Last week Sara and I decided to visit the first of many local graveyards in our surrounding area. After living in cemetery-free San Francisco for so long, we are thrilled to be virtually swamped with new areas to explore.
We decided to visit Mount Pleasant Cemetery. This cemetery was established in 1883 by the Mount Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church. It was originally used as a place to bury members of the church and other African-Americans who had lived in Gainesville. The cemetery is the final resting place for Gainesville’s first two black physicians, its first black dentist, and its first black Vietnam War casualty.
Also incorporated on the grounds is the original Grass Lawn Cemetery which was established in 1882. It was impressive to be back in a graveyard that had so many 100-year-old headstones. Beyond that, there were a few other differences with this (as well as the surrounding cemeteries near us) that I was not used to and had not witness before. I am used to older New England cemeteries, as well as newer Northern California graveyards, but was amazed at the differences this new-to-me southern resting place held.
The first thing that struck me was the inclusion of the many oak trees growing inside the area. I was not used to so many huge trees scattered among the graves.
Another thing that immediately came to my attention was the amount of hand painted, pastel colored stone coffins. These appeared all over the grounds and were almost all covered with glitter as well! There was blue, pink, red, orange, purple, and brown all present.
The next photo allows for better viewing of the hand strewn glitter that was present among the majority of the painted coffins. The coffin to the right is painted a much brighter pink than shows up in the photo and the coffin to the left is much more purple than the image depicts. The glitter is still plentiful on these two and can be more easily seen. If anyone has any facts about why this is done I would be very grateful and appreciative if you could comment on this post.
Many of the headstones are so old that several were in various states of decay and decline. Some had an oak planted near them when they were new and are now battling the tree for space. A few have been broken in half either by time, nature, or vandalism. A good many were almost completely submerged into the ground. The sand and extreme sunken dirt of the cemetery was new to me as well. In New England and Northern California graveyards the plots consist of, for the most part, traditional wooden caskets lowered into the ground. Not so with the surrounding area’s final resting sites! The ground is too sandy, not to mention digging downward for any substantial amount will quickly lead you to limestone and then water.
Their were a ton of great inscriptions as well as many of the usual (and unusual) markings and carvings. Lots of masonic images, some beautiful old nature images of vines and flowers, and a few more unusual than that. There was what, upon first glance, appeared to be a granite Power Ranger keeping watch over an unmarked grave. I had to get a closer look and, although there was no marker to indicate who had been buried in the coffin, the back of the granite slab keeping watch was inscribed with “Our Guardian Angel.” We wondered if this was a possible interpretation of the Arch-Angel Michael.
In the very back of the cemetery we came to an opening in a cluster of trees. Venturing in, we found another back area with even more grave-sites. It was an even mix of newer coffins and very old, semi-buried plots. One headstone caught my attention, as it had only one small corner pointing out from the dirt and debris it had sunk under. I climbed between thorny bushes and carefully wiped away the inch of dirt that had obstructed the head stone from being viewed. It ended up being one of the most interesting of the lot, to me. Note the three X’s placed in three separate locations; to the left, across the bottom, and (not shown/still covered way down) to the right. The rest of the stone was too submerged in compacted dirt to be further dug out.
After spending hours in the cemetery we finally found ourselves ready to take our leave. The only disappointment of the day was the fact that I very much wanted to find and photograph the simple head-stone of Rue Hazel, a one and a half year old girl who is buried within the cemetery gates. I could not locate any sign of her resting place, but know I will be back again for another hunt. I have an inexplicable pull to find her grave-site and, with all of the hidden and sunken areas, have no doubt that her marker is there somewhere, awaiting discovery.