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Tara and me in the gorse atop Dowth

Michael Fox picked us up in Dublin and took us on a Boyne Valley tour. Most of our trip is on a budget, but we splurged for one thing: an all-day tour of the Boyne Valley. This particular region is packed with neolothic sites and points of interest, and we had little confidence in our own ability to get around to see much of it in one day. We solved this problem by hiring Michael to take us around. He studied the region as a hobby, and one day nine years ago decided to turn his fascination into a job. Now he works as a tour guide, taking people on full-day personal tours of the Boyne Valley, north of Dublin and west of Drogheda.

Our first stop in the morning was Newgrange. On his website, Michael describes it like this: “Newgrange is a Stone Age monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It was built about 3200 BC during the Neolithic period, which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Newgrange is a large circular mound with a stone passageway and chambers inside. The mound is ringed by ‘kerbstones’ engraved with artwork. It is the best know monument within the Brú na Bóinne complex, alongside the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth and Dowth.” Note that he calls it a monument, while it’s scientifically referred to as a passage tomb. The “passage” part of that name is due to the long narrow passage leading to an inner room. However, most current scientists will agree these mounds are not tombs, or at the very least, much more than tombs.

Our first look at Newgrange, as we walked up the hill toward it.

The entrance into Newgrange. Note the fabulously carved entrance stone.

While we waited for our turn inside, we explored the outside.

These enormous stones ringed the outside and some of them were carved.

Each stone was carved differently and Tara and I imagined what the shapes could mean.

We found this intriguing hut of stone. It turned out to be a novelty building that some farmer built out of scavenged stones from the site. It has little cultural significance.

We were not allowed to access the site without supervision, and not allowed to enter without a guide. This was fine with us, because the guide told us more about the site and helped us appreciate it while we were there. We were not allowed to photograph the inside. We entered here, the entrance you see in the above photo, and walked through a very narrow passageway into a central room. The guide turned out all the lights so that it was pitch black, then lit another light to simulate sunlight streaming through into the room as it would during 17 days of solstice in December. This would have given hope to the people at that time that days were getting longer, and Spring was coming again.

I am not that superstitious, and find myself a practical person in most situations. When I walked inside and felt those gigantic stones surrounding me (the inside is filled with stones the size of the ones out front), I felt a presence. I felt something, and I didn’t want to leave. I reached out to touch the stones; to put my hand onto the stones that a hand had touched 5,000 years ago. How incredible.

This is a ring of stones we found outside Newgrange after our tour.

Next we went to nearby Dowth, part of the same historical complex. Dowth is unexcavated, and for that reason I found it particularly appealing. No modern human has attempted to put his own interpretation onto the outside of the site, as was done at Newgrange. There is a hill over two entrances, and the tops of the outside circular stones showing.

Hillside of Dowth, with high gorse. Some effort has been made to cut down the gorse, which is similar to the bush I would call Scotchbroom. You can see the tops of massive stones ringing the hill.

One of the entrances at Dowth. Behind it, gorse is chopped down on half the hill.

This is inside the entrance at Dowth, and gives some idea of what it was like inside of Newgrange.

From the top of Dowth we could look back and see Newgrange. {click to enlarge photo.}

We also saw a cemetery from the top, and Tara wanted a close up look at it.

…So we went to the cemetery. From there we looked back up at Dowth.

Michael took note of how much we enjoyed the cemetery, and next took us to see the High Crosses at Monasterboice. The site was a monastery that existed in the 6th century. The High Crosses are very large crosses that date to the 10th century with carved scenes from both the new and old testaments of the Bible, possibly used as a teaching tool to help a congregation.

This is an example of the teaching scenes on the High Crosses. Here on the left, Adam and Eve hold an apple. On the right, Cain holds a weapon toward Abel.

This is Muiredach’s Cross, the more significant High Cross.

Tara and me in front of the other High Cross at this site. The remains of the monastery behind it.

Much smaller crosses in the cemetery that surrounds the high crosses.

This gravestone is interesting because it was carved onto a stone that was already sort of gravestone-shaped.

It was midday and time for a bite to eat. We went next to the Slane Castle, which is really a faux castle. Wealthy property owners had their home built to look like a castle. Today it is open for tours and weddings, and once a year hosts a gigantic concert. Michael said he saw U2 perform here in 1981 when they were the opening band for Thin Lizzy. In the lower level of Slane Castle is a lovely little cafe. Tara and I had ordered carrot soup and sausage rolls the day before and liked it so much we ordered the same thing again. It was scrumptious. After we ate, we walked over and explored the Slane whiskey distillery.

