Notes From A Graveyard

01/10/10 10:28 PM

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

22 Comments on “Notes From A Graveyard”

  1. Barry Says:

    Saw Ben’s work in one of our stores. It was just great!

    Big Picture Framing

  2. admin Says:

    Many thanks to your framing team, for going into action, to frame an important photograph for a client on Cape Cod. You did an excellent job interpreting my specific specifications. Kudos to Big Picture Framing.
    Best regards,
    Brendan Ben Feeney

  3. Leigh Ann Says:

    Dear Brendan Ben—
    First, I would like to thank you for offering to assist me in applying to Emerson College in Boston. Second, by sharing this story and remembering the graveyard when it was still intact, you have preserved the memory of those people whose resting places were destroyed. So, warn people against drunk driving and piece the gravestones together if you are so inclined. I feel however, it is in remembering those moments of peace and telling the story, that you honor the lost souls most.
    Keep recording moments of peace and telling stories. Best wishes!

  4. BBF Says:

    Leigh Ann–
    It was a pleasure meeting you and your family in the Berkshires. It is inspiring to see a new generation of young adults wishing to enter The Arts. I understand your theater production is progressing and will be a stunning success. Should I send the Drama Critic from the New York Times to cover your production? What about closing Broadway for a night, and sending all the stars, producers, and crew members to attend your production? Ben humor. There is not enough front row seats for all these egos…………BBF!!!!heheheh.
    As for your reply to my post, you are very insightful. I plan to revisit this historic graveyard this winter. Not with my camera equipment–but with a solitary flower to honor those who have no one to visit and pay respect. A single rose placed on a carpet of white New England snow in a graveyard that no one visits.
    Insiders who read Blog-O-Sphere will later note what L A and her family knows………….Brendan Ben Feeney loves donuts. Soon to be a post—-Food From a Photo Shoot. Now the word is out…..I picture packages of stale donuts, from around the world, arriving from my readers and art collectors.
    Best wishes for a successful school year.

    Brendan Ben Feeney

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  10. Garrett MacAffee Says:

    Graveyards are places of respect and rememberance. Thank you for shedding light with this post. You alway make your readers think. A great read.

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    BBF’s editor passes along this personal message to you from BBF………

    “So too are great flowers. I bet your flowers are outstanding and make people smile in times of grief and joy. Peace to you, Phalen. Happy New Year.” Brendan Ben Feeney

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