The Graveyard Shift

One of my favorite places on the property is the graveyard. Unfortunately, keeping it cleaned up seems to slip my mind. Granted, I drive by it at least twice per day but once I pull up to the house, a million other things command my attention. Usually it’s an animal or six.

White Plains Graveyard

But this week, just a few days before Halloween, the wind blew in just the right direction and I ended up walking down to the old cedar tree that once stood tall, sheltering the graves. All that’s left is the main trunk, splintered from what must have been a loud crash of its upper limbs. Thankfully, after all these years, the last pieces remain. Perhaps because it’s growing in a graveyard. There’s something sacred about graveyards. Either we’re afraid of what might happen if we do too much meddling, or we believe that it’s truly not ours to meddle with.

White Plains Graveyard

Beyond meddling, there may even be a certain amount of respect for the very tangible and instant connection to the past that you get by being in a graveyard. The person who slept and ate in the rooms where you now sleep and eat, who planted the trees that you now sit under, and who created a story of his or her own, is right beneath you. You can almost touch them. Or at least their mortal remains. At the very least, you can’t deny their existence or their contribution to the place that you now share.

White Plains Graveyard

I spent about an hour pulling weeds, touching the gravestone markers as I passed. They are beautiful. There are larger headstones and smaller footstones, each of stunning white quartz. There is something slightly ethereal about them. They are veined in greens, reds, and golds, sparkling when the sun catches them at the right angle.

White Plains Graveyard

One of the graves is the daughter of Randolph and Laura Owens. She was born around October 7th, 1893 and died on October 10th 1893. She was only three days old and  buried at White Plains, in the grave by the cedar tree. That was 125 years ago this month.

There are two other unknown graves, marked simply with quartz and then there are the Gouldmans, Alexander and Virginia. I imagine how much they loved this place to be buried here. Either that or they had no choice! But considering the number of church graveyards nearby, I like to think it’s the previous.

White Plains Graveyard

Maybe I too will be buried here in the front yard. Maybe White Plains will kill me trying to rejuvenate it! In a 21st-century culture that values the transient nature of things and ideas, who’s to say where any of us will be in another 10 years. So much can change in only one year. But families like the Thornleys, the Gouldmans, the Quesenberrys, and others made their home here and died here. It’s the least I can do to stop by every once in a while to weed.

White Plains Graveyard

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8 Replies to “The Graveyard Shift”

  1. Glad to see you posting again. I always love reading your thoughts. And I noticed that the bed of graveyard is periwinkle (vinca minor), just like at Point Lookout. It’s the perfect plant for a graveyard. It’s evergreen, good groundcover that helps protect against many weeds, lovely with its shiny leaves and defines the area so nicely, not as invasive like English ivy. Keep writing.

    1. Great to hear from you, Judy! I took a little time off this summer from writing after some changes at work and being tied up with a couple of classes. Hopefully I’ll be back in the swing of things again this fall. The vinca is apparently a very common plan to have in historic grave sites. It’s been around for a while and mixes well with the tigerlillies that grow in the spring.

  2. I enjoy reading your posts and am so happy that you love my parents’ home as much as they did for 37 years. As you no doubt remember reading in the research information I gave you, after you purchased their house, the quartz stones may also mark the graves of slaves. Thank you for taking such good care of White Plains.

    Stuart Bailey Austin

    1. Stuart, thank you for your comment. Your parents were such good stewards of this home and no doubt it brought them much joy over the years. I’m glad that we can continue in its preservation. I remember reading that about the stones in the materials you left – all of that was so helpful. Hopefully you and I can meet sometime and share stories. Please let me know if you’d ever like to visit. – Zach

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