Scarifying Terms: What Graveyard Shift, Dead Ringer and Wake Means

The 1800’s were surely a macabre time to live in. The notion of death held an ominous cloud over the heads of the upright and dour Victorian citizens. Because medicine was still in its infancy, folks naturally knew next to nothing about the human body. In fact, the discovery of the human body and a slew of creative, albeit radical methods of treatments such as lobotomies and herbal tonics highlighted the times. In those days, when loved ones died, there was a nagging thought that those once lively bodies harboured terrible diseases. Leaving unburied bodies surely meant whatever illnesses could freely inhabit a living person. Also, the colors of death began to change a the physical appearances both outwardly and internally thanks to the minimal use of embalming until later in the century. To ensure the safety of the town, bodies were quickly buried without so much as a blink of an eye.

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Courtesy of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Antoine Wiertz: “The Premature Burial” in 1854

No sooner did the good people rid themselves with possible illness then another problem arose. Old stories mention the unearthing of bodies in cemeteries for new graves when space ran out. But an unthinkable horror worse than disease surfaced. A handful of coffins bore scratch marks from the inside as if the dead somehow came back to life and wanted to rejoin the world above. Realistically, medicine and wrongful burials stayed in the premature category, so this happened more than often. Unfortunately, these poor souls suffocated in tight, dark spaces and some were never rescued.

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Courtesy of GloCoNJ.com
A boy was found buried alive in the early 1900’s

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Courtesy of Lauren Ayn Lusk
An illustration of the decease’s hands attached to the life saving contraption

Such is the case of Samuel Jocelyn, a privileged man from Wilmington, North Carolina who found himself entombed in frosty waters after making his way in the dark. Who says love doesn’t kill? It definitely was an end for Jocelyn after a heated fight with his darling new wife. Hastily buried, Jocelyn found himself a victim of a burial gone wrong after his friends dug him up only to find their fun loving pal in life a picture of writhing agony and a body in the most horrible contortion. When the searchers found Jocelyn’s body, it was assumed that he was dead on arrival. But the icy swamp only slowed his heart down enough so that the faint murmurs came close to inaudibility. Alas, the warmth of his new earthly home interrupted his slumber and his last breath drew in the underground abode.

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Courtesy of http://www.geocaching.com
St. James Episcopal Church’s Cemetery

Perhaps the grim author, Edgar Allan Poe, sums up this pandemonium the best in his stories of violent deaths such as “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Premature Burial”. His tales captivated the audience of that time but also instilled a fear and truth about early death and the limited knowledge on the topic.

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An illustrated scene of “The Cask of Amontillado”

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Edgar Allan Poe

It’s right to say that while the Victorians stared death on a regular basis due to illnesses and lack of medicine, their fear spurred ways to combat the issue. When it was discovered that the possibility of being buried alive was very real, a system of bells and strings were became the craze. Unlike today’s six feet under and steel vaults, the dead laid in shallow graves a few inches below with loose soil on top. Some historians say families resorted to leaving the bodies’ hands sticking out of the graves with a string attached to the finger or wrist, while others say the dead laid in dormancy underground. If the bell rang, then a night watchman or “dead ringer” came to the rescue with shovel in tow.

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Courtesy of Monovisions Black and White Photograpy Magazine
Daguerreotypes of Victorian Widows in Mourning

The invention of the “safety coffin” also led to the relief of folks in the latter part of the 19th century. The most known device comes from a man by the name of Count Michel de Karnice Karnicki which he aptly termed “Le Karnice”. Here, the body laid in a rectangular box above ground with a bell and a ball on the outside. If the person was still alive, then their movement and change in breath triggered the bell and ball to sound and move, respectively.
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Courtesy of the New York Academy of Medicine Center for History

On another note, most people regard Henry Ford as the first person to create shift work, but it’s rather a misconception. The third shift came to fruition as night watchmen meandered the premises of the graveyard in hopes of finding the living. The shift lasted from somewhere around late evening to midnight until the early morning. Thankfully, many were found. Some people dispute this tale because another origin of this term comes from sailors working in the dead of night. The eerie calm of night coupled with the imagination’s ability to run wild led to more than a few men quaking till the morning. The shift was a dangerous time because being on a boat in the middle of the night meant that a man could easily fall overboard due to the inability to see clearly at night as he continued his watch or being groggy from no sleep. Nowadays, plenty of people find the “graveyard shift” one of the most challenging things about work.