Slane Castle.

Entrance to the old stables, now hosting a whiskey distillery.

Inside the stables/distillery grounds.

There is a bar at the distillery, where the individual stalls for horses have been somewhat maintained, and made into booths for customers. Tara and I sampled the whiskey of course. But I was already a fan of Slane before I went to Ireland.

Back on the tour, we next stopped at another cemetery that had some ruins in it. From the cemetery was a lovely view of the River Boyne and a castle-type ruin there too.

Beautiful Boyne River valley.

Next was a stop that we had been looking forward to: The Hill of Tara. This site has been important for thousands of years. The site is much more than a hill, and more like a compound of many important places, including passage tombs, memorials, wells, an promendade and a church. We stopped first at the passage tomb called The Mound of the Hostages. It is a Neolithic structure, built between 3350 and 2800 BC, and is believed to be the oldest part of this complex.

We then walked up the hill to the Stone of Destiny. It was said to roar when touched by the rightful king of Tara. Of course we both put our hands on it. Just to check.

After that we walked across the large grassy area while Michael told us about how techonological advances such as LIDAR and ground penetrating radar are revealing new discoveries, and how this is improving theories people have about the site. We found a fairy tree, we walked up a long promendade (curiously named “Banquet Hall”) from a lower area up to the top of the hill again, and then gazed in every direction, as the Hill of Tara offers a 360 degree view.

Mound of the Hostages is a dramatic name for this passage tomb.

Stone of Destiny did not roar when either of us touched it. I guess we’re not Kings of Tara.

Fairy tree?

View of the countryside.

Tara peeks into one of several wells at the site. This one is called Well of Tara.

It had been a long day and it was time to head back to Dublin. Michael drove us all the way back and to our hotel near Heuston Train Station (we were headed out on the train the next day). We had fun chatting all day, got great tips for what to do in the remainder of our stay, and were truly grateful for our time with Michael. It was a great decision to hire him as our guide.

Statue of a weeping angel in the Chapman Hyman Tomb. Standing before the statue, I could feel the grief in my own body.

I am one of the lucky few who got out again, after being shut up in a cemetery for the night.

But let me start at the beginning. I’m in New Orleans for a quick trip with a friend. The trip was my idea. He loves the city and I’ve never seen it, so I wanted to be introduced through the eyes of someone who loves it, you know? Anyway, we arrived at night and on our first day out we both wanted to see cemeteries.

We went to Metairie Cemetery first. Built on the site of an old racetrack, some of the curved shape of the track can still be seen today. The cemetery is simply gorgeous, with white shining marble everywhere, manicured lawns and mature trees. Patrick wanted to see the weeping angel first, so we drove to it and parked the car. You can see my photo of her above. The expressiveness of the statue is heartbreaking, and the inscription “Sister” at the base brought tears to my eyes.

Then we walked. And walked. The place is enormous! We didn’t really intend to walk around for two hours, but that is what happened.

The city was founded in 1718 and people have been dying there ever since. As you know, half of the city of New Orleans is below sea level and protected with dikes and flood walls and massive water pump systems. It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize that you don’t want to bury your dead in the ground. So tombs are built on top of the ground. As we walked between them, the ground was often marshy beneath our feet and there were standing pools of water in low spots, reminding us that it is no myth: the city of New Orleans is level with the water table.

One of the tree-lined avenues at Metairie Cemetery.

At this cemetery, tombs are not crowded.

Many of the tombs are elaborate.

The pyramid caught our eye.

Spofford tomb

detail from the pyramid

A tree shades a tomb

Parts of the cemetery were more congested, but still lovely.

This panoramic view shows the arrangement of tombs along the avenues. Click for a larger version so you can see the detail.

I was not able to show clearly this picturesque narrow row of tombs because I was trying to crop out a bunch of bright orange construction cones.

Another row in the apparently more modern section.

One of the many “Woodmen of the World” grave markers.

Interesting aside: we noticed many Woodmen of the World markers on graves, with marble markers in the shape of logs. There were at least six styles of log markers that we noticed, and I became curious. Founded in 1890, Woodmen of the World is a fraternal benefit society. From 1890 to 1900, WOW’s life insurance policies had a proviso that provided for the grave markers, free of charge for members.  From 1900 to the mid- 1920’s, members purchased a $100 rider to cover the cost of the monument. Since then there have been no discounts for grave markers.

