Friday, May 16, 2008

A sampling of Southern cemeteries

It was many years ago that I first learned the importance of cemeteries to a town's growth patterns. A friend's husband was studying economic geography; the subject of his thesis was just how the location of cemeteries can funnel, constrain or even strangle growth. Pulling up these photos is the first time I've remembered his insights .

A cemetery in Cajun country is very much in your face, unlike the peaceful lawns common elsewhere in the USA. Reason: the soil is water-logged; burials take place above ground and the marble tombs are crowded next to one another, quite visibly. Since there is plenty of land in and around Lafayette and other Cajun parishes, I doubt that the tombs are either stacked one atop the other nor reused as they are in those famous New Orleans cities of the dead.

Further north in Tennessee horse country east of Memphis, I became acquainted with another Southern burial custom -- the family cemetery. The three grounds that the Other Niece from Memphis and I discovered on our drive to the pearl fisheries were well kept and IDed, but many are lost to forest regrowth or development.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, in Tennessee, as in other Southern states, farm families in centuries past tended to bury their dead on their own land, allowing for quick interment and easy oversight of graves. In the Northeast, by contrast, families were more likely to use public burial grounds and church cemeteries. "The Southern pattern was that every farm or plantation would have their family cemetery," said Charles Reagan Wilson, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.

As an example of what's happening, the Hawkins-Hess cemetery is smack dab up against a big I-10 truck stop or, perhaps it's the other way round! State archaeologist Nick Fielder estimates that there are 20,000 family cemeteries in Tennessee, but there's no way to know for sure. There's no central inventory, and most documentation is done by historians and volunteers who scour records and trudge through meadows in search of graves. Fielder says about 100 family cemeteries fall in the path of development in Tennessee each year, according to the Post article.


Anonymous said...

I’m sure the water was the dictating factor in building the family crypts. But the French have a thing about crypts. My wife and I visited Paris in the 70s and found the Montmartre cemetery both facinating and eerie.

Anonymous said...

Here is the link to Montmatre

Granny J said...

thanks, steve -- those are really something else!

quilteddogs said...

Love the photos of the cemetaries.

Granny J said...

qd -- cemeteries lead to truly interesting photographs, and there are at least five in the greater Prescott area that I need to wander. Three are in town, one is the Skull Valley cemetery and the other is up by Hell Canyon. I'll do them one (or more likely, several) of these days.

Tall nephew said...

Wow, my own private cemetery, right next door to my favorite place in the world:

A truck stop

Granny J said...

TN -- truck stops are fascinating places; your mom & I scoped a couple of them on our pearl outing. As for the cemetery, finding it blew our minds!

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