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.
Anyway, let’s move on to a more enjoyable descent into darkness. Here’s a last 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.
This is the newer portion of Hillside, and much more on an actual 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?
And 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.
This cemetery has it’s share of intriguing, impressive statuary, but the brutal western Massachusetts winds, rain, 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 relief 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 has 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?
Of 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.
Some are less successful than others in resisting the assaulting elements, but are no less beautiful.
There was only one large mausoleum in this portion of the cemetery-but 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.
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.
I promised you a second post on our adventures in the Lowell Cemetery, so here it is! This blog will concentrate on the unique statuary gracing the cemetery. However, to begin, I want to revisit two of the monuments I showed you last time out. I’ve done some additional research and discovered intriguing background on them.
First is this beauty. I wrote about it as a penitent soul being ministered by an angel. However, I found out that it has an intriguing back story. A mill girl had saved up a considerable sum over the years, planning for a special monument to be erected upon her death, which came to pass in 1886, after a long life. For various reasons, her plans weren’t implemented until some after her burial. Finally, when everything came together for the tomb stone to be created, there was $8000 available (lots of dough back then!), and those left in charge employed Daniel Chester French (creator of the Minute Man Monument) to create this work of art (Chris Camire).
This monument to the Bonney family has been the subject of all kinds of crazy stories about witches and hauntings. However, the truth is that it is just a remarkable monument to the Bonney family (“Mysterious Witch Bonney”). It was created by Frank Elwell, the director of the Sculpture Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He titled the monument “New Life”(Camire), no references to witchcraft at all! The tomb honors Clara Bonney, who died relatively young in 1894, as well as other members of her family (Camire) – which kind precludes the monument housing the remains of anyone executed in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s as some like to claim. I’m just saying . . .
Maybe the most remarkable monument, definitely the most well known, is this gorgeous recumbent lion. Called the Ayer Lion it memorializes James Ayer, a business man so prominent that he has a major street named after him in the city. The face is so powerfully expressive you almost forget it’s not a human. The lion is made of the finest Italian marble and was created in Italy, by Price Joy (“The Ayer Lion,” Lowell Cemetery).
I don’t have any back stories on the following statuary, but I think their beauty speaks for itself. I did note that books and publishing seemed popular, with two monuments taking the forms of volumes. I believe this one on the right honors two publishing partners. I also found the one below that showed the “open volume” of one man’s life, resting steadfast on a rock.
And below, is a closeup of the text of his life.
There were also some funky, creative shapes. I love the intertwining of initials here with what could be some form of a Celtic cross.
I can’t even begin to tell you what this thing is supposed to be – but it does have a kind of Lovecraftian flavor, does it not? Speaking of Lovecraft, there were some people taking pictures of a wonderfully goth-coutured wedding party. The groom had perfect H.P. hair, glasses, and suit! We exchanged conspiratorial smiles as Yang and I drove by!
Of course there were also plenty of angels, women ready to guide you to the unknown, and wise matrons. Something that gave many of these statues a wonderfully eerie quality was that, as Yang noted, they hadn’t been cleaned, so they frequently were aged with wear from the elements. This woman bearing a cross is a particularly good example. Is she coming to get me or guide me? Her blurred features make her seem unnervingly not quite human and her motives ambivalent.
Others could be put in unique settings like atop a tall monument or caged within the marble barriers of something like a spire. I see the woman above as a symbol of the heaven to which we all aspire above us. Holding a victory wreath, she implies if we reach her we can achieve the victory of salvation. Perhaps she is a guide waiting in a liminal space to lead us ever upward. Still, what about the woman encased in marble. Does she need to be kept in to protect us? Don’t blink!
Uh oh! Hope that Whovian reference wasn’t too unnerving! Here’s a picture of the victory lady in closeup to comfort you.
And what better way to end an October visit to a Romantic cemetery than with an autumn moon in a pure blue October sky? Keats would surely approve.
Below are the web sites where I found the background information not evident from just looking at the monuments. Check them out for more information and photos:
Chris Camire. “What a Site! The Lowell Cemetery Celebrates Its 175th Anniversary and ‘The Serenity of Nature.'” The Lowell Sun. 16 June 2016. http://www.lowellsun.com/lifestyles/ci_30022685/what-site
“The History of the Ayer Lion” Lowell Cemetery. 2015. http://www.lowellcemetery.com/
“The Mysterious Witch Bonney.” Atlas Obscura. 2017. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mysterious-witch-bonney
Last weekend, Yang and I paid a twilight visit to the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. It’s a beautiful cemetery on the bay, encircled and populated by graceful old trees. The graveyard is designed in the Romantic style initiated by the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and emulated by others, such as Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, the Lowell Cemetery (guess where), and Sleepy Hollow in Concord – Tarrytown, too!
This style is characterized by sloping greens; stately, shady trees; ponds; and monuments created to reflect both the sadness of loss and the serenity of eternal peace. Keats and Shelley would just die, so to speak, for a sojourn here.
This cemetery is surrounded on the street side by a stone wall of large rocks. So, it captures the New England tradition of dry stone walls, but adds solemn majesty by using boulders as its dry stones. I love this configuration near the entrance. We came here close to dusk because Rosie and ‘Tasha kept us out later than usual walking in the yard. So, we had to hurry a bit and were unable to stroll and take photographs at our leisure.
The posture and positioning of many of these statues seem to tell a moral about death. Perhaps women were usually chosen to immortalize in keeping with Poe’s dictum that the saddest thing in the world is the death of a beautiful woman. Each of these beautiful figures seems to convey a message back to the living. This woman looks down on our world, bearing a veiled gift. The broken column signifies a life cut off. I’m not sure where I learned about the column, but I do remember it was a legitimate source.
