Category Archives: Gothic

Haunting by the Riverside

The second day of December is not yet winter, with traces of muted versions of the fall colors lingering, especially in the trees and grass of an old cemetery, almost forgotten.  On that date this year, Yang and I finally got to visit the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct.  When passing by on the highway, we would always look down on the Victorian Gothic chapel and monuments to those lost in death, leaving us fascinated by its haunting, melancholy beauty.  Finally, we managed to make a trip there to explore.  We  were not disappointed.

Of course, we stopped first in Seymore for tea at Tea with Tracey, where I enjoyed a delicious fig and cherry tea and Yang took pleasure in a nice green tea.  The array of tea sandwiches was yummy, and soon we were well fortified for our expedition into the past of Waterbury through its monuments to the passed. The day was appropriate, with grey skies and a nip in the air.  As you entered, you are greeted with an exquisite monument to the Elton family. The bronze has turned a soft green, but the female figures flanking either side of the memorial urn are beautifully articulated.  On one side is a shrouded figure of grief at death and on the other a hopeful one looking upward serenely.  The execution of the figures is graceful and feeling.  Interestingly, the handles of the urn are cherubs, somewhat menacing in demeanor. I think it’s kind of neat that the man’s name is John Elton. Reverse the order and you have . . .
You can find the actual grave of the Elton family deeper into the cemetery. Clearly this was one of the leading families of Waterbury in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  I heard that there was even a highly regarded Elton Hotel in the town quite some time back.  What has happened to them since?  I can’t tell you. Perhaps there are some Waterbury historians reading this blog who would like to take that one? I’d love to know!
There were several others who were clearly prominent in the town, indicated by the plaques on their graves or the imposing nature of their monuments.  One interesting sort was the Civil War veteran John Lyman Chatfield.  This plaque tells the story of his wounding on the battlefield and subsequent death back in Waterbury.  The bronze statue of him in uniform further attests to his history as a Civil Warrior.  The Chatfield family must have been one with tremendous clout in the city to be able to leave such an imposing monument.  Any local historians want to fill us in on more about him?

 

 

The Spencer family also must have been amongst the movers and shakers of 19th-century Waterbury.  Witness the tall monument with the carefully carved likeness in relief.  This guy must have worked awfully hard for his money and position because he does look rather cranky, don’t you think?
Here we have a doctor who must have had a great deal of success and done much good.  The description of his work helping children reveals his value to the population.  Perhaps that’s likely the reason for the sleeping children on the corners of the face of this elaborate tombstone.  They are a little creepy though, don’t you think?  I guess that’s why they’re so Victorian, the era of photographing your dead all dressed up to remember them by – if you were upper middle class.
And of course the BPOE was a force to be reckoned with in those days as well.  If you were a high-antler and did a lot of good, then you’d certainly be properly memorialized, so check out this monument.  I don’t remember of the chap honored here, unfortunately, but I had to get several shots of this elk.  How does he compare with the elk in the Edson Cemetery of Lowell’s ?  Click here for an earlier blog to make a comparison.  The one in Lowell does have the advantage of being cleaned and returned to its original bronze glory.  Anyway, I can’t help providing you with several shots of this wonderful statue. It’s so cool how his base is shaped as a rock crag and is set on the hillside, so that he presides over the rolling slopes of the cemetery.

 

And roll those slopes do!  I think navigating that terrain is half the reason the injured ligaments in my knee haven’t healed yet! You notice that geography immediately on entering the cemetery, with mausoleums banking upwards to a bleak late autumn sky, almost as grey as their stone. I want to share images of the slopes of stone rolling  through the cemetery, topped with trees whose mostly denuded branches scratch across the grey sky, the grass rusty brown, and an occasional shrub or tree bearing the maroons or dark orange of late fall.  Definitely the perfect setting for a mystery or a tale of terror.  I just have to work this place into a novel, too!
Of course the statuary revealed the entrancing work of inestimable craftsmen.  There were so many haunting statues of women.  For example, regard the deep feeling of this woman who guards the entrance to one family’s mausoleum.  Is this an actual likeness to a wife or mother of the N.J. Welton family who preserved that family’s secure home?  Was the truth of that family portrayed in this woman’s intense devotion, or are any conflicts whitewashed here for posterity?

 

 

This statue of woman and child from another branch of the Welton family seems to portray a sad loss.  Did mother and child pass when both were young or are they immortalized as eternally young in the next world?  The child seems afraid, burying herself in the comforting lap of her mother, who has one arm  around her but raises her hand hopefully, while the other holds a book and looks into the beyond. Is she holding the Book of Life or the Bible?  Her steadfast stare and gentle but firm hold on her daughter  indicates her guidance of her family toward redemption.  This seems a statuary representation if the Victorian Angel in the House.

