Thursday, January 10, 2008

See That My Grave is Kept Clean

Well, my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
Well, my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
Now I believe what the bible told

There's just one last favor I'll ask of you
And there's one last favor I'll ask of you
There's just one last favor I'll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean

—Blind Lemon Jefferson

Yesterday, a briskly windy day, the power went out. Again. A tree collapsed on the line downhill, blacking out our road for several hours.

Rather than sit around in a dark, cold house waiting for the Dominion Power guys to do their slow and steady thing, I decided I'd go look for old John F. Hartman, the fellow who carved his name into Buzzard Rock in 1851. Or at least what's left of him.

I knew which cemetery he'd been buried in, but I'd never visited it. I knew of its existence, but only in theory.

From the 1830s to the 1880s, there was no Methodist church on this side of Short Hill. The nearest churches in this valley were in Lovettsville, some four miles away from the ridge, and they were Lutheran and Calvinist. The pious area Methodies along the eastern foot of the mountain would walk over it to attend Ebenezer Church in Waters -- so what if there was a hulking great 800-foot-tall obstacle between them and the Lord?

The road over the mountain, imaginatively called the Ebenezer Church Road (or, alternatively, the William Graham Road, for reasons I've not yet figured out), began to fall into disrepair in the 1880s, when a Methodist church was built on this side of the mountain. The Ebenezer Church itself was moved to a more central location in Waters, and the old graveyard abandoned.

When we hear "abandoned graveyard," I think most of us might be tempted to think that they simply stopped burying people there, and leave it at that. But for reasons I can't yet fathom, this particular graveyard was not only discontinued, but left to return to a state of nature.

Even though I knew its approximate location, it took me quite a while to find it. I even had to call a friend who had visited it before for help. Although it's just off the road, you wouldn't know it was there unless you actually dove into the woods looking for it. It must be completely impossible to view in the summer, when the undergrowth is impassable -- not to mention the snakes and ticks that would no doubt feast on you.

On a forbidding January day, to say this place is creepy is a world-class understatement. I'm not a believer in ghosts in any nonmetaphorical way, but I wouldn't blame you for getting a little spooked here. Quite a few horror-film conventions crept into my mind as I gingerly tiptoed around. Holes opening up and swallowing me, a bony hand reaching out of the rotting leaves and grabbing my ankle, a disembodied voice calling me...

When a nearly impassable high ridge stands between two towns, there is a very real "this-side" and "that-side" feeling to the human relations between them. When you have to work quite hard to walk to a place, you might be tempted not to do it. Nowadays, when I want to visit my friend Marty, whose luthier shop stands quite high on the other side of the mountain, perhaps two miles from me as the crow flies, I have to drive around the mountain, crossing the Potomac at Brunswick, MD, and back into Virginia at Harpers Ferry. The whole thing takes a good half-hour, door-to-door.

Not so in 1840. The walk is certainly hard, but the spots where the road is still usable go quickly. "This side" and "that side" wasn't nearly such a barrier then. You could visit a sweetheart or a business partner or a relative in a reasonably short time. This graveyard is evidence of the existence of the road: There are both "this-side" and "that-side" names here. Everhart: This side....

...Demory: That side.

Demory's gravestone is merging with that tree; the tree is literally consuming the stone as it grows.

What's most affecting about this place is the forgottenness of it. We carve our names and the dates of our lifetimes in stone to preserve them, and we trust our descendants to honor and remember them. There's something quite wrong about finding these unhonored and unremembered names here, like a trust has been violated. As I've said, I don't know why this graveyard was allowed to fall into this silent decay (I suspect money was somehow involved), but it's ineffably sad to witness it.

I may have made the walk sound too easy. I've never gone up and over Short Hill twice in one day; my treks have almost always been to the summit of the ridge and back down again on my side. A few times I've climbed over the mountain and then returned by the riverbank at the north end, but never up and over twice. I was utterly destroyed during the second descent, my thighs and knees burning and my new hip bitching awfully.

So I bear the folks buried here, the "that-siders," enormous respect, and unmitigated admiration. To make that walk to attend church every Sunday must have given them a quiet pride and self-satisfaction. We, I can hear them saying, we walk over this mountain for the Lord. We don't make a big deal out of it, we just do it. It's what we do.

I never found Hartman's gravestone. The name preserved in stone at the top of the mountain, which I imagine he carved as a casual lark on a bored afternoon, is the inscription that testifies that he lived. The stone meant to commemorate his life, at the mountain's foot, is gone.


