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.

The Over-achievers

 

Unlike the so-called standing poppy-mallow (Callirhoe digitata), the purple poppy-mallow, or winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) forms mats of colorful blooms. Usually, the flowers appear singly atop their stems, but in the midst of one thick stand in the Rockport City Cemetery, I found this pair: a beautifully colored little quirk of nature.

Not far away, a section of the cemetery was filled with white prickly poppies (Argemone albiflora spp. texana), one of my favorite Texas wildflowers. I searched for the plant for at least two years without success; now I see them frequently, in places as widely separated as our coastal bays and the hill country.

What I’d never seen before my visit to Rockport was a prickly poppy with what appeared to be extra petals extending out from the same receptacle as the usual flower. Perhaps the poppy had attempted to ‘double’ in the same way as the winecup, but managed only to produce  extra petals.

In any event, I was delighted to find these little quirks of nature: good reminders that what can’t be explained still can be enjoyed.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Rockport, Redux ~ A Most Unusual Blue

When ‘blue’ curls aren’t

One of the prettiest and most interesting plants around, bluecurls (Phacelia congesta) is named partly for its tightly coiled clusters of buds, which uncurl as the flowers develop.

Its flowers usually range from lavender to a truer blue, but bluecurls aren’t always blue, as the example above proves. I’ve seen white blue-eyed grass, white bluebells, and white spiderwort, but this was my first sighting of white bluecurls: a single plant tucked into the middle of a more typical colony.

Bluecurls in the process of uncurling

The plants are especially attractive to bees and butterflies, although a variety of flies and other insects will visit. In his Wildflowers of Texas, Michael Eason notes that bluecurls grow in moist, shady areas during dry years; its presence throughout the open and unshaded cemetery suggests that Rockport shared in this year’s coastal rains.

Butterfly? Skipper? I don’t know, but it seems happy

 

Comments always are welcome.