Another strange tradition stemming from fear of interment has to do with a certain drink. The English took to their ale quite heartily and that mixture coupled with leaden cups would make modern hangovers wilt in shame. The part about the lead is up in the air to historians and science as the maker of drunk men may not be in this element. Only prolonged exposure seems plausible. As the drunkards traverse the dimly lit roads, good samaritans would find them faced down on the ground. These civilians and family members dutifully collected the sloven forms and laid them out on the tables at home in funerary finery awaiting a proper burial. The family would gather round to eat and drink and of course be merry while watching the stranger in curiousity. More than likely, plenty a English man woke up from his stupor and did a little walk of shame home. Dispelling this tale, one can take in another. The roots of a Christian wake goes back to the influences of the Celtic people who would place the dead under a table while the watchers sipped their giddy beverages on the table or elsewhere. Either way, the term “wake” has its roots tied to alcohol.

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Courtesy of http://www.missmementomori.wordpress.com

Nowadays, wakes consist of families and friends gathering in a church or another space of significance where eulogies are given in memory of the deceased and prayers are said. A modern form of a wake resembling the one in the old days can be seen in a romantic tragedy about unattainable love and heartbreak where a certain person believes his love is lost forever. No, it’s not Romeo and Juliet! Here’s a hint: it’s supernatural with vampires and werewolves at odds and in love. The Twilight Saga:Breaking Dawn — Part 1 depicts a scene where Bella Cullen’s family and friends wait for her to wake up from her morphine and venom induced siesta in the middle of the house. Families in the 1800’s and even later without parlors made do by using a bedroom. Bodies laid on beds or in coffins on top of the bed and people came for the viewing.

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Season’s Giving: On the Past and Present of Wreaths

As the first day of winter approaches, a familiar feeling cannot escape us: Christmas is coming. Amidst the festive decor and popular images of a certain old man in red and white, greenery of multiple shades of candy canes and treats grace the holiday season. The most familiar is the Christmas tree with cheery presence and shiny and glittery baubles hanging from fresh, sweet and citrusy smelling boughs. Then, there are the wreaths that carolers find on the doors of those lucky to hear the melodic sounds of traditional yore.

Wreaths of the holiday can trace its origins as far back as the time of the Etruscan civilization. Varying from gold, metal, ivy, oak, myrtle, vines, olive leaves and other offerings from nature, these wreaths were used more as jewelry. The word wreath itself comes from Old English for writha meaning band. Just as in the past, arrangements of leaves, flowers, twigs, jewels and ribbons can be seen today. The name could not be more appropriate as these circular fixtures never stray from their traditional appearance too often, though there are some wreaths of a new fashion coming in the shapes of crosses for religious ceremonies and more seasonal shapes such as Christmas trees, doves, bells, reindeers, etc…

Across cultures, wreaths play a role in ceremonial events or used purely as decorations. During Christmas time, assortments of meticulously fashioned evergreens can be found nearly everywhere in the city. Known for its piney scent, this foliage is so resilient that some last throughout the most extreme of winters. Latin terminology even remembers it binomially as sempervirens meaning always green.

During the ancient times, the Greco-Roman world was renowned for wreaths worn as crowns that adorned the victors of the Olympic games. Forms of laurel and olive leaves were intricately woven together as they were the most popular. Steeped in Greek myth, the laurel is synonymous with the god Apollo, who rules over life and light.

