It’s past midnight as I write this, so I guess in my head it’s still technically Saturday. Quite the day. Drunks on the train trying to impress me by singing “Piano Man” (I wasn’t impressed, by the way), ran into a naked bike ride on my way home tonight…lots of adventures embarked upon today between festivals and sporting events. I spent the afternoon walking around the city with my friend, Luke.
We ended up at the edge of Lincoln Park (about a 30 minute walk from my apartment) and walked to The Couch Tomb, a mausoleum that still remains after the Chicago Fire in 1871. The park used to be a graveyard, and in 1872 the disinterment process was set in motion. Apparently the cemeteries weren’t completely vacated because in 1899 there was news in the Chicago Tribune about skeletal remains being unexpectedly found in Lincoln Park. Who knows how many nameless people still lie there beneath the ground without a tombstone or any recognition or remembrance? They don’t even know how many lie inside the Couch Tomb. A family tomb, it houses Ira Couch, who, according to the marker, died in Cuba around the age of 50 from unknown causes. We then continued on to the boulder that marks the gravesite of David Kennison who is believed to be the last surviving member of the Boston Tea Party, and is stated to have been 115 years old when he died. So many fascinating things to be discovered in this world. This information was compiled in a project called Hidden Truths done by Pamela Bannos. More information for these two sites and the different cemeteries can be found here: http://hiddentruths.northwestern.edu/home.html
(Photo credit: Luke Crawford)
Earlier this year – October 19 to be exact – there were three of us (My roommate Orly, our friend Jory, and I of course) who went to visit our friend Eric in Elburn. It was lovely to get out of the city, and it felt like home – although I suppose most of the Midwest looks the same. It was cool outside and I welcomed the chill as it slipped under my leather jacket. Eric took us to a small graveyard he knows, a private family graveyard, I believe. It was enclosed by four walls that come up to my chest, had two large steps on either side of the wall to allow access to this private dwelling, and on the far wall was a break, an opening that led out to fields expanding as far as the eye could see. Gave it a sense of freedom – or perhaps simply added to it.
Is it strange that I should find such solitude in an abandoned graveyard? At this point in time I was also reading Rotters by David Krause, and had written a folktale about a grave robber. But even so, there was something so lovely and true about this place. So peaceful. There were only a few graves, all dating back to the 1800s. Some of the names could still be read while others had faded, sinking back into the stone. Some of the headstones were cracked and broken, their fragmented slabs lying soundlessly on their designated beds.
It was Autumn. My favorite season. The few trees on that portion of the property were barren, their leaves fallen and worshiping the ground like the decayed corpses beneath. I walked over the uneven land and slowly crouched down by a grave, running my fingers over the faint ridges of the remaining letters: “Margaret. Aged: 18 years.”
We were walking in their final resting place. Initially I felt like an invader, but then was filled with a deeper sense of belonging, like they wanted us there. I felt encouraged to explore the mysteries. In cemeteries I’m just so overwhelmed by how much history rests beneath my feet. I love looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what they did, who they loved, who loved them, how they lived and how they died. There’s so much to discover beneath the earth and I love feeling so close to it.
What family owned this graveyard? What happened to their descendants? It’s so alone. How did it become forgotten? For it is forgotten, tucked in the side of the curving road, seemingly nothing, hidden behind the wall as it is. But we were there now.
I ascended the steps and turned, sitting on the wall, facing the others who were standing still. They stopped moving long before I did. Going to visit Eric was worth it just for that moment. It was a beautiful day, too. The rain had stopped, but dampness hung in the breeze. The sky was grey and I couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather.
I wish I had a place like this back home. I would never leave. Standing on the wall with my arms around the post and the wind kissing my neck I felt like the little girl who would stand on the brick ledge outside her front door by a lamppost on brisk Autumn evenings, my freshly washed hair increasing the chill, the simple t-shirt that fit like a dress and served as my pajamas providing no protection against the blowing wind I welcomed with raised chin and open arms. But that was no graveyard. And I’m no longer a little girl.
Goosebumps trail over the rough and the assuring.
Forgotten and alone, its memory has faded
Alongside the sinking inscriptions.
Pure barren freedom.
It whispers. 18 years.
Our invasion is honored,
By a deeper sense of belonging.
I watch you walk among the
I understand you.
In this moment we are connected.
Brought together by
For this place of rare yet
Will you tell me? It’s time to go.
Take my hand. I wonder
If Margaret had a love.
(Photo credits: Orly Schlesinger)