"There is a romantic, nostalgic, pleasantly melancholy feeling to old cemeteries that is hard to define but easy to experience. Perhaps it is because we can feel the direct link to our past that no history book, no movie, no historical fantasy can ever convey. These stones and these unkempt grounds are the hard evidence of lives that came before us. Once, these people lived and breathed, loved, worked, fought, hoped and despaired, and experienced their triumphs and failures just as we do today. And, although we seldom care to acknowledge it, we will inevitably go where they have gone."—from the Preface
For the many people who enjoy walking through old cemeteries, exploring forgotten and overgrown graveyards, and reading the names, dates, and epitaphs of the dead, the Chesapeake Bay region offers a rich assortment of final resting places, many dating back to the early 1600s. From Williamsburg to Havre de Grace, it is not uncommon to see a number of the living wandering among the markers of the dead. Some are genealogists and historians, others come in search of quietude and a tangible connection to the past.
In The Chesapeake Book of the Dead, Helen Chappell and photographer Starke Jett survey this rich legacy, from the vast and imposing Arlington National Cemetery to lone graves so modest as to have been lost almost as soon as they were dug. Chappell and Jett visit graveyards of the famous and the obscure, wander through cemeteries dotted with both elaborate funerary and simple, weather-beaten headstones, and discover epitaphs that range from the literary to the amusing to the poignant. As old grave sites disappear under developers' bulldozers, through neglect, and at the hands of unscrupulous headstone collectors, this remarkable book offers a unique and elegiac look at our past and its tales of love and tragedy.
Among the cemeteries explored are Southeast Washington's Congressional Cemetery (posthumous home to composer John Philip Sousa, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, pioneering feminist and muckraking journalist Anne Royall, and Choctaw chief and notable military tactician Pushmataha); Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery (built in the 1830s as Baltimore's first sylvan graveyard); and Westminster Burying Ground in downtown Baltimore. At Westminster lies the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, which a mysterious figure visits each year on Poe's birthday to leave roses and a bottle of brandy. The book also describes the final resting places for such celebrities as Dorothy Parker (Chappell located her ashes at the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore), F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (buried in Rockville at Scott's wish, because, he insisted, "I belong here," in Maryland, "where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite"), and cosmopolitan actress Tallulah Bankhead (interred in a plot her sister provided near Chestertown).
Included throughout this fascinating book are essays on mourning fashion and deathbed performances, graveyard ghost stories, discussions of efforts to save historic cemeteries, and notes from the diary of a nineteenth-century doctor who today is buried in Rising Sun Cemetery alongside many of his patients. Chappell's lively prose, accompanied by Jett's haunting black-and-white photographs, will delight all those drawn to the seclusion, peacefulness, and melancholy of old graveyards.
Jacket illustration: Lower Hooper's Island, Maryland