Thursday, December 18, 2008
I am a big believer in objects having meaning only insofar as it is given to them.
For instance, I have to laugh a little when I see jewelry commercials this time of year advertising the newest jewelry design that "means" something. The three-stone ring or necklace, for instance, means past, present and future only because that jewelry company says so.
While many meanings are given to things in order to sell them, this phenomena can also have a positive function.
Most people have some sort of heirloom--I wear my husband's grandmother's engagement ring--but them meanings we give to them usually have more value than the object itself.
Pictured above is a piece of garland that is a section of the original, longer one. This hung on my grandmother's tree when she was little. She lived in a cabin with no electricity, so there were no Christmas lights. The aluminum discs of the garland captured the light from the fireplace, illuminating the tree.
My mom and my aunt each have a piece, and when I married, my mom cut a section for me that now hangs on my own tree. I paused for a moment this year when I hung it next to my high-tech LEDs. What a difference two generations makes.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
The symbol of the season, a fresh-cut evergreen tree, is one I will accept no substitutes for. For as long as I remember, my family has trekked in the freezing cold in search of the perfect tree. Now that I'm married, my husband and I still go with my family but get a tree of our own as well.
In addition to symbols passed down from the yule log tradition, each ornament on my mom and dad's tree, and now on ours, means something. I respect the preference some people have for matchy-matchy sets of color-coordinated ornaments, but my family trees are a mish-mash of antiques, baubles purchased on journeys all over, and even some made in elementary school. Though I am not always a sentimental person, it does give me pause to take each ornament out of its newspaper wrapping and reflect on when and where I came into possession of it. I have ornaments from my travels in Europe, some that were wedding gifts, some passed down from the days when my grandmother lived in a log cabin with no electricity. When I really think about it, I realize that my yearly Christmas tree is in many ways a collection of the symbols of my life.
We're decorating the tree tomorrow, so more pics coming soon!
Enjoy these pictures of 2008's Christmas tree, found at Dirr Nurseries in Goshen, Ohio.
Monday, December 1, 2008
According to the Ohio Historical Society, Leo Petroglyph contains 37 carvings that depict humans and animals. The Fort Ancient Indians are the likely creators.
The carvings appear on a large piece of sandstone on the edge of a large ravine, making it susceptible to weather and erosion; it’s isolated location and minimal barriers make it a target for vandals who like to add to the ancient carvings.
With tightening budgets, I wonder how well this attraction is patrolled. Sadly, the signs have been damaged and the rock is protected by what is basically a picnic shelter. It seems odd, somehow, to be able to have a picnic near what may very well be a religious or ceremonial relic.
Nobody knows for sure what the carvings mean, though to me it appears to be a hunting scene of some sort. Most intriguing is a monster-like horned figure that may represent a shaman or mythical beast.
If you are ever in the
Leo Petroglyph is near the village of Leo, five miles northwest of Jackson, in
It’s also wise to call ahead to make sure there are no unexpected or special closings. When we attempted to visit Fort Hill on the same trip, the trails were closed for deer season.
1-800-686-1535 (toll free)
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Today was sunny and a little warmer than it has been, so my husband and I set out to find some cemeteries and take some photos.
The day was cut short by a terrible Ohio Valley sinus headache, but not before we captured some fantastic stones with symbols we'd never come across before. More posts will follow, as we found a mother lode of ornate gravestones at Stonelick Township's Rapp Cemetery, but I wanted to celebrate my 50th post with this particular one.
According to Beth over at Grave Addiction, whose site I visit often, this scene of Father Time and a weeping virgin is chock-full of interesting symbols. She writes:
To further elaborate, the sprig of acacia is a commonly used Masonic symbol of purity and resurrection. It also has significance in funerary practice as it represents immortality and resurrection. In addition, incense is made from certain parts of the tree and there is speculation that it was an acacia tree that appeared in the Christian Bible as the burning bush.[This is a] Masonic carving. The carving consists of a weeping virgin holding a sprig of acacia in one hand, and an urn in the other hand. A broken column is in front of her. Father Time is behind her, attempting to untangle the ringlets of her hair. It symbolizes that time, patience, and perseverance will accomplish all things.