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Courtesy of Pinterest.com

Nowadays, the arrival of the wreath visits town as early as Halloween and Thanksgiving. People buy harvest wreaths along with cornucopias and scarecrows as a part of the fall festivities. In celebration of a great harvest, Ancient Greece saw the weaving of rich blonde straw, abundant fruit and nuts woven in red and white wool as an amulet to guard against famine and a prayer for a fulfilling year of surplus in the next. The harvest wreaths then remained on the door for the whole year.

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Courtesy of Houzz.com

Something less familiar in name but more in sight is the Advent wreath. In Christianity, these wreaths tell of the return of Jesus Christ and its origins stem from 16th century Lutherans in Germany. Made of evergreens, the wreath lays horizontally with four candles on top and a fifth candle at the center. Red ribbons lay on top with pinecones or other arrangements are possible. The four candles are lighted on each Advent Sunday. The greenery represents everlasting life and hope for a new spring while holly can also be a part of the mixture as a sign of the crown of thorns Christ wore due to its prickly shape. The bright red berries of the holly means the blood that Christ shed.

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In a cemetery setting, wreaths remain the funerary rite that is just as regular as bouquets of flowers and pictures. Here, wreaths represent the passing of a loved one and the hope of life in the next. Earlier this December, Oakwood Cemetery was honored in being a part of Wreaths Across America. This tradition consists of laying the circles of evergreen on the graves of the fallen soldiers in the Field of Honor as well as other parts of the cemetery. These men were remembered for the great service they devoted to their country while family members and fellow soldiers and veterans saluted them.

This year, Oakwood Cemetery placed over 400 wreaths on the graves as family members, fellow soldiers and veterans saluted the men for their great service and devotion to their country. A great thanks goes out to Sue Purkis, the Volunteer Coordinator of the event. The cemetery has been involved in Wreaths Across America for the past four years, with numbers of volunteers and donations growing each year. While this year’s event has passed, the hope for next December is for more wreaths and community involvement. But another hope is also for people to remember the men and women whose bravery is the most wonderful gift to their country and that their spirit lives on.

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Funeral of Mattie Hood

It is unbelievable how much symbolism there is in a wreath. But that is what makes it simply wonderful. In another time, displaying a wreath in one’s home meant waiting for spring to arrive and Christ to rise. It also held more meanings such as wishes for a good harvest and a somber message of remembrance for the dead. While the holiday continues its catching glow of joy and thankfulness, one thing cannot be forgotten. A new year is around the bend with surprising changes and wonderment, but it is very much rooted in fond moments from long ago.

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Oakwood Cemetery’s Wreath

Save the Last Epitaph

A commemorative inscription. Laud. Poem. A sign of brevity.

Epitaphs travel the length and breath of each moment only to seek immortalization in the indentation of a lithic element. Words carry meaning and instill the vitality a living person once held in ways voice can no longer gratify.

The Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina resembles any other cemetery in that it serves one purpose: honor the dead. Whether through burials or cremations, each interment allows families to grieve and remember past lives. To the last words and the impressions left behind…

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Let Us Cross The River

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Darling, We Miss You

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Touched So Many Lives As Husband, Dad, Granddad And Friend

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In His Mouth Was Found No Guile

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I Love You More

“We May Lose And We May Win, But We Will Never Be Here Again. Take It Easy…”

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Blessed Are The Pure In Heart

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So Teach Us To Number Our Days That We May Apply Our Hearts Unto Wisdom

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Two Cousins Playing Together Forever

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Tend The Garden Of My Grave
Plant It With Life, Be Brave
And Somehow Let Me Know, Oh Do
I Have Not Died In You

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In Memory Of My Devoted Husband.
Sleep On, Dear Huband Take Thy Rest,
I Miss You Most, Who Loved You Best,
God Took You Home, It Was His Will,
But In My Heart You Are Living Still.