 

It’s hard to select which other statues to show you,  there are so many beautiful, poignant ones, so I’ll try to select the more unique. I was fascinated by the bronze cast of this woman, whose plaque celebrated her firm virtues.  The photo doesn’t quite convey how massive the bronze form is. Her hair style, dress, and sandalled feet portray her as a Roman matron.  so, clearly, she was a powerful force in her family, devoted to her duties there and preserving them.  Again, the book she holds indicates learning and wisdom, though perhaps only in religion if it’s a Bible.  More knowledge of the family and this woman might indicate she was actually learned in areas outside the woman’s domestic sphere.  Anyone know something of her?
This statue was particularly intriguing, for the base was not a smooth column, but in the shape of a cairn, with the information of the family’s deceased inscribed on the individual stones. I’m fascinated by the creativity of the masons who contributed to the Riverside Cemetery.  Their statuary is amongst the most unique I’ve encountered in my explorations of cemeteries.

 

Now this statuary tremendously intrigued me.  Coming upon it from behind, both Yang and I thought it was a spectral figure in a shroud, a figure implying the mystery of the world beyond this. However, as we came around the front of the monument, we realized that what you saw from the front was a partially  draped urn.  This leads me to wonder if the artist intentionally played with our perceptions, implying the ineffablity of pinning down or defining death.  Was he, perhaps, implying our thoughts of ghosts and spirits turn out to be nothing more than dust in a dead stone urn?  Or was he implying that perception of death as final dissolution into dust and cold stone was a superficial view that we have to look behind or beyond to accept the mystery of the world beyond? Maybe I just think to much?  I was an English professor; it’s an occupational hazard.
 I’ll just wrap up with  an image that delights me in my most melancholy, Keatsian vein.

 

Last Glimpses of Autumn

Here we are with only two days left to November, closing out autumn. Though the season doesn’t officially end until December 21 or 22, depending on the year, the last day of November always feels like the turn of the page into winter with December 1st.  So, I’d like to present you with a blog or two taking a lingering, pleasing look back at the “season of mellow fruitfulness.”
Last year, Yang and I celebrated Halloween during the day with a hike at Colbrook Reservoir in western Mass.  Remember how we were in drought status that year?  Well, that’s why we not only were able to have a memorable walk along the waterway on an abandoned two-lane paved road, but also could discern parts of the town that had been submerged  by the flooding to create the reservoir.  We even caught sight of the phantom bridge!  This year we sought to repeat our adventure, with hopes of an even more pleasant outing since the weather was so much warmer than last year.  Unfortunately,  in 2021 we had so much more of something else than last year:  Rain!
Last year there was water, shoreline, road, rocks and trees.  This year, there was water, rocks, and trees.  We were flooded out in both directions of the road from the parking lot.  Yang mentioned that we also rode our bikes here the day after Thanksgiving last year; so, I commented that unless we had paddle boats, we weren’t doing any paddling here this year!  Disappointed, I still managed to get some nice shots of foliage and water, as you can see.  Yang had another idea, which also had been percolating in my head.  We hopped in the car and headed just across the nearby border for Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain  in Connecticut! (If you want to get a look at what we saw  at Colbrook last year, click here for my earlier blog .)
A little on Heublein Tower.  Heublein was the third tower to stand on Talcott Mountain, built by German-born, American businessman from Hartford, Gilbert Heublein,  While hiking the mountain with his fiancee, he promised her “a castle on a mountain,” keeping his promise after their marriage by constructing this tower.  The edifice, which contained bedrooms on all but the pinnacle, a spacious ground-floor living  room and foyer, dining room; second floor sun room, an elevator, and a ballroom on the glassed-in top floor was completed by 1929.  Here, the Heubleins relaxed in their summer home, inviting guests and holding events that drew the cream of Hartford’s social crop. Heublein died in 1937, with his  building falling out of use until bought in 1943 by The Hartford Times.  Once again, it became the place to be for social events with celebrities of the era in attendance, including Tallulah Bankhead!  Eventually, it was let slide by the Times and nearly bought by developers, until saved by the group  Save Talcott Mountain.  Now the mountain and the Tower are open to the public for hiking and viewing, as the area has become a state park. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature and some unique architecture.  For more details on the Tower and the park, click here for the web site.
Hiking up the mountain isn’t too bad a hike at all.  There are several trails to get to the Tower.  The most popular one is a little steep at first, through autumn woods, but there are benches along the way if you’re out of shape and need a rest.  We were in good enough shape not to!  Then, you come out of the woods and onto a ridge overlooking the valley below.  The view along this ridge is wonderful, and you might even see a hawk as we did! Some great overlooks.
The Tower itself is quite a treat!  This old photo shows what the foyer and living room originally looked like.  My shot lets you see an updated in-color version.  The furnishings have been carefully assembled to approximate the style and taste of the original era.  Though I’m not sure I would have wanted a big deer head on my wall, I would have loved to relax before that fireplace in a comfy chair or to play card games with friends on a crisp fall evening, with coffee or tea and scones for sustenance.  And how about this nook by the window that looks out over a gorgeous mountain landscape, cascading fall colors into the valley below?  How’s that for having breakfast or an afternoon tea?  I wonder  what flavor that cake is on the table?
Or maybe I’d take tea, solo or with companions, on this wonderful sun porch, warm with solar emanations?  Could also be a great place to settle down and read or listen to the radio programs back in the day.  And the view from up here ain’t bad, either.