A broken column represents a life which has ended. An urn can represent the soul. An hourglass representing the passage of time appears beside the male figure's foot. Of course, the Masonic level and compass appears below this scene, further proof connecting this carving to the secret society.
What strikes me most about this stone is the menacing look of Father Time. I noticed the sickle and assumed that's who it was, but at first glance it seemed to sinister, almost devil-like. His pointed ears and angry eyes added to this effect.
If you are ever out for a drive in Clermont County's Stonelick Township, I highly recommend swinging by this cemetery. Check out this site for detailed location.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Serpent Mound, located in Adams County, Ohio, is mysterious for many reasons. I've been visiting this effigy mound my entire life, and it never ceases to amaze me. When I was little, I even wrote to the governor when I heard the mound was in danger of washing away due to erosion.
I like to call this Ohio's Stonehenge.
Like Stonehenge, which I have also visited, part of the allure is that nobody quite knows what it's purpose is or was. Also like Stonehenge, it could have had religious, supernatural, funerary or astronomic purposes. In fact, the structure and placement of the mound does seem to match up rather well to locations of heavenly bodies on significant dates.
In yet another strange twist, when my husband and I visited the British Museum in 2003, we found artifacts from this mound and a small display about its history. It was odd to find something so under-appreciated here to be celebrated in one of the world's great museum collections.
This is not a burial mound, though two (or possibly more) are located nearby. In addition to it's cryptic purpose, legend has it a large black panther, obviously not indigenous to Ohio, is spotted by locals. A totem animal perhaps?
I prefer to visit the mound at this time of year. Even though it's cold and you are perched on top of a valley (which incidentally may have been caused by a meteor strike!) where you can feel the chilly wind, it's an excellent time to visit. With fewer people around and no leaves on the trees, you can explore as long as you want and see for miles.
In fact, in just a few weeks, the mound will be edged with hundreds of luminaries to honor the solstice. This is a rare treat, as the park is usually closed after dark. Maybe you can even leave a prayer, as depicted here (don't worry, when we figured out what it was we put it right back).
Check it out on December 21, from 4-8:30 p.m.
For more information, check out these sites:
And of course a shout out to my favorite Ohio site:
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Suddenly, a graphic appeared at the bottom of the screen. Obama was the projected winner. Then it was official—President Barack Obama will be sworn in on January 20th, 2009. For the first time in eight years, my heart swelled with pride and I cried tears of joy. After living as a liberal democrat for the past two terms, I (and others like me) had been called a domestic terrorist, unpatriotic, had been blamed for 9/11 (thanks, Ann Coulter and Jerry Falwell) and had been told to leave the country if I had problems with it.
The problem is, I didn’t agree with lies, wiretapping, invisible WMDs, who knew what library books I checked out or with people being tortured and killed on behalf of the citizens of the United States. I also didn’t agree that bringing these things up made me unpatriotic. In fact, I felt they made me more so. Still do.
As I watched Obama walk out onto the stage with his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, I felt my heart lift a little. Putting aside all politics for a moment and focusing strictly on the good feeling of it all, the Obamas are a physical manifestation of the new American ideal. Smart parents, beaming kids…and Barack, a biracial man from an nontraditional family background. How many people in this country can now identify with the next First Family? How many peoples’ hopes were lifted by a speech that acknowledged all sorts of people? How many saw the diversity of the crowd in Grant Park and felt they were right there with them listening to history in the making?
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been down about my country. I’ll be honest here. I have hesitated to make overtly patriotic displays or plaster yellow ribbons all over my property not because I don’t love America or support the troops, but because I feared these things were endorsements of ideals and popular opinion I did not share.
I feel that John McCain, while an honorable man, is not in touch with the needs of this nation. We can only take so much strong-arming and toughness before we become callous.