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I Told You That It Was Hard…

Old Glory: A Grand Old Flag

Remember some years ago in middle school when you stood up with the class and the pledge of allegiance slipped easily out of your mouth as your hand found the left side by your heart? People say the purpose was to salute a flag, a piece of cloth representing a country. It is a piece of living history that never dies but transcends generations. In times of casualties, the flag flies half mast to signify a death. Great loss reverberates throughout the nation. When a soldier dies far away at war, his family receives the flag after a ceremonial show of transforming it into a triangle as the crowd is reminded that his loss is remembered through his heroic deeds. But what is the significance of a triangular flag? The reasoning for this ceremony lays in obscurity, although several ideas come to mind.

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Foreman Charles “Wink” Batts placing a retired flag into the fire

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington and his company wore tricorn hats with brimmed sides and three corners turned up. Another story finds its origin at sea. As early as 1824, a ship captain from New England was gifted with a flag as a show of reverence to the captain and a wish for safe voyage. As a way to consecrate the flag, it was blessed in the name of the Christian Trinity by a high power of the church and folded into a triangle. As the Church invoked the Our Father prayer, the small congregation uttered, “glory” in return. The captain flew the flag high and told the crew, “I’ll call her old glory.” It is said that perhaps later on he folded the flag in a triangle when he presented a replica to the Ohio 6th Infantry who adopted “Old Glory” as their flag.

The “Write a Letter to a Soldier” program created by Oakwood Cemetery’s Summer Intern, Callaway King. Letters are sent to soldiers serving overseas.

So much symbolism and patriotism encompass the American flag. What is more unique is that folding it into a triangle is not a requirement by the United States Flag Code. It can be stored away so long as it is done in a manner that is appropriate and respectful without inflicting damage to the cloth.

On Veteran’s Day, Oakwood Cemetery found a number of guests attending the Flag Retirement Ceremony. The purpose honored the United States flag as it weathers with age and wear from usage. However, age doesn’t mean throwing things away. Rather, Old Glory is retired with decorum and regard.
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Flags adorning the Field of Honor

To start the ceremony, the flag is parted into several pieces. This makes for an easier incineration as the flag rests in fire, a symbol of rebirth. Ceasing to be a flag, the material becomes individual stripes of red and white, representing the 13 colonies. The blue background and white stars remain intact to show the the union’s will to never separate.

imageEntrance to Oakwood Cemetery

A speech called “Remember Me?” was read aloud as people returned to nostalgia about Old Glory and what patriotism meant. As the speech came to a close, the names of the colonies rang out as each fragment of cloth found the fire. Lastly, the blue field of white stars ended the retirement of the flag. Veterans and active military members carried triangular flags and placed them in the fire. Other members of the audience were also asked to indulge in the honor.

imageInterns Sandy Nguyen and Callaway King performing the flag retirement ceremony. King holds strips of the flag and reads the names of the original 13 colonies while Nguyen places each piece into the fire.

Grand salutes made way to remember those who fought wars and never came home. It also honored those who lived to see a brighter day with the end of war and continued their lives.

imageMoments before the ceremony

All Saints Day

Now that Halloween is over, it seems that the only way to go is Thanksgiving. Actually, there is a holiday at the beginning of November. November 1st is the start of All Saints Day which for most people remains in an unfamiliar territory. Call it All Hallows, Day of All the Saints, Solemnity of All Saints or Feast of All Saints, this multinominal holiday honors saints who reached Heaven. Primarily focusing on unknown saints, the origin of this day began with Pope Boniface IV collecting the bones of saints and other remnants in order to rebury them in the Pantheon in Rome on May 13 in 609 AD. Eventually, Christians came to recognize the numerous martyrs and their lives on the anniversaries of their deaths. As the years flew by, canonization of the saints grew in great numbers. Pope Gregory IV officially put a stake on the November 1st as the day of commemoration.

The practice now extends to remembering members of a congregation. Names of churchgoers are read out loud during Mass on All Saints Day as their loved ones remember them. The day and its celebrations vary throughout the world. In some countries, lighting candles by graves marks the remembrance while laying flowers and wreaths is another way. Pope Boniface IV also takes credit for All Souls’ Day on November 2nd.

