Mortsafe

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I’ve never seen a mortsafe. I’ve heard about them. I’ve heard about mortsafes in the South and Europe, but not in Pennsylvania. Then I heard about not one, but two in a small cemetery in Catawissa. This type of mortsafe was popular in Scotland, but there is some evidence that these two are the only “caged” graves in the U.S..

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Heat and cemeteries

They do not mix! As a general rule, there is way too much sun in cemeteries on nice days. When it gets brutally hot, like today, don’t even attempt them. All the things you think of for beating the heat are either not available or downright banned.

I went looking in Union several days ago. The bell had me intrigued. I went early-ish morning. Predawn is a no-no. Most are “closed” dusk to dawn. The reason for this is not that they don’t want ghost hunters. I think caretakers would be fine with ghost hunters.The problem is vandals and unfortunately vandals often claim they do vandalism while “searching for ghosts.”

Anyway. Back to the bell. I got a look close up and personal. several things came to light on closer inspection: a) The arch doesn’t have any inscription at all. b) The arch is placed parallel to the iron gate entrance. c) The bell is wooden.

So much for the “dead ringer” theory. So much for the “my angel” theory. The last theory I have at the moment is the “just-because-I-friggin’-want-to” theory. I’m leaning toward this.

I found a couple flag markers I hadn’t seen before. The first is from the Spanish-American War veterans. Apparently this one is rather rare.

I got the Puerto Rico and Cuba parts. It was the Philippine Islands that made my brow furrow for a moment.

The next rare flag marker is one from the KGE — the Knights of the Golden Eagle.  Ta fraternal order founded in 1873, they are much like the Masons. Their claim to fame is that one of their members assassinated McKinley.

  Now, how freaky is this?

The skull looks like it has a bow in what would be its  hair — if it weren’t a skull. Or like a bow tie got twisted. All the images look a bit child-like, as if they asked a member’s 4-yr.-old son (in that era, a fraternal order wouldn’t ask a daughter) to draw their emblem.

I have to get back there as soon as the weather breaks a bit. There are zinc markers I need to inspect!

More grave markers

Yesterday I went in search of a local “haunted” cemetery. Egg Hill is rather notorious around here. The cemetery has been vandalized so many times that there is a definite possibility of being arrested by going there. I went in broad daylight, had camera in hand and was walking carefully between the graves so I was pretty sure no one was going to be concerned that I was there.

From Penn State Libraries

The story goes that on Oct. 31, 1870, the pastor set fire to the church with parishioners inside and the doors chained shut.

Some versions of the story say there was no fire but that the communion wine was poisoned. Some stories say that the pastor then went to the basement and beheaded the children at Sunday school. Some say that he hanged himself in the bell tower. The one fact that remains is that services were held there until 1927.

The church shows no signs of a fire and there is still glass in the windows under the shutters on the non-vandalized side. Of course, the church could have been rebuilt after the fire.

There is also no mention of such an incident in any of the records of the are. Ok, so no “local, late-breaking, up-to-the-minute” TV reporting back then, but surely there would be some record!

The clincher that the story is urban myth is that the dates on the markers aren’t within a plausible time frame for a mass murder. If the burns were severe enough to cause death, it is unlikely that the deaths occurred months or years apart. Parishioners would be buried in the churchyard, not somewhere else. The earliest birth was 1700 and the latest internment was 2005.

That being said, the church is not creepy, except for the damage done by vandals. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is maintained by Egg Hill Cemetery Association and there are flags on the graves of the veterans — as should be.

After leaving there, I came across another cemetery quite by accident. I have driven past it a number of times, but the angle of the road keeps it hidden unless you are coming from the cross street as I did yesterday.  It’s the Centre Hill Presbyterian Cemetery. One of the markers has been replaced by new marble and caught my interest.

There were small graves of children

This is about 2 ft. in length.

and something I’ve never seen before: a stone mason signed his name to the marker he made. Look along the bottom and you can see a signature “S. L. Gibson” and the town name “Lock Haven.”

And now for the creep-out factor. I drove past Union Cemetery and was only able to take a quick photo.

There is no inscription from this side, but there are a couple of possibilities that I can surmise for now. It could be some sort of ring this bell for my angel” type thing OR it could be from the Victorian Era when people were afraid of being buried alive. Urban myth says that there was a rash of that occurring. Anyway, they rigged the bell to the inside of the casket. In case you woke up buried alive, you pulled the cord and the bell rang as a sign of “I’m not dead yet!” Ew.

I have to get back there and check it out.

In search of history and original markers

I took a day’s vacation and went in search of history. I found some. In order to get to it, I had to take a hike.

This is the view from the car, looking up to the cemetery.

I was only able to drive 1/2 way up the hill.

This is the view from the cemetery, looking back down at the car. That little gold speck in the center of the photo? That’s my car.

My replacement knee is working just fine, thank you very much. However there were some rough moments due to high pollen count  and a freshly mowed field setting off an asthma attack.

I like to visit old cemeteries. The older, the better. I’ve been taking photos for an art project I have in mind, but I also like to walk through sans camera to look and wonder about the lives of those who have passed. I’m sure there’s a connection in my thinking about lives of those passed in the 1700s and 1800s, and my thinking about the life the person who wove the cloth that became the Shroud of Turin. And there’s another peek into my thought process.

However, I digress.

Back to the cemeteries. Some of the stones are no longer legible. There seems to be a trend of replacing the original marker with a spiffy new marker. I’m not sure how I feel about that. In terms of history, I think it’s a shame to replace old with new unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Why replace a headstone? Was it done in loving reverence of a family member? Perhaps, but probably not. So why replace a marker for someone  who died in, say, 1765. As Longfellow said:

Hardly a man is now alive

who remembers that famous day and year

Possibly it’s some poor misguided soul who thinks that an old marker is bad. However, there has to be a way of notating the information from the stone without replacing the original. Or maybe the stone was somehow broken and therefore replaced. There again, many stones in the cemeteries are broken and not replaced. So why this one particular stone here and that one particular stone there?

Here are three examples. All three are from about the same era. The first is original.

The second is a  replacement, but the original look was kept.

The third is a very modern stone.

If I have to accept a replacement, I’ll go with door number two. Thanks awfully.