 

How about some of those bedrooms?  Not necessarily luxurious, but roomy enough.  Plenty of sunlight during the day, should you wish to retire here. Pleasant, if not elaborate, decor.  But you’re on a rustic  retreat, so who needs frills?  Though this set up is far from camping on the cold, hard New England bedrock.  And, oh, those views when you get up in the morning!  Imagine the rising sun setting aflame these fall colors!
One of the most interesting parts of the Tower is the observation deck.  Originally, this area was known as the ballroom, as you can see from this old image of the earlier set up.  Wouldn’t it be grand to dance away the evening on these hard wood floors?  It could be a real Stardust Ballroom, with the twinkling lights of the darkened heavens glittering through the tall windows of all four sides of the room.  Of course, you’d have to move away all that furniture.  Great place for a big party!
Yet there’s no need to wait for evening to fall in love with the observation deck.  During the day, you get views  for miles, across Connecticut and into Massachusetts – an especially fine sight in the autumn, when the hills burst with colors.  Feast your eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, returning to the first floor, towards the rear of the building, you find the formal dining room, gorgeous in wood paneling, dark wood furniture, marble fireplace, exquisite Persian rug, elegant china and cutlery, and painted medallion above the fireplace.  How about the gorgeous beamed ceilings? It’s fun to notice that the door to the butler’s pantry is hidden in the shape of the paneling on one side of the fireplace, while a closet is similarly hidden on the other.  Light pours in the windows.

Now, I ask you, would this not be the perfect setting for a mystery?  This is how the UConn campus at Avery Point inspired me for Always Play the Dark Horse.  So, how should we work this?  Jessica and James are invited for a weekend by the owner,  a mysterious sort who seems to know more about them than they about him or her?  Or maybe it is someone they know, or think they do.  Should guests start dropping like flies over a dinner in that elegant dining room?  Should Jessica settle down to a quiet read on the sun porch, only to be interrupted by a figure sailing past to his/her death below? Should Liz also be on hand?  What do you think?

 

Forest Hills Cemetery: Touching or Eerie? Both?

Yang and I found a gorgeous old cemetery in Utica, NY when we went to the Joan and Constance Bennett film festival in Rome this past summer.  However, life has just been so busy with all the prep for Dark Horse‘s release, then it’s actual release, that I just didn’t have time to put together a pictorial blog on it.  Maybe that’s just as well, because aren’t we in just the right season for a sepulchral tour?
So, welcome to Forest Hill Cemetery.  You know this is going to be one neat burial ground when you enter through these wonderfully Gothic gates.  And the cemetery is definitely well-named, winding up above Utica on an extensive tree-shrouded, green hillside.  Maybe we don’t have flaming autumn colors; however, the misty green mossyness perfectly emanates a Keatsian melancholy.
The statuary here was marvelously haunting:  women, angels, urns, unique mausoleums, and one guy backed by a tree that seemed like something out of a Lovecraft piece.  Let’s start with the angels.  The first one that I noted, just getting out of my car (me not the angel), was a uniquely colored creature.   It wasn’t as large as many or the others and the tip of one wing was chipped.  Yet it’s lines were straight and powerful, grace and strength in a soft glow of gold.
Yet, there were other more traditionally imposing figures.  This angel rose above a long bench that curved like his wings.  It’s an imposing figure that makes you uneasily recall the Dr. Who injunction, “Don’t blink!  On the other hand, this  angel below sits peacefully atop the Ives family monument exuding comfort and repose.  If it came to life, it would offer gentleness and compassion.  The day’s sky, still a tad cloudy, softens the gleaming white of its stone.

 

This family must, indeed, have had clout!  Not only do they have a fancy sepulchre, but they have two angels guarding the way to their entombed remains.  Facing us, you can see that one angel holds a book, while, in the case of the one with its back to us, you can just make out its trumpet.  Clearly that divine guy is ready to blow the horn to announce Judgment Day – or it’s Harry James.

 

 

Speaking of sepulchres, there are some really neat fancy ones here.  This one makes me think of a stone beehive.  It also has a medieval look. The stones fit together like the blocks of a castle.  There are spires and arches like in a Gothic cathedral.  Even fleur de lis are carved on joining stones on the sides and back. Note the brass door gone green. The graceful furl of draping ribbons carved on the doors evokes the unfurling of a gentle melancholy sigh, doesn’t it?  Here’s a closeup so you can better perceive the detail.  Notice how flowers trail from the end of the ribbons.  A symbol of life’s fragility like a flower or of life’s renewal of flowers from seeds shed by flowers past/passed?