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In America, Halloween’s orange and black gloss and candy overshadows this day as children trick or treat for the colorfully wrapped squares and circles. Haunted houses find transient tenants for the night and delightfully scarified thrill seekers. The night ends with ghost tours and costume contests. But the night ends in a much simpler way at Oakwood. Driving along the streets inside, handmade vibrant orange ribbons tied into luminous bows  adorn several graves in honor of All Saints Day. So much solace can be found in the sacred day as Robin Simonton, Executive Director of Oakwood Cemetery explains the particulars. Typically held in churches, Oakwood finds that exception in their Mausoleum where the event is held. This year, the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church came by as the Oakwood Community gathered to remember the lives of the people as their names are read aloud.

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“It is a somber remembrance of those we lost. The whole thing is a big community event.”

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A Night in the Dark: Oakwood Lantern Walk 2015

Ever think about walking in the cemetery at night? Doesn’t it give you chills? Well, for those who are into the walking sans the feeling of shadows looming enjoyed a mild and family oriented annual Lantern Walk at Oakwood Cemetery. Processions of cars and an intrigued audience lined the pathways into the cemetery waiting for the night to come alive. Short, historical vignettes set against the beautiful backdrop of swaying oaks and Southern magnolias told visitors about life and death during the Civil War as the country felt the division between the Union and the Confederates. Along the path, luminaries revealed characters in period attire as each story unfolds into poignant and heartwarming moments. Soldiers spoke of lost friends while returning veterans found comfort in Southern hospitality and reflection years later. But a thematic approach to the storytelling consisted of laughter and empathy in scenes where Confederate and Union soldiers united in soft quibs at one another and end in a knowing of a shared humanity and camaraderie.

Around 1400 Confederate veterans rest in this part of the cemetery with a few Union veterans close by. Tours took a good hour and each group trekked up the hill every 15 minutes with their guides. A fond tradition, the tour is hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans with acting by local re-enactors and volunteers. Proceeds help Oakwood in the efforts to restore the Confederate Cemetery.

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When the Dead Speak: Cemetery Symbolism

When you think of a cemetery, not much comes to mind other than the fact that it is where those we love reside once they pass on to the next life. While some people might believe there is a Heaven, Hell, Limbo or whatever else, one resounding theme is hard to miss. The dead speak. Now, it is not a case of <em>American Horror Story</em> where the dead linger among the living and blend into their daily lives. Rather, the dead speak to us through their epitaphs and stones.

Epitaphs and stones carry a message that portrays a person’s life and sometimes what the family wishes for others to remember about their loved one. Expressive messages such as mother, father, sister and brother allows the living to know who these people were once. It ventures even further to tell us about status, dreams, sadness, joy and even quirky quips and jokes. There is so much symbolism in the soft and deep etches on each stone in forms of flowers, words, animals, and other significant bas relief and fixtures.

IHS
One of the curious initials grave explorers may encounter is IHS. Known as a Christogram or a combination of letters, it appears as a dollar sign. But the significance of what it means in Christianity is great. Signifying the first three letters in Greek for the name of Jesus Christ (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ), there are actually several meanings.

Iesus Hominem Salvator: Jesus, Saviour of Mankind

In Hoc Signo (Vinces): In this sign (you will conquer)

In Hoc Sanctis: This place is sacred

Variations and interpretations of what IHS is remains up in the air, but these are the three most common ones. Among those of the Catholic faith, it is quite prevalent for this Christogram to appear on gravestones and it has even been more visible on the graves of those of the Christian faith as well.