As I was leaving, I turned back to look one last time, and saw this amazing sky casting an eerie light on the darkened scene below. I regret that my simple phone camera couldn’t duplicate how beautiful it truly was.

Next we went into the Garden District to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. This one is famous because author Anne Rice used to live near it and based the tombs of the Mayfair Witches and the vampire Lestat on the tombs she found here. And consistent with that history, this cemetery was more what I anticipated in a New Orleans cemetery: not crumbling apart, but certainly a very old and storied place in the center of busy neighborhood streets.

As we approached the front gate, there was a crowd encircling a tour guide, and other people milling about in every direction. We slipped as quickly as we could through the tourists and between a row of tombs to begin our cemetery explorations in peace. We actively avoided all people while we were in there…which was likely the reason we did not hear the warning to get out.

An avenue in Layfayette Cemetery No. 1

This is what I had in mind when I pictured a New Orleans cemetery.

The Layfayette Cemetery No 1 is much smaller than the Metarie cemetery and the tombs are less elaborate.

After an hour in this much smaller cemetery, Patrick and I had become separated and I found myself near the front gate. I could hear the chatter of people on the sidewalk outside the cemetery. I heard a man’s voice say, “Does that lady know she’s locked in?” I glanced up. “Hey, do you know you’re locked in?” he said to me. I responded with a half smile. He reached over and grabbed the bars of the gate and shook them – presumably to show me that he knew what he was talking about. “I am not even kidding,” he said. Uh-oh.

I began walking up and down the paths until I found Patrick. “Hey, there may be a problem.” “Oh yeah? With what?” When I told him, he remembered that the cemetery was supposed to close at 3pm.  It was a few minutes past.

We went back to the gate and laughed with the people on the outside, and eyed the cast iron gate for footholds. I handed my phone through and one of them got a picture of me. Then suddenly, two tour guides showed up.

The person with the key had locked the gates and left, but these two were still sitting in their parked car nearby and no one had noticed them till they came to the rescue. “We have someone trapped in here once a week,” one of the women told us. “Step here, then your left foot goes here…”

And Viola! We climbed right out.

Me, trapped in a cemetery.

This image is from mikestravelguide.com where he wrote about free things to do in New Orleans.

After that we went to the waterfront and walked along the river. I didn’t get any more decent photos, so I don’t have much more to show you. We took a lovely dinner cruise on a paddlewheeler Creole Queen down the Mississippi River and back again. It was warm and lovely and I was on a ship in the country’s longest river. Our view of the city in the sunset from the water was a pretty nice final scene for the day.

New Orleans from the Mississippi River.

Saline Courthouse in Rose, Oklahoma

Looking along the porch.

In 1841, two years after the Cherokee in Oklahoma had adopted a new constitution, they organized into eight districts, and in 1856 a ninth was added. One of these was the Saline district, the center of which today is in Rose, Oklahoma: due east of Tulsa and north of Tahlequah. In 1883, the Cherokee government voted to build courthouses for all of its districts. Of the nine courthouses built, only the Saline district courthouse survives.

The Saline Courthouse closed in 1898 and passed into private ownership. It remained a private home (and sometimes a party pad) until the Cherokee Nation was able to purchase the structure and surrounding property sometime in the 1980s. The building was in serious disrepair at the time, and required some major rescue efforts from the Saline Preservation Association, Preservation Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Parks Department. Today the site is the Saline National Park.

I can’t think of a historical building in the country in a lovelier setting, though with all the gorgeous places in our amazing country, maybe there is a place that will give Saline a run for the title.

The spring house, just down the slope from the courthouse.

Beneath the front awning of the spring house, this inviting structure is built, to encourage you to take the water. It’s hard to tell, but the dark hole opens to two feet of crystal clear, cold springwater bubbling up.

The creek as it continues down the slope from the spring house.

A different view of the creek, as I made my way to the cemetery. One of our group pointed to the rocks and said, “This is limestone, and” he pointed out several spots revealing water bubbling right out of the rock on all sides of us, “This is limestone-filtered water. Any real Kentucky bourbon uses limestone-filtered water, just like this.” Since I’m a bourbon fan, this was of particular interest.

