb Riley’s grave is there, at the highest point in the city. On a clear day you can truly, “see forever” from this city landmark. At one time this hill was known as Strawberry Hill and it was known as a great spot for a picnic, actually, I have picnicked there myself.

From this lofty point in the city the downtown skyline is impressive, it’s clean and fresh looking and all the trees between the hill and the central city makes it look like the city is floating on a green cloud. From this point in the city it looks like there are no drug dealers or prostitutes or panhandlers in my neighborhood, from this point it gives the illusion that there is no urban blight. Crown Hill gives a view of a fresh and clean place to live, just a mile or so out, just don’t look down over the hill to the west where one is quickly jolted back to reality.

Thoughts and signs of spring make me want to go for a walk in Crown Hill or some little country cemetery because of the signs of life there, the blankets of dandelions, the cushions of violets, the green grass, and usually there is lots of it. I’ve been thinking about going for a walk lately, maybe to happen upon some busy robins on the ground or some squirrels dancing about in the tree branches, in the season of Easter, it’s easy to think on spring, to think about new beginnings, those tulips planted next to headstones, the magnolia trees in Cave Hill covered in pink and white blossoms, delicate dogwood flowers that bear the blood stains of the nails of Christ, per legend. The verse that comes to mind so often when I walk through cemeteries, as beautiful as they are is, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

The answer is simple, it isn’t here, the Victor over death has risen, just as he said.


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