Archive for October 1st, 2010

Notes From A Graveyard

Oct. 1st 2010

Twelve years ago,  I came across an extremely historic graveyard in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

I had no intention of wandering around this tranquil site. I came to Wellfleet to eat a hot dog, drink a Coke, then go to the beach.

Across the street from this non traditional fast food stand was a well tended, ancient graveyard. It has ancient slate gravestones in asymmetrical patterns. I was drawn to enter this resting place first by its look , then by the etching, later by the epithets on the gravestones–many dating back to the 1700s.

As I wandered around this peaceful resting place for generations of New Englanders who came before me, I was struck by the peacefulness of this place. I strolled deeper into this graveyard, alone, reading epitaphs and snapping a few photographs. 

I read notations such as, “Found washed ashore. Name Unknown.” “Died in New Amsterdam.” “Loving wife, devoted mother.” “Farmer and Revolutionary War Soldier.” “Entered Eternal Life in his 28th Year.”

New Amsterdam? This is modern-day New York City. Manhattan. Land of skyscrapers. This person pass away at a time when New York was politically and economically controlled by the Dutch.

Naturally, I took pictures. I always carry a camera.  In those days, I used 35mm film. 35 mm has gone the way of the wind. Remember black and white television? I didn’t think so. Can I find the pictures I took 12 years ago?


 I was back in Wellfleet this summer. I convinced myself I must revisit this historic graveyard.

Mistake. A huge mistake.

I was horrified what I encountered.

Gravestone after historic slate gravestone lay in ruins. Smashed. Reduced to stubs sharply protruding from the ground. Shards of slate scatted like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle no-one wants to finish.

I felt sick. Really. I did. I felt sick.

Then that sick feeling turned to questioning. “What happened here?” Why? “Who would do such a thing?” My first guess was that some under-age kids must have been drinking in this out-of-the-way graveyard, then took baseball bats to the stones –“wilding.”

A rush to judgement on my part.

 I walked over to one gravesite were someone lovely pieced the ancient slate gravestone back together, as best as he or she could–with caulking compound; the kind one uses to repair broken bathroom tiles.

The gnawing question as to who would destroy an ancient cemetery with graves of Revolutionary War heroes, sea captains, stranges lost at sea, strong women, and children who never made it past their second birthday haunted me.

I went to the Wellfleet police. I told them that I was a photographer and I had once visited this particular cemetery in the past–only to return and find so many graves leveled. Shattered beyond recognition.

The police office was very matter-of-fact. He told me a woman was drunk. She drove her car into the entrance of the cemetery road—-thinking it was her driveway. Like bowling pins, she struck gravestone after gravestone until the car came to a halt.

How can one mistake a graveyard’s road for the entrance to one’s home?

I was angry. Strike that. I was furious.

Yet, what was I furious about?

The lost of history? At someone drunk taking to the road?………….. What was driving my anger?

I was angry because I returned to a place that once held a special memory for me.

Why did I not hold on to that memory, of an  idyllic summer day, twelve years ago, with grass still wet from Cape Cod morning fog? I should have just remember this particular graveyard as a sanctuary to the past. A peaceful day.  Yet, I wanted to return to a place that offered me solace. It was if I could revisit a sacred moment in time, from the past. Now this idyllic place was destroyed.

What now?  Damage is done. Do I warn people of the dangers of taking to the road intoxicated?  Should I return with caulking compound on a Fall afternoon, like some unknown concerned person did, who lovingly tried their best to piece together one shattered gravestone—a  memorial to a forgotten soul who has no one to visit his or her grave? What shall I do?  

Brendan Ben Feeney

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