It saddens me that people took Obama’s message of hope and opportunity as a sign of weakness or naïveté. Since when is looking forward and conducting a positive campaign something we should detest or not trust?
While McCain was respectful and fought a good fight, his biggest mistake was putting a self-proclaimed hockey mom in the co-pilot’s seat.
Sarah Palin, while poised and pretty, does not scream substance, but rather shows a pageant queen façade that crumbles at the first hint of a difficult question or even an inquiry as simple as what newspaper she reads. There is a hint of that girl we all knew in high school who hung around the guys, applying lip gloss and occasionally catching a football in gym class, getting in return a cute nickname and a reputation as being tough (for a girl).
Palin is the homecoming queen who gets A’s because she sounds smart and looks good in glasses, hinting at a cross between naughty schoolgirl and sexy librarian, while the smart girl sits in the back and never gets called on or asked out because she doesn’t have the pretty clothes or the Mustang.
Given all the chance in the world, she college hopped, demonstrating a lack of commitment and direction. Given a national platform, she repeatedly defaulted back to cute, winking and saying “you betcha” and “gosh darn.” The faux folksiness and high heels were easy to look past and lost her the pageant (er, election).
While I will not attack her children, who had no choice in this matter, Palin’s hypocritical stances on women’s issues and seeming ignorance that quite a few people out there don’t believe that having children make someone smarter than the rest of us were a major turnoff. While family is important, her strict definition of a family doesn’t cut it for me.
I voted for Barack Hussein Obama. I am proud of that fact. I understand that others distrust him and may be down, angry or even afraid. However, I ask you to let him prove himself. If a bleeding heart like mine survived eight years under Bush, you can at least give him a shot. After all, he is not only the president of me and others like me, but of you and everyone in this country. Make a judgement of his presidency when he has a chance to act, just as I waited to do when Bush took office.
Can this be the president who brings us closer together by overcoming stereotypes, encouraging community and inspiring hope? Does that sound impossible?
Barack Obama has already proven that more is possible now than ever before.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
If you live in Cincinnati, you know that we've had some bridge problems lately. Traffic is horribly backed up in the morning, so we've started taking Nine Mile to Kellogg. As we passed Motel 6 on Nine Mile one morning, I spotted a cemetery I had never seen before out of the corner of my eye. I made a mental note to go back and explore that weekend.
This past Saturday morning, my husband and I set out to find this hidden cemetery, just minutes from our house and which neither of us had never seen.
Tucked in an odd corner across from the back of the motel, this small family cemetery is just off the street and seems really out of place, when in reality it has been there since the 1820's and everything else has just appeared over time around it.
I didn't see any new symbols, but I did find a lovely weeping willow (a very popular tradition symbol of mourning) and a Holy Bible in relief (which symbolizes a devout person or clergy member).
If anyone has any information about this cemetery, including the official name, please let me know. It does not seem to be on any map and I cannot find any information.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
One of these objects is a witch's ball. Though there are various explanations, the one I grew up with was that these beautiful glass orbs stopped witches in their tracks as they stood and admired the colors and swirls of the glass. This ensured that a witch, along with any spells or tricks, would be stopped at the entrance of a home. When I was in England, I visited several rock formations (including Stonehenge) and recall seeing several witch's balls in the windows of cottages.
Interestingly, those garden globes often spotted in American yards are derivations of witch's balls.
The photo above is of my mom's witch's ball, which hangs in the front window. I have one as well, though mine hangs from the light in my kitchen where it doesn't do much good since a witch would be well into my house by that point. It's a pretty cool symbol and artifact from the past.
If you want one of your own, check out metaphysical shops and art fairs. We purchased ours at Enchanted Moments in Milford, Ohio.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
For our first anniversary, my husband and I visited Washington D.C. Of course, one of our stops was Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
I had always assumed that the three men laid to rest here were the only soldiers to have not been identified. It occurred to me on our visit in 2007 that the men are symbolic of all soldiers whose remains have never been identified. Men from World War I, World War II and the Korean War rest and are guarded here. Until 1998, a Vietnam War soldier was buried under one for the slabs; those remains were identified as First Lieutenant Michael Blassie and were removed and buried elsewhere.