 

This mausoleum is more in the art deco vein.  It’s shape is square-angled with blocks sharply cut.  The woman on its metal door, though Grecian garbed, has the stylized posture of art deco figures.  Pressing herself to a door carved with a gate of flowered shapes holding her out, her stance and expression are quietly yet powerfully sad.  Is she reaching for the lost departed or is she a departed soul reaching back for life?
The statues of women representing faith, loss, families also abound here in some beautiful forms. I loved the view of this weather-stained woman peering down the hillside, through waving grass and dark green trees into the world beyond her, outside the grave.  In a closer view from the front, you can see she supports stalks of harvested grain.  The soul harvested from this earth?  Or her life’s harvest of experience, carried into the next realm?

 

Here sits a pensive female, pure white against the greenery.  Though she marks the reality of death,  there is peace in her expression. Does she represent the soul’s passing into a realm beyond suffering to a place of calm contemplation or the quiet remembrance that those left behind have of loved ones   now  beyond the veil? I love capturing a close up of her features against the vivid blue streaked with the  gauzy whiteness of clouds.
This woman is celebrated as a dignified Roman matron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here an angelic figure points an attentive Victorian mother and plump toddler heavenward.  There are no wings on the rising figure, but there are definitely suggestions of her angelic nature. Interestingly, her trumpet points downward.  A reference to the family in the world of the living below? The sculpture beautifully creates the illusion of the female figure rising through the sweep of her garments. I can’t help thinking that perhaps this monument commemorates the loss of a young wife and a child.  Is the rising figure a younger daughter who had angelic qualities?
Then there is this far from traditional carving of gleaming white marble.  The figure does not seem  carved so much as  transforming  stone into a vibrant, pure flame  consuming a body  into a higher, ethereal form.  Is her expression joyous, pained, both – combining the two in the ineffable constitution of the sublime.

 

 

 

Of course, we can’t forget about the gents, either.  This chap must have been something, taking up the center of an enormous monument that surrounds him as if part of a capitol building or cathedral.  Gothic arches and fancy urns denote his prominent family standing. You can see me standing there in front providing scale. The book he holds in his hand and his far away look seem to mark him as a scholar of some sort, or at the very least, a man of great learning.
I’m not sure who this guy was, but he certainly must have been important to get such a fancy statue of himself.  He must have been wealthy, too, to be so well fed.  Reminds me of Sidney Greenstreet.  What do you think? Something else that’s neat is that if you look carefully behind him, you can see a tree that almost seems to have a cyclops eye; a long, bowed nose-trunk; and menacing upraised arms.  The image didn’t photograph as well as it should have, but it’s still very Lovecraftian. Below is a picture of just that just shows that eldritch, daemonic tree, appearing to stride forth on an unspeakable quest of relentless destruction.  And here’s a link to a list of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to say that this tree also  looks as if it’s up to no good, eldritch or otherwise.  There’s a horror story in here somewhere.

There are still more wonderful monuments of unique shapes and beautiful scenes of a sea of stones, but I’ve just no more space.  Perhaps, I can do a second edition on this cemetery.  We’ll see.  October is a busy month.  Hmm, what’s that I hear tapping at my window pane?  I hope it’s nothing cyclopean or eldritch.
Say “so long” to Forrest Hill as we drive out those wonderful Gothic Gates!

Capitolfest ’21: A Joan-O-Rama!

In our first overnight trip away, Yang and I traveled to the renovated Capitol Theatre in Rome, New York for Capitolfest.  This year’s subjects proved irresistible:  the fabulous Bennett sisters, Joan and Constance!  We were fortunate to see the theatre, designed by Leon H. Lempert and first opened in 1928, returned to much of its original art deco glory.  However, our trip was even more of a treat.  Not only did we get to see two Joan Bennett movies from early in her career that I’ve never seen, but we met up with wonderful friends from the Friends of Joan Bennett FB group:  Kayla Sturm and Eve and Edward Lemon!  It was a fun, heart-warming, and exciting experience.

First, let me tell you about the theatre – and share some images with you, too.  Many of these are courtesy of Eve and Kayla.  You can see that the original marquee is not the same, but the outside still has much of the original feel.  Further, once you enter the lobby, you see wonderful polished wood doors and art deco detailing on the walls and ceiling.

