The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Being October, and being that Halloween is less than two weeks away, it’s only appropriate to add another graveyard episode to the Monthly Monochrome series (for the previous charnel chapter click this link).

As I indicated in my previous graveyard post, a graveyard can be a cemetery, but a cemetery can’t be a graveyard until time, nature and lack of attention have weathered the old charnel.

Tonopah Cemetery
Located in the high desert of Nevada, 211 desolate miles from the glitter of Las Vegas, sits Tonopah, Nevada.

Nevada is appropriately named the Silver State because many of its cities, towns, ghost towns and ruins were birthed by silver. In 1900, Jim Butler discovered silver at a site that would produce one of the biggest booms in the west and with it, the high desert town of Tonopah.

Old cemeteries are repositories of history. They speak, as silently as a grave, of lives and times long past.

Among the epitaphs of the residents of Tonopah’s old graveyard:

In 1909, Leonard Black fell from a freight wagon loaded with three tons of grain and was run over. Leonard was eleven years old.

In 1906, Alfred Anderson succumbed to a gunshot wound after having assaulted a woman in, as the epitaph describes, her bagnio.

Kentuckian William Allen Montgomery was a pioneer, stockman, and teamster. Born in 1838, he died at age 62.

In 1916, Peter Mandich was careless while riding in a mining skip (car). According to the Reno Evening Gazette, “Peter Mandich, a Servian, 25 years of age, was instantly killed in the underground incline shaft of the Tonopah Extension Mine, Saturday morning about 10:30 o’clock. He stood up in the skip and his head coming in contact with the timbers, his neck was broken and his head badly crushed.” All the way from Serbia to seek his fortune only to perish at a too young age.

Unmarked gravestones cast long shadows in late afternoon.

Benicia City Cemetery
Missourian Ada Hook, born on March 31, 1845, traveled with her family to California during the Gold Rush, which likely would have made her somewhere between four and six years old during the journey. In 1865 Ada married George Washington Bowie, a lawyer, military veteran, and author of the Iowa State Constitution. Ada died young on February 27, 1870 in San Francisco at age 24. A statue of a pensive woman looks down on her grave marker.

Ada Bowie

Two old souls in the shade

Of Charlie all we know is that he never saw his second birthday.

Coins in remembrance of Mary Kay

Jamestown Cemetery
Jamestown California, known as the Gateway to the Southern Mines is another of the many small towns that flourished during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Founded in 1848, when gold was discovered at nearby Woods Crossing, Jamestown’s population peaked at 4000, before a fire ravaged the town.

One of the most photographed grave markers in the Jamestown Cemetery

Lone Pine Pioneer Cemetery
Located in the high desert east of the Sierra Nevada, the Lone Pine Pioneer Cemetery is watched over by the Inyo Mountain Range to the east.

The cemetery was established in 1865 when a Mrs. McGuire and her son were killed during the Owens Valley Wars between White settlers and the Owens Valley Paiutes, and their Shoshone and Kawaiisu allies. As retribution for the killing of the woman and son, a posse of White vigilantes attacked a Paiute village and killed about forty men, women and children.

It was pizza oven hot on a late afternoon when I visited this little cemetery. I had to crunch through sage brush, while watching out for any snakes that might be lurking amongst the shrubbery and stones. At one point a jackrabbit and I startled each other, he running towards the mountains and me damn near peeing my pants. At Lone Pine you can’t see many of the grave markers for the brush.

The Inyo Range looms over the two most prominent grave markers in the cemetery

Whenever I’m researching a road trip I always check for historic cemeteries as they can be archives that contain bits of information, slivers which stimulate the appetite for a fuller story of a life cut short, a mysterious death or a community tragedy.

Dr. Keith Alexander, professor and historian at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, studies historic cemeteries. In a public broadcasting interview Dr. Alexander explained the importance of these vessels of history and how they unearth an array of questions.

“Every time I turn to one of these stones…okay I’ve got the data, but I want to know more. Why did people live such short lives? Why was the infant mortality rate so high? Why were there these bumps in mortality in those certain years, 1855 for example? What were the lives of the people like behind the stones? It’s the stories behind the stones, that’s what these stones have to tell us.”

14 thoughts on “Monthly Monochrome: Graveyards II

  1. An outstanding post, your images are extraordinary and touching.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Stephen,
      Thank you so much for the kind words.

  2. johnlmalone says:

    love those stark images; each one suggests a story; first class — keep on snapping 🙂

    1. Paul says:

      Hello John.
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  3. I have to admit to a little chuckle reading this, even if chuckling is inappropriate on such a grave matter (pun intended). I was chuckling at the fact that we’re always drawn to those who met a grisly end or an unusual demise. We are drawn to gruesome stories!

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Phil & Michaela, “…we’re always drawn to those who met a grisly end or an unusual demise.” You’re right of course. Your comment reminds me of a line from a movie called The Great Santini in which Robert Duvall plays a Marine fighter pilot. His son asks him, “Would you like to die in action, Dad?” Duvall’s character, Bull Meachum replies. “It’s better than dying of piles!”
      So, yes, we’re hardly drawn to the story of someone dying peacefully in their sleep in a mining town back in 1910.
      “Grave matter.” Very good. I was trying to work “buried” into my commentary.
      Thank you for reading and commenting. Always appreciated.

  4. I enjoy walking cemeteries. They’re always so peaceful, and I enjoy looking at the family names and reading any stories that the headstones tell. On a trip trip to Virginia and the Carolinas, my wife and I took time to visit Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, where several confederate generals and a couple of former U.S. presidents are buried, not to pay tribute, certainly, but to feel the history.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Martin,
      During my trips east I visited some of the old cemeteries. All of the historic America cemeteries carry a similar thread; immigrants from some old country, leaving a past life to find something new and better, child mortality, plagues. The western cemeteries tell of mine accidents and old west endings. It’s all interesting.
      Thank you

  5. stacey says:

    Very atmospheric…perfect Halloween buildup. And I always enjoy your vivid photography!

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Stacey, Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words.

  6. Anne Sandler says:

    Old cemeteries contain so much history. And you added your own. If you’re ever in Sacramento, visit the Historic Sacramento City Cemetery. It’s amazing. Thanks for a wonderful post.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Anne, Sacramento City Cemetery is on my radar. My wife and I are going to make a day of it. Visit the cemetery, maybe a museum, and have lunch.

  7. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,
    Your pictures are beautiful yet so sad. They remind me we’ll all be part of a cemetery’s history one day. For the time, at least we can find fascination in lives that have gone before us.

    I think I told you I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ series on Vietnam. So many died without a trace of their time on this earth. That’s a tragedy, on top of all the other tragedies of that war.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Eden,
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      “I told you I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ series on Vietnam. So many died without a trace of their time on this earth.”

      The series punctuates that particular tragedy of war. Sadly though, people die every day with no trace of their time on Earth and oftentimes they die alone and without comfort; the elderly, the poor, victims of war, of crime, of abuse and as a result of the greed of others.

      There are times when we can be a cruel species.

Would love to hear from you

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