If you've never been to this monument, I encourage you to visit. It is a solemn, beautiful, sad place. The Changing of the Guard is one of the most impressive and respectful ceremonies one can witness.
There are many interesting symbolic actions associated with being a guard here. While I found several seemingly false rumors (the guards cannot drink alcohol for the rest of their lives and they must live in a barracks under the tomb), I found the facts here. For the record, it appears that guards may drink if of legal age and are not on duty and only stay beneath the tomb while on 24-hour shifts.
Here are other facts:
- Guard duties are not affected by inclement weather
- The tomb has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since July 2, 1937 (From Wikipedia)
- Guards spend about six hours preparing their uniforms for their next shift
- Guards take 21 steps on each pass of the tomb; this is symbolic of the traditional salute
- All guards must study and memorize over 15 pages of information about the cemetery and memorize the locations of 300 notable graves.
If you visit, please be sure to observe rules and remain quiet and respectful. This means turning off any electronics and generally conducting oneself in a way befitting of visiting hallowed ground. If you do not act in a respectful manner, there are other visitors who will keep you in line or ask you to leave (we witnessed this). Just keep in mind what this tomb means to our country and you should be just fine.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
When people who know me find out about this blog, they sometimes comment that it doesn't seem like something I would be interested in or they ask me if I am obsessed with death. The latter statement could not be further from the truth. To address the former statement, writing about cemeteries seems only natural as I grew up thinking of them as a sort of outdoor museum and have always found them interesting.
If anything, I have a tinge of fear about death and funerals that most other people seem to be able to overcome. I always wondered secretly why some people can walk into a funeral with the ease with which they walk through a grocery store. I've always been exceedingly uncomfortable with funerals to the point I sometimes get physically ill.
I think what disturbs me most about funerals is the unnaturalness of it all--the living are often expected to keep up appearances even after news of a loved one's death. I remember hearing classmates in an Appalachian sociology course at Shawnee State University talk about wakes, eating in the same room as a dead body at a visitation and loud parties at which everyone drinks and cries too much. Though I am only a few generations removed from a log cabin with no electricity in a holler in Kentucky, I was intrigued by the contrast between a "proper" funeral nearer Cincinnati and these funerals reported by my classmates. Even my mom can recall placing coins on the eyes of deceased family members, staying up all night in the room with the coffin and relatives taking photographs of the deceased to keep up on the mantle. We even recently discovered a postmortem photograph of my husband's ancestor.
I tend to find many funerary customs to be unnatural (such as embalming) and I think that some Pagan part of me is disturbed by the practice in Christian churches of using the same altar for marriages, baptisms and funerals.
I could go much, much deeper into my thoughts on this, but I would rather talk about how this girl who is appalled by funerals loves the places where the caskets are deposited and memorialized.
As I mentioned before, I see cemeteries as outdoor museums packed full of history. Often more reliable than paper documents, the details of a life are literally in stone to record and remember someone who came and went before me. While I would be uncomfortable touching a dead body at a funeral as I sometimes see people do, to touch a tombstone, run my fingers over the names and dates...this lets me feel a connection to the past without feeling intrusive.
There was a time in my life when I was fearful of cemeteries and could not imagine entering one alone or at night. Now I pull the car over whenever I see an interesting burial ground.
For me, the fascination isn't so much with death, but rather with the lives recorded like pages in a neat little book, all in a row, for me to read at leisure. It's the chance to recognized my mortality without being faced with the gruesome details. It's about the symbols and deciphering them like a hidden code few remember.
I've stood in front of (or on, as is often the case in Europe where the dead are entombed in floors) many famous graves: Newton, Dickens, JFK...and there is a sense of honor, awe and respect in those moments. I can stop, even if for just a moment in a crowded tourist area, and zoom in on myself, in that little piece of time, holding a private conference with someone long dead.
Cemeteries are catalogs, records, silent songs. They are a testament of human dignity and caring.