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Surrogate Mourner
One of the most beautiful visions on a grave is the presence of a Surrogate Mourner. Appearing as a female figure or an angel, these statues wait silently next to the grave as her patron sleeps. “She is there to mourn when the family isn’t able to be there,” Robin Simonton, the Director of Oakwood Cemetery muses. One impressive surrogate mourner is the 10 foot monument made of white marble at Oakwood dedicated to Wade Edwards, the son of former North Carolina senator John Edwards and the late Elizabeth Edwards. Young Edwards passed away in a tragic car accident in 1996 on his way to a family event. After his death, his mother came to his grave often to read to him. The angel lovingly embraces Edwards’ face as one would cradle a child’s softly in her hands while the folds of her robe envelopes her surroundings.

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Traveling away from Oakwood Cemetery to the Alter Friedhof Cemetery in Bonn, Germany, a strangely alluring surrogate mourner rests peacefully after a bit of reading. The grave belongs to Caroline Walter who passed away in 1867 due to a bout of tuberculosis at the age of 17. To remember Caroline, her sister Selma commissioned the large monument to be placed on top of the gravestone with the intention that the stone carried the young girl’s image. Many people mourned Caroline because of her sudden, tragic death and the brevity of her youth. In life, she was known for her beauty that was unsurpassed by any other. Naturally, beauty seems to follow her in life as in death and a still stranger story. Selma noticed that after the funerary flowers placed in the stone figure’s hands wilted, new flowers materialized. No one from the family or friends admitted to replacing the floral arrangement. For over 100 years, before the sun rises, fresh flowers lay the sleeping beauty’s awaiting hands.

imageCourtesy of unmyst3.blogspot.com

imageGravestone of Rebecca Etta White

Arch
The Arch signifies victory in death or a door leading to Salvation with its lofty height.

Open Book
Presumably the Bible or other religious works, an Open Book represents the Book of Life.

Chi Rho
The Chi is represented by an X and the Rho is represented by a P. These are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ.

Sleeping Child
Graves of young children usually bears a figure of a child who is in deep slumber. Sometimes, these stone children hold a significant likeness to their resting patron. Although the appearance of the sleeping child equals death, it also takes on a more euphemistic belief that the child whose time was cut too short is only sleeping for now.

Broken Column
The Broken Column signifies death or the loss of someone of high position in the family such as a patriarchal or matriarchal figure.

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Courtesy of Robin Simonton

Obelisk
The Obelisk is a prominent symbol whose popularity was at its height from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. Initial appearances goes as far back as ancient Egypt and Rome. Its meaning is rooted in rebirth and the link between Heaven and Earth.

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Courtesy of Robin Simonton

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Curtains and Drapes
Around Easter, numerous Catholic churches cover the figures of Jesus, Mary and various saints in purple drapes. There is much reverence for their sacrifices as congregations gather to pray, but an air of sadness never fails to linger. The presence of Curtains and Drapes is a call to mourning and that life’s end on Earth.

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Courtesy of Robin Simonton

Dove
In Christianity, a Dove is the symbol of Innocence and Peace. However, depending on this bird’s position, other meanings come to mind. A flying dove means Resurrection. An ascending dove means that the soul is going to Heaven while a dead dove shows that the person has died prematurely. A descending dove is an indication of guiding  souls into Heaven. A dove with a twig in its mouth in diving formation represents the Holy Ghost.

Fleur-de-Lis
Popular in French culture, the Fleur-de-Lis can be traced back to early French royalty. Interchangeable between a lily or an iris, these flowers denote faith, wisdom and valor or passion and love. It also means The Trinity.

Ivy
Many graves bear floral accompaniments and one that remains ever popular is Ivy for its simple message of immortality and friendship.

Beehive
Bees are the wonderful little creatures who make honey and we are especially thankful to the ones here at Oakwood Cemetery. A Beehive is the symbol of abundance in the Promised Land or Piety. It also means Virtue and Faith.

Lion
The Lion is a symbol in literature and life known for its Courage and Strength, just like the one in The Wizard of Oz. It remains true in death as a guardian of those who rest.

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Thistles
A flowering plant with prickles, at first glance it looks like a purple or white flower meant to be placed in a bouquet. This plant means Remembrance.