The inside is spacious, seating over 1000 people, with plenty of room on the ground floor and in the balcony.  The latter place is where we Bennettphiles sat.  You can see that the screen is huge, just like in the old days that some of us are life-experienced enough to remember.  Other Lowellians, remember the Strand Theatre, with that ginormous chandelier that none of us wanted to sit under – just in case? There’s me in the lower right corner, wearing my hat and my mask.
Note the organ just below and in front of the stage.  The theatre was built in 1928, so silents still would have played there in the infantine era of sound.  Also, people would love to hear pre-show concerts on that organ – before you got to the raffles, the cartoons, the newsreel, the Lower half of the double bill, then the feature.  Here’s a closeup of the organ.  We had a little concert, ourselves, before the start of Weekends Only.  (Note:  both these shots are courtesy of Kayla Sturm.)
Kayla also took a nifty shot of the gorgeous ceiling decor.
She also photographed one  of my favorite things to shoot:  heads in relief.  I wonder who these guys are? To me, they look like Eisenhower, Marx, and Peter Lorre; but I’m probably wrong.
How about this shot by Kayla of the gorgeous arches?
Even the telephone booths were cool!
There were lots of early, pre-Production Code films by Joan and Constance – plus both Joan and Constance doing their bits against the Nazis in Manhunt and Madame Spy, respectively.  Come to think of it, Joan practically made a cottage industry out of taking down goosesteppers:  Manhunt, Confirm or Deny, The Man I Married, The Wife Takes a Flyer, and Margin for Error.  Who needs John Wayne?! (That’s Kayla’s photo of the Manhunt poster).
Anyway, Yang and I saw two films I’d never seen before:  She Wanted a Millionaire and Weekends OnlyHush Money had also been on the bill, but Disney forced the festival to pull it in a legal CYA move.  That’s the technical term my lawyer nephew gave me.  God bless UCLA for going to bat for the festival and still getting us these two films.  They were something else.  Millionaire is a humdinger, starting out as a romantic comedy and turning into a Gothic piece with a sadistic husband who lures a naif into marriage, using the typical secret passages, peep holes, and untrustworthy servants in his isolated, creepy mansion, but modernizing Otranto’s castle with high tech (for ’32) listening devices.  His manipulations, viciousness, and violence would give Manfred, Brother Ambrose, and Schedoni a run for their money.  Joan does get up the gumption to hang tough and give her tormentor what for; but, darn it all, they have her faint at a crucial moment.  They just had to go all Victorian, didn’t they? Victorian, with the exception of Margaret Hale in North and South, who has to get hit in the head with a rock to go down for the count.
Weekends Only was interesting and enjoyable.  Joan was a snappy, intelligent gal who grows up fast when her rich-girl paradise crashes and burns with the stock market in 1929.  She’s smart and independent, so she’s is no easy victim to sly seductions or aggressive assertions.  We also can tell that this is a pre-Production Code because it’s clear that when she and artist Ben Lyon fall in love and show that they genuinely care for each other there are a couple of fadeouts that indicate the two aren’t off for a round of pinochle.  Of course, misunderstandings do gum up the romantic works; however, things get resolved in a way that suggests their reconciliation is believable.  And the slick rich guy who wants Joan for his mistress bows out with humor.  The depictions of the loft apartments where Joan and Ben Lyons live hint at an almost pre-noir dreaminess.  Black and white is so evocative.  I do wonder what happened to the two portraits painted for the movie. (Thanks to Eve for the shot of the film’s opening on that delicious big screen!)
Anyway, our crew had a wonderful time.  We enjoyed films together.  Traded Joan gossip.  Got to know one another better.  Had a lovely dinner ensemble after the first movie on Friday afternoon on the outside terrace at the Delta Lake Inn – thanks to Eve’s planning!  Gosh, I had a great time.  I can’t wait for another Joan festival to bring us all back together!

Background on the origins of the Capitol Theatre:  Cinema Treasures  and Capitol Arts Complex Homepage.

Images from Weekends Only and She Wanted a Millionaire from IMDb

Thanks again to Kayla Sturm and Eve Lemon for letting me borrow their photos for this blog.

 

Hillside Cemetery, A Dunwich Kind of Place

Well, here I go trying to create a new blog with WordPress’s Godawful new editor.  Forgive me if this comes out crappy.  It’s taken me forever to figure out how to switch back and forth between html editor and visual-nothing is clearly labeled or explained.  I know this format is much uglier than the one I had previously.  We’re all at the mercy of tasteless, unimaginative, homogenizing forces.
DSCN5809Anyway, let’s move on to a more enjoyable descent into darkness.   Here’s a DSCN5834last gasp at wintry images with Part 2 of my report on the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams.  Across the street from the original portion of the graveyard, lonely mountains rise up to close you you in and the rest of the world out on this grey day.

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This is the newer portion of Hillside, and much more on an actualDSCN5812 hillside.  With the rolling slopes here, the graves, mostly 19th century,  tilt and are almost upended  as the ground has settled and shifted over the years-or is someone or something trying to push out?

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DSCN5865And those slopes are pretty darned high, too, with gravestones and monuments, bleakly, implacably towering upward from an earth  both browned by autumn and frosted by snow.