And that is how I am obsessed not with death, but with the life stories these places tell.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I've visited a lot of caves and rock formations and almost always, I've found graffiti in these places. I found numerous examples at Hocking Hills over the weekend.
One interesting thing I've noticed is that many tour guides will point out old graffiti, usually from the 1800's, but will also ask that people refrain from adding to it. While this is totally understandable, I think it's worth noting that the only difference between the grafitti pointed out by tour guides and that discouraged by them is age.
Carving into rocks destroys them over time, but the carvings also serve as a sort of ledger or log. You can see who was where and when, and sometimes even what they were doing. Teens who carved names and dates into Rock House in 1890 probably did not get into trouble since those areas were not protected at that time; teens who do the same in 1990 could have been kicked out of the park or worse.
My question is, how much time must pass before we regard carved graffiti as historic rather than with disdain? I saw some from the 1980's and it seemed to mar the rock surface, but another inscription from 1809 fascinated me. Is the difference that the features of Hocking Hills were once just part of a larger wilderness, something that was expendable since so much of the country was still uninhabited? Is it that old human instinct to mark something not everyone could find? Now that we have fewer and fewer of these beauty spots to visit, they become more valuable and there isn't the need to claim where you have been, since so many have been there before. Perhaps that instinct to commemorate a visit still lingers, even when it no longer means anything.
My husband and I spent Labor Day weekend with friends in a cabin near Hocking Hills. We headed out Sunday to hand-feed hummingbirds at Lake Hope State Park, where I happened to pick up a historical tour brochure and discovered that the Moonville Tunnel was on park property. On one of my many visits to the Forgotten Ohio site, this story caught my eye and I made a mental note to visit one day. Because I have planned many trips to weird spots, it was funny to happen upon this local gem by accident.
I always assumed the Moonville Tunnel was something you weren't encouraged to visit and thought it was on private property. Much to the contrary, the park maintains a road and trail and a forest ranger keeps an eye on things since copperheads abound and there are plenty of places for people to get hurt if they aren't careful.
The most awesome park ranger I've ever met acted as a gatekeeper, giving us the choice between a creek crossing and a poison ivy-riddled path that would surely end in days of itching. We chose wet feet.
The remaining trestles:
The creek crossing:
While the tunnel is supposed to be haunted by a drunkard who fell on the tracks one night and was killed, we saw no signs of ghosts. We did, however, see plenty of messages left by visitors past. This one says "Stabby the hobo".
One of the more sinister pieces:
All in all, this was a pretty cool side trip. It would be great to go back at night, but judging from some of the art, I'm not sure how many of these folks I'd like to run into. The frightful effect would be heightened by the fact that this is in the middle of nowhere. If you're ever in the area, stop by. Just be sure to watch out for copperheads!
Thursday, August 28, 2008
During a trip to Gettysburg a few years ago, we made a stop at the Jennie Wade House for a tour. We knew very little about Jennie's story going in, but what I learned about her and her family while we were there has stuck with me.
While I am sure Jennie's story has been romanticized and elaborated over the years, there are many elements of truth that provide an interesting look into the experience of civilians during the Civil War.
Jennie, whose full name was Mary Virginia "Jennie" Wade, was born on May 21, 1843 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
At age twenty, she found herself in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg. Ginnie and her mother traveled to sister Georgia's home to help with her newborn baby. Like many women of the time, they tried to help the Union soldiers by baking bread. On July 3, 1863, as Ginnie stood kneading dough, a single bullet passed through the door, fatally wounding her. She died instantly and her body was taken to the cellar where it remained until she was buried in her sister’s garden. In 1865, her body was interred at her final resting place in Evergreen Cemetery, where a large monument now stands. To this day, people still leave flowers on her grave.
Sadly, her fiancé, Jack Skelly, died of his wounds from a battle two weeks earlier without knowing Ginnie’s fate. He is buried near her in the cemetery.
This story and the Jennie Wade house are rich with symbols of the horrors of war.