Memento Mori
Latin for “remember you will die”, this message carries the inexplicability of death. A depiction of bones, a skull and an hourglass represents this grim trinity. It serves as an ever true reminder to all that mortality is a thing of brevity. Oftentimes, this symbol is found on older gravestones existing in the 1800’s. However, this is way before Oakwood’s time and no skulls and crossbones are here.

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Not like this…

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Courtesy of http://www.gothichorrorstories.com
Death comes upon swift wings in this immortal epitaph

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Courtesy of http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk

Urn
These above ground fixtures do not necessarily house remains, but depict Immortality.

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Shells
Those whose love for the sea will appreciate this small, brilliant gift of nature and simplicity. The shell is a signature of resurrection, everlasting life, the journey of life and the baptism of one’s soul.

imageCourtesy of http://www.bakermuseum.org

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While not all of these pictures come from Oakwood Cemetery, the commonalities cannot be denied. Symbols and signs carry an affinity found universally in most cemeteries. Those whose sense of adventure compels them to explore are urged to make their own discoveries of what symbols and monuments are out here. When it comes to explaining gravestones, plenty of meanings exist and no one answer is correct. Take what you will from it or research the endless possibilities of these outlasting epitaphs.

Living in Love: The Story of Charles and Dorothy Vlaskamp

“I am dying to get home and take you in my arms again. You had better watch out darling…”

These are the words that captivated me as I read through stacks of letters from World War II from a soldier to his honey waiting at home. There are so many stories about love in literature that makes the heart swoon like The Notebook, Casablanca and The English Patient. But the one that resonates with me the most is the one I heard this morning. I had the pleasure talking to Charlene Stell, a volunteer at Oakwood Cemetery, about her parents who are buried in the Veterans’ Section. Charles Vlaskamp passed away in 1999 while Dorothy Vlaskamp also passed in 2014. Her father was a frequent visitor to Oakwood and enjoyed learning about the history of the Civil War. Charles and Dorothy married on March 27, 1944 in New York. It was a sudden decision when Dorothy took a train from California to see her lover, not knowing if he was going to be there. Once there, she married in the dress she arrived in to her waiting soldier. Soon, Charles shipped out to the next station as the war continued.

What is most endearing is the story of how they met. He was stationed in Twentynine Palms in California and on a night out with friends, the group decided to dance at a United Services Organization Center. She happened to be there at the right time. No one wanted to dance with her more than he did and another fellow. Coins were flipped and the rest is history. However, love is never easy in war and complications ensued. Charles would not be home for a very long time and marriage was a distant photograph. But their love never faded as he sent out letters to her wherever he went from Holland to Paris to Germany to Louisiana to wherever as he followed General George S. Patton’s path. Their love was tried by the adversities in life such as Charles going through a divorce when they first met and the war separating them thousands of miles from each other. But the two found a way to make it work.

Theirs is a story that the 1940’s relished because Charles and Dorothy reunited after the war ended in 1945. Home to a new America, the two built a life together lasting over three decades. Although the two divorced later in life, both remained great friends as well as wonderful parents and grandparents. In his spare time, Charles enjoyed a game of golf, read voraciously and nourished his gift for playing piano by ear. Dorothy remained on the crafty side of things and loved oil painting, making porcelain dolls and gardening. Stell remembered how her mother kept all of her father’s letters in a box. The letters accompany many stunning pictures of the duo in their younger years and are now preserved in an photo album created by Charlene’s daughter, Jennifer Knight, depicting their love story. Along with this is an album created in remembrance of Dorothy as a wife, mother, and grandmother. As for Charlene, she spends her days dedicating hours at Oakwood helping many whose loved ones are interred here and passersby with a sense of curiosity. She has also donated a generous gift by giving all of her parents’ letters and photo albums to Oakwood Cemetery as a way to preserve their love, memories so that others may remember how they once lived.