Here, a woman peers off into the beyond, urging us to look upward and outward, past this vale of tears – or is that veil of tears? Either makes sense in this context. She also holds an anchor on her far side. Does it symbolize that she is anchored to us, though she is looking to attain something beyond the earthly realm – or is she from a seafaring family?
I’m particularly interested in this figure, looking down at us from the heights of a pillar, perhaps symbolizing she is no longer anchored to this earth but soars above us toward the empyrean. Still, her gaze of concern is fixed on us suffering mortals below.
I found this stylized monument of an angel particularly intriguing. Yang thought it had an Egyptian look, but I find it much more art deco. It seems to flow down into the ground – or does it shoot upward?I didn’t have a chance to check the date on it to see if it fit into the deco period. I’m so impressed by its soft but still clean lines.
The weathering of this limestone angel blurs and softens it’s features so that it seems ethereal – and more than a little eerie. What do you think? What does she perceive hovering above even her? Don’t blink!
The cemetery has other lovely qualities. There is a pond surrounded by hedges, but I didn’t get any pictures this time. We had to rush. However, I did get a shot of this gazebo. What a wonderful place to sit and read. Yang graded papers here, while I attended a Renaissance Conference in town one time.
I have to add that there are some impressive selections of Celtic crosses. Some in family groupings.
I especially loved the balustrades or curved stone work surrounding or leading up to family burial plots. The first of these pictures shows a lovely plaza surrounded by a bowed stone rail. I remember when there were actually a barrier of tall yews forming a second circle inside the balustrade. You couldn’t see within the green cavern it created. One of the grounds-people told me they had to cut down the yews because weird stuff went on in there at times. This was some time ago that I heard this tale. I hadn’t heard any tales about these gently curving steps and barrier, leading to this prominent family’s plot. I do love the graceful shape.
Of course, here are the pictures that all you faithful Lovecraftians are waiting for: Mr. Lovecraft’s family plot and monuments. We actually had some shots of me next to the monuments, but I looked awful enough to give a Shuggoth the willies. So, vanity prevailed and I ditched them. You may notice that there were deposits of presents by Mr. H.P.’s grave. If you look carefully on the gravestone, you can see that his birthday had been just a few days before.
There are lots of beautiful scenes that I hadn’t time to photograph that twilight, but seeing that I couldn’t fit in all the wonderful images that I took this trip, I don’t feel too bad now about not getting them. There should be another trip, maybe when the fall colors are aflame. Won’t that be a treat to see? So, with this proud, victorious angel, I will bid you adieu and slip away into the gloaming – whatever the heck a gloaming is!
So, to keep you entertained while you breathlessly await the forthcoming blogs on my appearance at The Book Lover’s Gourmet and my adventures at the Shakespeare of America Convention in New Orleans, here’s a link to an audio interview with me by Pat Driscoll for The New Worcester Spy. It contains more details on my interests in film noir and horror, on film and on the page, and even a little more on my background. Just click here. It’s what Dusty would want!
The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA is celebrating the 125th birthday of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Providence’s own native son, with a week-long film festival. They kicked things off last night with two wonderful independent productions by HPLHS (the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society), adaptations of “The Whisperer in the Darkness” and “The Call of C’Thullu.” Both are done in vintage form, the first as a 1930s Universal horror film––complete with zeppelin rather than bi-plane circling the globe for the opening card/production logo, though the zeppelin moves with far more stateliness across the screen than that buzzing aeroplane (as our boy Lovecraft would spell it). The adaptation of Whisperer was superb, with the 1930s chiaroscuro black and white cinematography creating as much eerie, unsettling mystery as the films of the earlier era, also drawing on their use of canted camera angles and under lighting to evoke a strange blend of nightmare and melancholy that was highly effective for putting the strangeness of Lovecraft on the screen. The shots of Mt. Holyoke College for Miskatonic University were delightfully Gothic. Just one thing, why do college professors in films always have offices three times what I have––or what any one I know has?The adaptation of to film was faithful to Lovecraft’s actual writing, adding on only what rounded out his tale in the proper vein of horror. I was a little confused at the ending, but I can’t say too much without giving anything away. I do not want to spoil this film for Lovecraft, old movie, or horror devotes. Also worth noting is that the concessions to modern film making only improved on the old style, with the acting untroubled by the early thirties, “I’ve just come from Broadway and I am ACTING!” that undermines so many performances until the mid and late 1930s. The use of stop motion animation and CGI together creates delightfully creepy creatures! It is such a wonderful film. Find it and watch it –– the perfect treat for Halloween. It’s available in dvd and Blu Ray at the HPLHS web site, C’thullu Lives!
And your second feature should be none other than the same one we saw, The Call of C’thullu. Done as a silent film, this movie, uses the lighting and shadows, camera angles, sets, music, and such of silent era masterpieces like Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligeri, The Cat and the Canary, and Vampyr (actually partially sound) to convey the suspense, eeriness, and ambiguity of the era. Again, the acting is sound, like that of the good silent films––not over the top as people tend to stereotype all silent features. The visit to C’thullu’s island of R’lyeh was a tense and delightfully disquieting descent into horror. I vociferously applaud the HPLHS’s film making efforts and hope they keep at it. If you visit their site, you’ll also find great updates on all things (so to speak) Lovecraft, as well as Miskatonic paraphernalia and even sea shanties from Innsmouth on dvd. I’m inspired to go back and revise my own Lovecraft/film noir pastiche now!
Image of Lovecraft from Google Public Domain Images