This photo is of the hole supposedly made by the minié ball that killed Jennie Wade. There seems to be a lot of doubt about its authenticity since a man who once owned it admitted to enlarging it for effect. In addition, almost inexplicably, this hole has become a symbol of love. According to legend, a woman who pokes her finger through the whole will be betrothed soon. I'm not sure how this began, but it seems rather morbid considering the circumstances.
This is the statue of Georgia, Jennie's sister, who had the grim task of digging her sister's grave. I can't imaging just have given birth and then having to do this. She was burying her sister when many women would still be recovering from childbirth.
Jennie Wade's monument. A monument of this size seems to have been rare for a young woman; it is a testament to her symbolic acts and status as a hero and martyr for the Union cause. The elaborateness of her memorial and the flowers left on her grave today show the romanticism with which she is now regarded.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
After a few people at work asked me about my blog, I invited them along on a lunchtime trip to find Cincinnati's Old Jewish Cemetery. There isn't a lot of readily available information to be found online, and I was not able to locate the organization or person/people who takes care of it.
We found it just a few minutes from our office building, right on a corner near Music Hall. It is a small cemetery with nice, intact tombstones and is well taken care of. The ivy is trimmed, the grass is cut and there is a padlock on the fence to prevent vandalism. Unfortunately, at least one Jewish cemetery in the area has already been damaged. It would be terrible if this historic set of stones suffered the same fate.
According to one source, this cemetery contains the remains of people buried during the cholera epidemic and was closed to burials shortly thereafter. It is the oldest Jewish cemetery west of the Alleghenies. It is also unusual in that it is one of only a handful (as far as I can tell) of cemeteries located in downtown Cincinnati.
I do not know Hebrew, though after visiting I became very interested in learning the basics. I found a very handy site about reading Jewish tombstones. I would like to take a closer look at the photos I took, but for now I only know that the inscription at the top of the darker stone in this photo means "Here lies". The site I am referring to also explains numerals, so I hope to match up the dates with the time of the cholera epidemic in Cincinnati in 1832 and 1833. I wonder if most of the stones are from that time, or if the epidemic simply contributed to its becoming full and therefore closed to new burials.
In any case, this was a nice little find for a Friday afternoon lunch break. I hope to find who cares for the plot and seek permission to go inside the gates. If anyone knows any information, please let me know.
Monday, August 11, 2008
This stone was broken off at the base. The rest of it was a few yards away.
I really wish I could have read the inscription on the back of this stone. It looks like it was once a very elaborate, detailed story about the person's life. I couldn't read a word of it and don't think a rubbing would have allowed me to read it either. Sadly, the stone was broken off at the base and it was leaning like many others in this cemetery.
This is a nicely aged example of the traditional weeping willow symbol of mourning.
There are quite a few old stones in this cemetery, but unfortunately they are not going to last much longer unless someone steps up to preserve and take care of the site.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
We often take drives out in the country when we are bored, looking for old cemeteries to explore. I am always surprised how many we've driven past and never noticed. Monroe Presbyterian Cemetery is one such place. It was here I found several good examples of symbols I've seen before and one I had read about some time ago and had to look up again.
Garland or wreath: Victory or triumph. I have read two different interpretations as to what is being triumphed over or won. One explanation is that it symbolizes the triumph of death over life and the other is the exact opposite--everlasting life winning out over mortal death. I think I like the idea of the second one better, as it would seem like something a mourning relative might find comfort in.
This is a variation of the Union shield, found on the graves of soldiers.
Drapery: Represents mourning. Notice the finial propped up on top. Someone takes really good care of this cemetery and makes an effort to match up broken pieces.
The sleeping lamb, symbolic of innocence. Usually found, as in this case, on the graves of children.
The Mortal Coil. This is the first time I have seen the symbol on a stone in person. In addition to other meanings, I've read that it is an old Irish symbol of the universe or sun. Notice the engraved age of the child; when lives were often so short, they made note of every day of life. I notice this a lot in cemeteries with lots of epidemic burials as well.