Nothing like a little of somebody else's tragedy -- tragedy that you can walk away from after you've gawked at it for a bit -- to restore some sense of perspective.
Lovettsville was established as "The German Settlement" by Pennsylvania Dutch emigrés, who'd escaped the bloodthirsty Europe of the Thirty Years' War and the War of the Spanish Succession in the first decade of the 18th century.
These people were (and are probably proud to say they still are) a parsimonious bunch. Compared to the contemporary Quaker and English neighboring towns of Waterford and Hillsboro, Lovettsville is a bit unprepossessing, grandeur-wise. I've seen comments by Yardley Taylor, a mid-19th-century surveyor, who was moved to observe that the descendants of these first settlers at the foot of Short Hill had established marvelously prosperous farms and businesses and could easily afford to improve their homes -- but still chose to live in small, rude, one-room cabins.
I took a picture of one of the earliest gravestones I could find:
Gebohren den 6 Abril
Born 6 April
A terribly sad story: A young child, no more than 20 months, who died we don't know how. But it was a cruel, cruel world these people inhabited, and the Lovettsville cemetery (as with any cemetery in the world that predates antiseptics and antibiotics) is filled with tragic cases like this. But what's so moving about this one is the amateurishness of the carving -- backwards N's, visible line-rulings, nonstandard spelling of geboren (my German is BabelFish pathetic -- if anyone can tell me if this is an older spelling I'd appreciate it).
But despite the lack of skill, look at the obvious care lavished by the barely literate carver. I can't help but think that this was done by the child's father, and when I think of the idea of having to find within myself the strength to carve my own infant child's headstone using only materials to hand, I have a hard time keeping myself from weeping.
But there it is, 215 years later. We still know An-Maria lived. You were a good father, Herr Mauer. I'd like to shake your hand.
I also speculate that a professional stonecutter moved to the valley soon after An-Maria shuffled off this mortal coil, because the gravestones started to look like this:
Such beautiful lettering! Such elegant lines, graceful strokes of varying weight, subtle widening of the descenders in the lowercase y's -- look at the descending loop in the lowercase g in the word "age" in the second to last line! Mary, I'm sure, was worth the effort -- every bit as elegant and refined as her tombstone when she died at the age of 28. I bet Samuel really loved her.
Here's Margaret Colmes Wire, who's of special interest because the Wire family still runs the George's Mill Bed and Breakfast just down the road from me. Margaret was 29 when she died in childbirth in 1821. The text in the heart at the bottom of the stone informs us that her unnamed infant is buried beside her.
Hannah Cole was born at the same time as the U.S. Constitution and died the year the Monroe Doctrine was declared.
Here's the detail that prompts her inclusion here, a sober truth that's been very much on my mind lately:
Remember, Man, as you pass byThank you, Mrs. Cole. Thank you very much.
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be
Prepare for Death and follow me
(Psst! Sisyphus Shrugged kids! There's lots more good stuff... Try the Mobberly Trail, an ongoing series about an entertaining Civil War psycho (there's a link to the next post in the series at the bottom of each post) -- plus I've got stuff about the Pogo Comical Strip, Rhino Records psychedelic rereleases, how to write the World's Catchiest Song, an abandoned stone house I found in the woods near my house, a meditation on time... If you ever get lost click the title of the blog; that'll take you back to today's post.)