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This cemetery has it’s share of intriguing, impressive statuary, but theDSCN5850 brutal western Massachusetts winds, rain,DSCN5826 and snow have not been kind to them, gradually wearing them down to softened blurs in many cases.  The dove embracing this shrouded cross has lost its distinctive features and  now softly merges into the cross’s drapery.  The child and the lamb, representing her innocence, have melted into the seat of broken rocks symbolizing her life cut too short, too soon.    A DSCN5819relief that should have preserved a woman’s identity in endurable stone for eternity has blurred her features into  gentle vagueness.  Even her identity in the form of name, family, and birth and death dates have been smoothed away to soft whiteness.    A book of life’s secrets DSCN5830has subsumed its truths into a creamy blank of pages melted together, marked only by the stain of mold and decay.  Or might this be an edition of the Necronomicon?
DSCN5832Of course there are also still striking images of angels and symbolic broken columns, some standing relentless against nature’s assault by winds, weather, and  devouring by lichen and mold.  DSCN5854
Some are  less successful than others in resisting the assaulting elements, but are no less beautiful.DSCN5859
There was only one large mausoleum in this portion of the cemetery-butDSCN5837 it is impressive, especially for the art deco angel guarding the resting bodies of the family beneath.  There’s a wonderful starkness in its rising near the crest of the rolling hill, the dark tree grasping hungry branches at the sky beyond it.
And here is a closeup of the angel.  Regard the myriad layers of feathers creating a shield of wings behind its head, seeming both like a peacock’s tail in full extension and a wall of tongues of flames.

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The day had been cold, but not bitterly so.  The ground betrayed the tracks of deer, racoon, and perhaps more predatory mammals.  It was an isolated spot where no human seemed to have ventured to grieve or pay veneration for a very long time.  In fact, this day this cemetery seemed like a place lost to time, to  human connections.  Thank goodness I saw this cute guy and not some colour out of space.

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Continue reading Hillside Cemetery, A Dunwich Kind of Place

Celtic Crosses, Funerary Statues in a Winter Cemetery

As winter, we hope, is wrapping up and March approaches, I thought I’d post a couple of last minute winter visits to some of the local cemeteries to show you some of their lovely funerary work.  Last December, when we were first treated to snow-and when snow still seemed like a treat-, I took some neat shots in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Worcester.  I was particularly struck by not only the statuary but some reliefs and some Celtic crosses.
First, check out some of the neat  reliefs.  This one is graced with a stone head of Christ looking lovingly down at a stone chalice of His blood.  The Celtic cross also has the austere yet graceful petals of flowers carved upon it.  The vivid French blue of the winter sky bespeaks the crispness of the day.

 

There are many styles of Celtic Crosses rising out of the snow and winter-browned grass of this cemetery.  Many also are adorned with striking, symbolic carvings.  Others may  hold statuary.  This Celtic cross particularly caught my eyes, with it’s intricate  interlocking designs along its body and its distinctive symbolic figures at the top.  The snow beautifully reflects the cool purity of the sky’s winter blue.

 

A closer study of the figures in the upper central section of the cross reveals the creatures symbolizing the four gospel writers on each branch of the cross, with the knot of eternity and the Infinite in the center and praying angels at the very top,  From the top and moving clockwise, you have the winged ox/calf (Luke), the man (Matthew), the griffin/lion (Mark), and the eagle (John)- their wings and halos signifying their divine nature.

You can additionally see Celtic crosses and other monuments honoring priests in the cemetery.

 

 

 

 

The statuary is also quite striking in the winter light.  Here, a woman clings to a cross for salvation or for comfort at her losses.  The stone is weathered smooth, the statue almost featureless.  Perhaps a comment on the  transitoriness of life.

 

 

 

A time-smoothed lamb, couched within the limited protection of this monument further testifies to the relentless passage of time over even the young whom parents see as embodying a kind of immortality. It’s posture is not even terribly peaceful, seeming to indicate tightening oneself up in fear or cold.  Maybe both.

 

 

 

Then, there is this triumphant angel-who seems to be wearing a bustle in the height of 1880s fashion.  Her broken wing unintentionally testifies to the limits of human commemorations.

 

Still, when I tried to capture her face with  a shot from the front, the glow of the sun created this divine image that perhaps suggests that true immortality and enlightenment come from beyond this earth, transcending the capability of our mortal vision.  Ya think?

 

In the Bleak Midwinter: Hillside Cemetery

Just before the New Year, after a late December snow, Yang and I seized the occasion of some slightly warmer weather to take a walk in the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams, Mass. This cemetery is notable for more than one reason. First, it is split in half by Route 2. Second, its sloping grounds (more on one side than the other) create an eerie, desolate, even Lovecraftian, ambience. Those grounds are dotted with beautiful, if weather-worn, monuments. There is so much to remark, that I intend to split my blog into two parts: one for each side of Route 2.
This first blog focuses on the older section, which, though clearly on a hillside, presents far fewer and less abrupt rolling hills. It’s also the smaller of the two. Nevertheless, this shot reveals your legs will get a more than adequate workout hiking up these slopes. No matter which side of the highway you’re on, you see that you are encompassed by the Berkshires.
This white, colonaded mausoleum  is particularly interesting. You can see that it belongs to a family who must have been rather important in the town, perhaps even into the twentieth century. If you come closer, you can perceive the ironwork gate to the building has been sculpted into the graceful form of a woman. She faces away from this world into the next, for which the the mausoleum proves a portal,  Her form clings to the door and is curved with sorrow. The forsythia wreath wrapped over her right hand suggests that members of that family are still in the town, or at least are close enough to visit the grave. I was also struck by the beautiful Tiffany window that was part of the mausoleum.