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Wreaths Across America at Oakwood Cemetery

As I sat down with Sue Purkis, I can tell that a meaningful story is about to unfold. With a smile, she tells me that she is an advocate for Wreaths Across America, an organization dedicated to remember, honor, and teach about our brave military members and veterans. Each December, they lay wreaths on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery and many other veterans’ cemeteries across the country. After creating a chapter of Wreaths Across America at Oakwood Cemetery, she tells me that this venture has been quite successful in the past three years.  Veterans and many of their families dwell in a section known as the Field of Honor where veterans are provided with a white, marble headstone marker by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs free of charge. Oakwood Cemetery’s purpose is to provide a low-cost burial space for veterans and their families while keeping a space that honors the lives of those interred.

Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Purkis knew about WAA before coming to Raleigh. She considers herself as someone who is interested in cemeteries and also in the preservation aspects. In the past, cemeteries were places where families held picnics and gatherings. As someone who has worked in a hospice setting where taking care of ill and elderly patients were normal, death is not a hidden thing for her. She firmly muses,
“We all deal with it.”

Oakwood is a peaceful place of rest and life for her. When she has time, Purkis volunteers at events such as the North Carolina Science Festival: The Birds and the Bees and the Urn Art & Garden Faire held here. She hopes to see more local events that will create involvement for those who are curious about Oakwood.

On this year’s ceremony for WAA at Oakwood, the goal is to be able to lay more wreaths for all veterans who reside in other sections outside the Field of Honor. In the past, the Girl Scouts came to lay wreaths and Purkis hopes that more of the “next generation” will attend. Moreover, she tells me that if there was full representation from the Army, Navy, Coastguard, Airforce, Marines, and the POWs, she would feel complete and content on this year’s mission.

Oakwood Cemetery will host another Wreaths Across America event on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

If you have any questions, please call Robin Simonton at 919.832.6077

For those who would like to purchase wreaths this season, please visit:
http:// www.WreathsAcrossAmerica.org

Sponsoring Group ID Number: NC 0016P
Location ID: NC H0FH
Name of Cemetery: Oakwood Cemetery

You can also press on the link below:
http://give.wreathsacrossamerica.org/site/TR/NationalWreathsAcrossAmericaDay/General?team_id=8679&pg=team&fr_id=4196

imagePhoto Credit: Sue Purkis

Welcome to Oakwood Plot Lines

Many of you have never heard of Raleigh, North Carolina. But in this little city there is a picturesque place that is about to be discovered. Oakwood Cemetery holds over 140 years of history and is the last dwelling place for many prominent figures such as James Dinwiddie, former President of Peace Institute in 1890, Berrien Upshaw, the character model for Rhett Butler in his ex-wife’s, Margaret Mitchell, novel, Gone with the Wind, Madeline Jane Jones Proctor, the co-founder of Mother’s Day, Cornelia Petty Jerman, the founder of the Raleigh League of Women Voters and women’s rights advocate and many other famous figures.

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Beautifully sound architecture grace this pastoral park where it can be seen through the monuments and gravestones of many styles. Visitors can take pictures of the old Civil War Cemetery, enjoy picnics, stay for long walks and even just to pass by. On the first Friday of each month, a Flashlight Walking tour welcomes residents and curious friends to learn about Raleigh’s past and people. Tours like these rely on a small donation that support the non-profit and privately owned cemetery. A Read in Peace Book Club meets inside Oakwood’s office for some educational and insightful reading on books such as Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic That Remains One of Medicine’s Greatest Mysteries by Molly Caldwell Crosby and Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life by Thomas Wolfe.

The purpose of Oakwood Plot Lines is to share the moments of Oakwood Cemetery through pictures, stories, and facts. Most people don’t realize that there is so much more that goes on in a cemetery besides burials. The truth is that this a place to where honor still lives on after death. Loved ones can still see those they lost  and remember them here. The grey stones and surrounding hills of green are tended after carefully by the caretakers who take pride in keeping Oakwood a part of Raleigh’s history. The past and the present reside with one another and here is where those memories continue to live and tell some tales.