Off Broadway

The Evergreen Cemetery on Broadway Street, Galveston

Few first-time visitors to Galveston realize the cemetery they pass on their way to the beach is a collection of seven cemeteries. Built over the span of nearly two centuries, four are city-owned, and three are private; known collectively as the Broadway Cemeteries, they’re rich in history, and a magnet for photographers and artists during the spring wildflower bloom.

Only some of the cemeteries allow flowers to flourish, but where they do, Coreopsis tinctoria runs rampant, mixing primarily with firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) and lazy daisy (Aphanostephus skirrhobasis).

Given the cemeteries’ location, it can be hard to photograph the flowers without including the surrounding homes, tire shops, fast food restaurants, and skateboarding teenagers, but every year I enjoy giving it a try.

One of my favorite images from this spring made use of elevation differences between the sidewalks and the burial plots to allow framing the Coreopsis against the sky.

On a cloudy, gray day, the contrast between the flowers and some of the older graves pleased me.

Visible graves at some of the cemeteries represent only the most recent layer of burials. Stones occasionally were lost during three grade raisings, so plots were resold and new graves placed above the old. Occasionally, only the top of a gravestone is visible, while the rest of the structure remains buried.

Not a fire hydrant, but a finial belonging to a buried marker

Unfortunately, vandalism isn’t unknown. In November of last year, many historic stones were broken and otherwise damaged. The perpetrator was caught, and some markers have been repaired, but many history lovers still grieve the losses. Here, a stone knocked from its base leans against a tree.

In some cases, nature seems to be consoling the broken markers.

While my favorite angels weren’t significantly damaged, they now stand closer to one another.

Unwilling to close the cemeteries to the public, the city did install new fencing and lighting. There are rumors that concerned citizens occasionally patrol the property as unofficial guards.

 

A different and more pleasant kind of history abounds in the cemeteries. Here, the Willis family mausoleum in the Episcopal cemetery remains stately and attractive.  Peter James Willis, born in Maryland in 1815, moved to Texas and established a dry goods store at Washington-on-the-Brazos; eventually,  P. J. Willis and Brother became one of the largest mercantile establishments west of the Mississippi.

A daughter, Magnolia, married George Sealy, one of her father’s business associates, on May 12, 1875; Galveston’s John Sealy Hospital is perhaps the best-known reminder of the family’s influence.

Their luxurious home, Open Gates, became a center of Galveston business and social life. Magnolia engaged the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to build the mansion, thought to be the only building in the South designed by Stanford White, and the home’s elaborate carriage house was designed by preeminent Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton.

As you’d expect, the mausoleum is equally tasteful. The lock on the doors isn’t to keep members of the Willis family from leaving, but to prevent passers-by from spending the night there.

Galveston’s ethnic heritage is rich and complex. Italians, Germans, English, Swedish, and Dutch share space in the cemeteries. Here, a reminder of the Celtic tradition stands tall.

As for the pace of life in a cemetery, it might best be represented by the snails I discovered on several graves. I’d not noticed them in the past, but when I read that snails will climb rocks to obtain minerals needed for shell-building, their presence on stone markers made perfect sense.

Beyond that, it occured to me: even when life moves slowly, it’s still life.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Michaelmas and Its Daisies

Late purple aster (Symphyotrichum patens)

In England, Michaelmas, or the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, traditionally is celebrated on September 29. Long associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days, it is one of four ‘Quarter Days’ tied to solstice or equinox: Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29), and Christmas (December 25).

Although associated with religious festivals, Quarter Days also served a secular purpose; in the past, Quarter Days marked a time to hire servants, pay rents, or begin leases. Traditionally, Michaelmas also marked the end of harvest: the conclusion of summer’s productivity and the beginning of the new agricultural cycle.

As the turn toward winter began, various late-blooming asters became associated with the celebration of St. Michael. Just as the saint was considered a protector against darkness and evil, the so-called Michaelmas daisy was considered a token of resistance to the advancing gloom of autumn and winter.

The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.

Today, an assortment of asters have come to be considered Michaelmas daisies, and most belong the genus Symphyotrichum. Generally tall, clump-forming, and autumn-blooming, they can be abundant in North American marshes and fields.

Perennial salt marsh aster (Symphyotrichum tenuifolium)

Ancient traditions associated with the feast of St. Michael include feasting on a goose that had been fed on the stubble of the fields; baking breads or cakes with grain from the last harvest; and making dolls from the last of the corn shocks. Today, Michaelmas daisies still are exchanged or gathered to decorate tables, and verses such as this, from Malcolm Guite, are shared:

Michaelmas gales assail the waning year,
And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright.
He strips dead leaves; and leaves the living clear
To flourish in the touch and reach of light.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Remembrance

Memorial Day Weekend, 2019 ~ Old City Cemetery, Galveston

 

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish’d Sabbath,
On the pavement here—and there beyond, it is looking
Down a new-made double grave.
Lo! the moon ascending!
Up from the east, the silvery round moon;
Beautiful over the house tops, ghastly phantom moon;
Immense and silent moon.
I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-key’d bugles;
All the channels of the city streets they’re flooding
As with voices and with tears.
I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring;
And every blow of the great convulsive drums
Strikes me through and through.
For the son is brought with the father;
In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell;
Two veterans, son and father, dropt together,
And the double grave awaits them.
Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive;
And the day-light o’er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.
In the eastern sky up-buoying
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumin’d;
(’Tis some mother’s large, transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)
O strong dead-march, you please me!
O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans, passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.
The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.
                           “Dirge for Two Veterans” ~ Walt Whitman

 

Comments always are welcome.