 

 

 

 

 

Interestingly, the natural and the artistic worlds came to mirror each other in this portion of the Hillside Cemetery. I was much taken with this hewn from stone monument of the traditional broken tree, symbolizing growing life cut off. Age and weathering had buffed and grey-whitened this monument into a kind of soft purity. The burnt green and tawny grass, though muted colors, still provided a notable contrast to the stone. And then nature offered it’s own version of this monument in the blasted yet weather smoothed form of this ancient dead tree, its edges also rising  jaggedly toward the sky. Yet perhaps the actual tree was not quite such a symbol of life cut off, for it would be the perfect place for owls, woodpeckers, and squirrels to make home-though not all together! While all around the mountains hold us in.

 

There were  plenty of other intriguing monuments and carvings. I loved this contemplative, if not quite grieving, woman set on high. Bitter western Massachusetts winters had softened her sorrowing expression, but her posture, the thoughtful cock of her head, told the tale of her loss and reflections on it.

 

The relief on this tombstone of an anchor perhaps reveals that an adventurer on the seas had retired to the inner realms of New England to find his final rest. Check out the picture of the tomb itself and then the closeup of the relief.

 

 

This red rock column fascinated me, as well: so graceful and predominant on the slope. And those slopes were rolling to say the least! I’m glad we didn’t roll back down them. A close up also reveals a significant relief on the column: the inverted torch symbolizing death.

 

Here are more pictures to give you a sense of the sometimes steep, sometimes rolling grounds, all encompassed by the greys and faded browns of wintry Berkshires before snow would come to predominate. It’s an old place, a deserted place (even with Route 2 running by). An apt setting for a Lovecraft novel or short story-but not quite as apt as the part of the graveyard across the road. That photo blog is for another day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keystone Arch Bridges Trail

The Saturday after the elections, to get away from all the stress, Yang and I took a four-mile hike on the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail. It was something! The trail leads through woods in Chester to one of the oldest set of stone railroad bridges in the country. And some of these bridges are still in use! Here is the first of these arched granite bridges that we saw, one that is still used. We just missed the train going over it.
To get to the other arch bridges, you have to do some hiking through the forests. The paths run along the river and then up and down some semi-tough slopes. However, the work is certainly worth it. There were some cool views of woods, streams, and rock formations.

 

Before we got to the other bridges, we came across some interesting abandoned or ruined structures. We could see this tower piercing through the denuded trees not too far off to the right of the trail as we started. I’m not sure what it is, so if anyone has an idea, let me know. We would have investigated on the way back – there was a drive off the trail – but we were really bushed.
I don’t know what this rock wall was originally. A foundation? A pen? A border demarcation? Can’t tell you. Cool, though, isn’t it?

 

 

We were able to check out two of the abandoned bridges. These were built around 1840, using blue-stone granite. This part of the line was eventually abandoned along with the bridges because in following the river, the rails had to take too sharp a curve for the speed of the trains. Disaster prevailed. To get to this bridge, we walked along where the old rail bed was, between high walls of rock that had been blasted and dug out in the early/mid-1800s. At the bridge, the tunnel of rock opened into a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. There was still some color in the trees, so I could just imagine how gorgeous the vista would have been even a week earlier.
In this shot, you can see the handsome Yang sitting near the edge-I made sure his insurance was paid up before the hike. Click on the picture and look below him to the right to see the river. Above that, note the rest of the mountains to get an idea of how high up we are. To the left, you can see the path that came out of the rail bed we walked up between walls of rock.
This picture can give you an even better idea of how high up the bridge is. It’s taken on the same side of the bridge as the shot of Yang above, but from the other end of the bridge. Click on the picture and notice the tiny patches of blue at the bottom, on the river bank. Those tiny things are two people! Pretty far down, huh? The acoustics are darned good, though. We could hear those two girls laughing and joking as if they were right there on the bridge with us.
Here’s a shot of the other abandoned bridge, also on the same line. Though I didn’t get a picture of the surrounding hills, the view of them from here was also impressive, even with fall’s glory of color having passed. This trail is certainly worth a return trip at almost any time of year-well, maybe not through winter snows!
Click here for more information on the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail.

 

 

Hope Cemetery

The beautiful colors of fall have fallen now.  November is a month of greys, maroons, and browns, of  naked grey branches stark against the sky.  So, I thought you might enjoy a last look at the earlier glories of October, resplendent in my photos from the Hope Cemetery of Worcester, Mass.  Let’s start with this lovely line of sugar maples turning into flame.

 

Yang loves to see contrasting colors, and this phenomena is often on display early in the foliage season, when some trees, still bright green, form a gorgeous contrast with the flame of their more precocious brethren.