The courthouse, while not necessarily beautiful – since it was built for function not form – occupies an irresistibly green, sun-dappled place. It sits on a sloping hill above a generous spring that bursts from the ground nearby. There is a stone building built atop the spring, with sheltered access to the pristine and sparkling pure water from inside and outside the building. So much water gushes from the spring that it’s instantly a creek, that winds its way through trees, rock outcroppings, and the lovely Oklahoma hills till it reaches Snake Creek nearby.

The preservationists have addressed the courthouse itself, attending to the outside preservation first, by restoring the siding the roof and the vandalized window glass. Inside is gutted, but dry and clear and ready for the next step.

The kitchen area inside the courthouse.

Upstairs chimney restored.

At the top of the stairs.

Me, on the stairs in the courthouse.

There was no jail at the time this was used as a courthouse. None of them had a place to lock up criminals except the Tahlequah district, which had a jail. When criminals were on hand, they were chained to a tree or a wall and guarded until they could be taken to Tahlequah. Unfortunately, this is exactly what was occupying Sheriff Jesse Sunday when a storekeeper was shot September 20, 1897. He was far away, guarding prisoners when he got the news, and deputized someone nearby to take his place and headed back to Saline to see what was going on. By the end of the day Sheriff Sunday and the newly elected Sheriff Ridge had also been shot, in what people now call the Saline Courthouse Massacre. The murderer escaped from prison, but then then served a short tour in the Army and came back to Saline and lived the rest of his life in the community. Talk about a get out of jail free card.

I wandered in a wide arc around the area, along the creek, through the trees, and found myself at a cemetery. From the dates, you can see that these people lived here during the time this place was used as a courthouse, and was actually the center of a community.

A small cemetery sits beside the road, not far from the courthouse.

Next we went to see the Cherokee Nation Buffalo Herd. Our Chief is very excited about the buffalo and proud to tell us while we were in Tulsa that we would soon be able to see them. His excitement was contagious for many of the people attending the conference in Tulsa.

I was not appropriately impressed because buffalo herds are not that uncommon in the West. It seems like they would not be that uncommon in Oklahoma too, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve grown up seeing buffalo herds here and there, raised like cattle, and I’ve seen buffalo on the menu and in the meat counter. I’ve been close to buffalo herds multiple times in Yellowstone NP.

But still….buffalo are cool. And maybe here’s the difference: the Cherokee buffalo herd is out there just being buffalo. Not being fattened for market.

The sight was pretty spectacular, and I think you’ll agree.

One of the TV buffalo poses for me.

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Cherokee buffalo herd, if it meant living here.

Cherokee tourists.

On our way to the caretaker buildings, we spotted them from the road. The vans stopped and people exploded out into the gravel road with glee, stepping through thistles and nettles and cockleburs to lean up against the barbed wire fence to snap shots. The buffalo ignored us and we soon moved on.

When we arrived, we consolidated into only two vehicles and followed the caretaker (who lugged his year-old grandson on his hip the entire time – adorbs) as he drove us in a careful trek in a road defined only by the fact that you could tell cars had driven that route before. We crossed hills, forged valleys, and finally came out: on the other side of the buffalo! I was puzzled and frustrated about this. We weren’t allowed out of the vans and since I was squished in the back, and on the wrong side, I was not able to use my camera most of the time.

There are 92 buffalo in this herd, and they are living the life. I was glad to have seen them, their massive, massive bodies lumbering to get away from our vans, flowing over landscape changes like you see in movies. You know, that surge of giant bodies moving like a brown liquid into dry creekbeds and then up over mounds and splitting to flow around a tree.

Cherokee tourists now trapped in a van.

The “wild” buffalo. You can tell. Can’t you.

Looking back, as they make their escape from us.

Cherokee tourist beside buffalo sign.

Finally, when we had all returned and were talking in the shade, the caretaker explained that our buffalo have segregated themselves into two smaller herds. “The TV buffalo – those are the ones you saw when you came in,” he said, “and the others are what I call the wild buffalo.” The TV buffalo? Turns out, the group we saw beside the road don’t mind people, and tend to hang out by the road. When Oklahoma television crews come out to do a story on the buffalo, those are the ones they shoot because it’s such an easy shot. The other buffalo don’t like people, don’t go near the road, and don’t even mix with the TV buffalo. “I wanted you to see the wild buffalo,” he explained. “That’s why I took you out so far to see them.” Ok. All is forgiven.

One of my many guises

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