Monday, September 8, 2008

Not So Living History

Saturday as tropical storm Hanna threatened our area we went on a field trip. First we hit the local farmers market. Very few ventured out to the market as the weather reports called for flash floods. However, we are made of sterner stuff or had a stronger desire to just get out of the house. We also planned to visit a wonderful used and new book store on our way home.

Apples from the farmer's market
Wonderful apples, peaches, cheese and Amish-made cinnamon buns graced our table on Sunday. Just as we were leaving the market the sky began to clear and the clouds rolled away.

So we decided to make a learning detour. We headed to the Old City Cemetery. It was our first get-out-and-walk-around visit since the first time we just drove through one Saturday when it was very busy. Now, most cemeteries, when they are busy, are due to the loss of loved ones. Not so for this cemetery. This one has a two hundred year history as the final resting place for the great, good, bad and unknowns of the area. Of the bodies buried within the walls of the cemetery, three-quarters are African Americans and half are children.

Mother & daughter Langley grave
One of the first graves you see when entering is of the Reverend Phillip Morris—the founder and first president of what became known as Virginia Seminary and College. Following it is a bed made of moss and covered in flowers. There is an enclosure that contains a monument with widows weeds flowing from it. At the base of the monument Rich found money laying around. The graves hold mother Agnes Langley (1789-1874) and daughter Lizzie Langley (1833-1891.) This team ran a "sporting house" where both races were employed and served in the "Red light District."

A little further down and to the left we found a large headstone with "Mammy" written on the top. The grave is the home of Anica Mitchell and the stone states she was "faithful and beloved" domestic servant to the family of Israel Moore for over 40 years.

Continuing on, we arrive at the Confederate section, which contains over 2,200 Confederate soldiers from 14 states and, yes, there are only Confederates here. The union soldiers were dug up long ago and sent to Petersburg to be reburied there. They have recently discovered there is a "negro row" in this section, however they are not sure where this row is located.

Mammy's grave stone
Down and around the hill, there is a museum with mourning jewelry and clothing along with a horse-drawn hearse. It was interesting to learn that the horses were always color coded: white horses were used when children were the deceased and black horses for adults.

As we rounded another corner we saw a spot where the towns first public hanging occurred in 1830. Thousands gathered to watch the hanging. However, there was a problem, the rope broke when the trap door opened and the condemned man fell to the ground. He was given a drink of water while they replaced the rope, then he was made to take that long walk back up the gallows. Just to make sure he did die this time they left him hanging for an hour. People were so appalled that there was not another public execution for 30 years.

As we continued up the hill to our right was a large tree on which a swing has been hung and tables have been scattered for people to enjoy an afternoon picnic. Yes, we are still on the grounds of the cemetery. We spent a lot of time at the swing while we saw lovers walking hand in hand as they explored the cemetery together.

David, enjoying the cemetery swing
There is much more life in this cemetery then in any other I've ever seen. During the summer there are often crowds out looking at the gravestones and exploring the history that lies within it's walls. Also weddings and receptions are held on the grounds and in the meeting hall. The people who have been laid to rest here are not forgotten.

And just in case you thought we lost our appetite exploring the dead, you're wrong. We headed downtown to a wonderful restaurant that used to be a train depot and ate so much we only nibbled at dinner.


Mrs.RGS said...

Okay, that does it -- I have to come to your neck-of-the-woods to explore the cemeteries.
We hope to head for the east coast to visit grave sites of relatives. Visiting sites of these would be fascinating as well.
I LOVE the photo you took of the green apples with the rain drops.

Kim said...

You really do need to visit us! We could give you quite a show. This area is full of history and fun events. We have just been talking about all the upcoming festivals and events that are being held in the area this fall. Lots of apple festivals. I think we have decided on the apple festival with the haunted hay ride.
We might even have to take you down the road so you could get a picture of the "you are now entering Tightsqueeze" sign. Yes, there is a town called Tightsqueeze, Virginia.
The apple picture was taken by my husband. I was too busy deciding what to buy.