Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Swan Point in Providence

Located off of the beautiful Blackstone Boulevard on the East side of Providence, the rock-lined entrance to Swan Point cemetery hints at what's inside: one of the most sculptured, meticulously maintained and plainly gorgeous cemetery parks in New England. Situated on a series of bluffs overlooking the Seekonk River, many of the residents look to the east across the river. There's also a wonderful drive along the river, and if you're looking for a place for quiet meditation, you can take several turns right down to the river's edge and catch your breath.

A few bits of sculpture makes this a worthwhile place to walk with friends, bicycle, or just casually stroll by yourself, contemplating the dreams and hopes laid out in stone before you.

A few stops are recommended. There's horror writer H. P. Lovecraft's small stone in lot 271 on which he proclaimed to the world, "I am Providence."

(photo: that's Howard Phillips Lovecraft's small stone on the far right there.)

Don't forgot to stop at the burial location Byron and Harriet branch of the Sprague family, where where you can find their 10-year-old daughter Mary and her 3-year-old brother William, both of whom died within three months of each other in 1860, now holding on to each for eternity.

Nearby is the resting place of their parents. Byron died just 6 years after his two children. Harriet, however, suffered that cruelest of fates: to outlive all her loved ones. She wasn't laid to rest next to her husband and children for another fifty years.

Or you might pay your respects to the grave of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. You might remember him from Ken Burns "Civil War." Elisha's letters home during the war served as one of the focal points of the series and were read by that great American storyteller, Garrison Keillor. Rhodes survived that war.

A stop at the office will provide you with a wealth of information, handy maps as well as a self0guided walking or driving tour of the grounds. And just inside the main door you will find a small kiosk, no bigger than an ATM machine, with touch screen instructions that will allow you to find anyone in the cemetery, and then print out a handy map to direct you right to the grave.

But really you will want to spend some time just wandering around this place. it must be beautiful in the spring and summer. I'll be back.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Old North burial ground in Providence

On Wednesday, 12 December I paid my second visit to the Old North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island. (My first visit was several years back, and all I recall is the Elks monument.) As you can see from the attached photo it certainly has to be one of the oldest working cemeteries in New England. (Prior to 1700 the folks of Providence buried their loved ones on their own property.)

This is the final resting place of many of the great, near great and generally unknown people who help to make Providence a major industrial center. Like Brown family, as in the university and not the football team.

If you are looking for someone in particular or even just planning a visit to the cemetery, I urge you to click here right now. Doing so will take you to one of the few websites on the Old North Burying Ground, where you can find out all the details on how to locate someone in the cemetery. Another good website is sponsored by the Bucklin Society. Click here to surf over and check out their handy links. The cemetery office, open on weekdays only, can provide you with a a good map of the cemetery, with the street names clearly marked and some of the more well-known burials and monuments located as well.

(photo: part of the veterans' lot, with a monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War in the background.)

Oh and way at the very "back" of the cemetery, just past the Potter's field area, you'll find a tiny bit of local history. Wedged in between I-95 on one side and the cemetery on the other is a small but very old portion of the Blackstone Canal, one of the chief watercourses here in the 19th century.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Undertaking on PBS

I just finished watching the Frontline show, "Undertaking," about a family-run undertaking business in Milford, Michigan. But this show is much, much more than a simple look behind the doors.

For anyone with a son, daughter, father, mother, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle, this is an hour or so of your time well spent. For me, watching this show -- and you'll have to watch it on your computer -- watching this show I couldn't help but think about my own father and mother passing on. Of course since the focus is on a family run funeral home I couldn't help but think of the hundreds of calls that once came into this apartment that is now our home in Providence, calls asking the family who owned and operated the Prata Funeral Home to please send someone to come and pick up a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, who had just passed away.

No melancholia here, though.

After listening to Thomas Lynch, one of the funeral directors, read from his essays and poetry about the dead and their relationship to the living, and the importance of how we, the living, deal with death and those who have passed on, I found to be truly a revelation and inspirational. And if you know of someone who has ever lost a child, hearing the Verrino story and listening to the young mother talk with such candor and in such lucid terms of her own son's passing is profound beyond belief.