 

 

 

 

In the cemetery, the lovely autumn colors often form a striking contrast with the white or grey of wonderfully sculpted monuments in relief or freestanding statuary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, there is this mausoleum haloed by the green being subsumed by peach and lemony yellow leaves.

The statuary itself is a pleasure to view.  I was particularly taken by this one of a mother comforting her child.  Does it bespeak the death of an actual mother who would have guided her daughter heavenward or does it tell a story of the mother guiding her daughter from beyond the vale?  Perhaps both mother and daughter are now attaining spiritual heights together in the next world?
It does seem that the opening gates on this tomb stone bespeak the gates of the death opening onto eternal life.

Other symbolic monuments include the  tree stump representing a life cut short.

 

There is the book of life.

 

The book of life for a Mason.
The sad, kneeling, lost child, its form melted away by time and the elements, the stone from which it was carved as transient as human life.
Yet this relief’s portrait reinforces the bond of parent and child through life and death and afterlife.

 

 

 

Perhaps most intriguing as a symbol of life springing from death was this natural image.  We found an old, battered, on its last roots deciduous tree hosting, providing shelter and sustenance, for a baby pine tree.  How unlikely that these two should come together and grow together.  Who knows how long either will last, but they do create an unexpected surge of life.

 

 

An Autumn Walk in St. John’s Cemetery

Between Halloween and fall foliage, October seems the perfect month to post blogs on my cemetery visits.  St. John’s Cemetery is one of my favorites, a beautiful rural setting that was just starting to put on display its lovely autumn colors.  Unlike the rolling hills of some Romantic-style cemeteries, the layout is fairly flat, but it has a plethora of  old trees providing shade in summer and wonderful colors in the fall.  A river runs alongside with all kinds of  brush that serves as home to many different birds.
There is plenty of beautiful statuary in this cemetery, as well.  Some of it shows magnificently against the backdrop of autumn’s leafy splendor.  Here we’ve got Jesus.
And here we have a sad woman shouldering the sacred cross, perhaps striving to lift the burden from Christ’s shoulders with repenting her sins.
There are so many beautiful statues here celebrating Catholic figures of holiness-many of which you won’t find in non-Catholic cemeteries.  We found many different versions of the Virgin Mary.  These are some  especially interesting ones.  This monument evokes the Infant of Prague motif.

 

 

These other two images of Mary are intriguing as well.  The first figure reminds me of Our Lady or Lourdes or of Fatima.  The second shows her crowned Queen of Earth and the Heavens, with the Christ child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The images of angels were fascinating, too.  I love this relief that seems to show Saint Michael, sword in hand, ready for Someone Special.

 

 

 

 

 

However this exquisite carving of an angel struck me the deepest.  I’m including more than one shot, I’m so impressed with it.  Look at the deep contemplation in the features.  What is this angel thinking?  Brooding on the fall of some many angels and humans once bright with promise?  Or is there a trace of a smile in the subtle shaping of his cheeks and lips?  Take time to delight in how the material of his gown seems to drape gracefully as a part of his body.  What does he hold tucked behind?  A sword or a staff?  The features are so gracefully, believably carved that not a single Dr. Who fan would blink in his presence.

 

I’m just not sure who this saint is.  He’s in monk’s robes, so it can’t be Joseph-and no baby Jesus. There are no animals around, so it wouldn’t be Saint Francis.  No baby Jesus on his shoulder-not St. Christopher.  Maybe St. Anthony or St. Peter?  He is holding a cross, the way Peter was martyred, but what about the skull?

 

 

There are other wonderful statues that are not of Saints, much in line with what you’d expect in any cemetery.  Behold this piece that looks like a cathedral.

 

 

 

 

Then there are some lovely statues of women, like this one of a mother reading from a book to her daughter. The book is probably a Bible, but I like to think of it as something by C. Brontë.  Charlotte was actually pretty spiritual.
You can also find some impressive examples of Celtic Crosses in this cemetery, some with intricate relief designs carved on them.  Below are two examples I found captivating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The river that parallels one side of this cemetery hosts many wonderful critters.  We’ve seen ducks and a Great Blue Heron here.  Once we even saw a muskrat swim gaily upstream.  The brush and trees along the banks host flocks of Robins, Chickadees, Vireos, Phoebes, Catbirds,  and King Birds.  In the summer, we’ve seen Orioles and woodpeckers flying and perching on the imposing tress on the grounds.
Speaking of birds, one time we showed up in the cemetery too late to be allowed to continue our walk.  As we were driving slowly toward the main road to leave, Yang asked me, “What’s that on the tomb stone ahead?”  It was a great big red-tailed hawk!  The pictures aren’t perfect because it was night and we took them through the windshield of our car, but they are pretty darned neat.  I especially like the one where Mr. or Ms. Hawk does an almost 180 with the head and stares right at us.  Yikes!
Lastly, this gravestone raised  an important question for me.   If Curley’s here, where did they plant Moe and Larry?  Or Shemp?