I Feel Dead People
“I see dead people,” I exclaimed to my husband. I could immediately see the concern on his face as his eyebrows drew up and his eyes crinkled in slight disbelief. After assuring him I was speaking metaphorically and that I probably wasn’t crazy at this particular time, he relaxed a little. What I probably should have said was that I feel and appreciate the history of the cemetery and its inhabitants. To me, a cemetery is an outdoor museum and not just a park containing headstones.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been fascinated with cemeteries. When I was young, my Gram and I would go to Riverside Cemetery and to Holy Sepulchre to visit her mother and her sister, Nellie, who had died as a child. As a pre-teen I’d ride my bike to the little cemetery near my home, buy a Coke from the pop machine at the fire hall across the street and spend time reading the headstones. And every summer during my teen years, I’d head to the St. Lawrence River where my friend Laurie and I would walk through the Morristown cemetery looking for unusual monuments and monikers. Now that I am an adult, my interest in these outdoor museums has grown and sharpened.
The conversation occurred as we discussed my upcoming Civil War soldiers presentation for the Perinton Historical Society. What was my theme? What did I hope to accomplish? Why did I choose these specific soldiers to discuss? My husband hit upon the theme first. My goal, not only for the presentation but for my entire Civil War project, is to illuminate the lives of the Civil War soldiers who lived in our neighborhoods. Everyone has heard the stories about General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee. Multiple books and movies tell their stories. But who tells the stories of the regular citizens who helped in the war effort? The men who left their families behind. The women who tended the children, balanced the books and ran the farm while their husbands fought many miles from home.
The cemeteries hold the keys to many mysteries. I find comfort in the fact that so many soldiers are buried beside their loved ones. It serves as a reminder that they were loved and remembered in death, as in life. I feel sorrow for the soldiers who are buried in single graves. Where were their families? Did they marry? Were they fathers? The first time I walked through Pittsford Cemetery photographing the graves of these men, those thoughts occurred to me. I felt a force drawing me to them. “Our stories must be told. We were important, too. Bring us to light.”
I suppose I should have said, “I feel dead people”. That would have been the truth. So, while the soldiers I decided to discuss at my presentation were chosen because they were Perinton residents who had interesting stories to tell, they aren’t the only ones. I will continue on the path that was chosen for me by the soldiers of yesterday. I will tell all their stories, one by one.