JD said...

Beautiful post, Mr. Jingo.

You were probably right in assuming it was money that is at the bottom of the cemetery's neglect, and sometimes that translates into whose jurisdiction the cemetery fell under. It's likely that there were no remaining descendants of the interred to advocate for mowing and repair, and people just let it go.

Anonymous said...

A dreaded sunny day
so I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
so I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
while Wilde is on mine
So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
all those people all those lives
where are they now ?
with loves, and hates
and passions just like mine
they were born
and then they lived and then they died
which seems so unfair
and I wanted to cry
You say: "ere thrice the sun hath done salutation to the dawn"
and you claim these words as your own
but I'm well-read, have heard them said
a hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)
if you must write prose/poems
the words you use should be your own
don't plagiarize or take "on loans"
there's always someone, somewhere
with a big nose, who knows
and who trips you up and laughs
when you fall
You say: "ere long done do does did "
words which could only be your own
you then produce the text
from whence was ripped
(some dizzy whore, 1804)
A dreaded sunny day
so let's go where we're happy
so I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
so let's go where we're wanted
so I meet you at the cemetery gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
but you lose
because Wilde is on mine

HomefrontRadio (Simon) said...

Ah, Morrissey! Thanks for stopping by, you over-dramatic, dark-stuffy-bedroom, sad, pale, middle-aged-spready, no-friends, endlessly-repackaging-the-same-odds-and-sods-collections bastard.

I'm off to listen to the Archies before Jens Lenkman shows up.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

What do you suppose that carved ilustration is on Everhart's gravestone? Kind of looks like abstract cacti on my screen, which would be highly unusual in Virginia.

Neddie said...

Thank you, JD. I'm sure you're right about the families moving away. Many of those "that-side" families did indeed move west or elsewhere.

What do you suppose that carved ilustration is on Everhart's gravestone?

It's a stylized weeping willow, a common symbol of mourning in the nineteenth century. Wonder Woman said she thought it looked like a human brain, a not-so-common symbol of mourning.

John B. said...

I have mourned for quite a few brains (or lack of) in my day...

Anonymous said...

Neddie, I've never seen anybody's power go out as often as yours does. Are they using baling wire to connect your place to the main power lines? It seems like every time a squirrel gets hungry, the lights go out over there.

Didn't a 75-year-old lady not far from you take a hammer down to the local cable offices a couple weeks back? They kept giving her the runaround at the customer service department so she went and smashed the bejeesus out of all the computers in their main office. She got away with just community service and a warning not to do it again, too.

You may have no other recourse than to do the same type of thing at the local power company offices.

Sunny Jim

Neddie said...

Yeah, Jim, it does go out all too often. The power cables are strung through trees, and whenever a strong wind or an ice storm comes along, the cables are really vulnerable to falling foliage. The power company won't, of course, consider burying the cables -- heavens, that would cost money! -- and apparently the manpower and time spent constantly repairing the lines is more cost-effective.

They do send crews around every couple of years to trim the branches back away from the lines, but you see how effective that is.

I'm very seriously considering buying a backup generator, just a small one strong enough to keep our well-pump, furnace and fridge going. Maybe a wood-stove, too, although I'm damned if I know where I'd have one installed that wouldn't be a major menace to traffic.

Kevin Wolf said...

I may be wrong -- certainly you understand these people and their times better than I -- but somehow I think those crossing the mountain to attend services would not for a second experience pride.

Another great post, Neddie.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
broadrun said...

Sounds like you live on the east side of Blue Mountain? I lived in that area for a few years and the power was always going out for long periods. This change in life's tempo was a peaceful interlude. I find the state of abandon cemeteries unsettling. A pair of my 2nd great grandparents are buried in a similar cemetery, Mt. Nebo, near St. Joseph, Missouri. It is interesting that the well tended graves are those with plenty of descendants in the neighborhood, two families, while the others are kicked over and trampled by the cattle that graze nearby. Guess there is nobody left on either side of the mountain who remembers the people in your abandon cemetery. There are a lot of these.

soubriquet said...


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled hp and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
.And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my works. Ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Anonymous said...

OK, well it's 2010. If you're still reading this, here's an update on the Old Ebenezer Church cemetery. I'm a Demory descendent, William Demory's great-great-great grandson. Members of our family are working with the property owners, Loudon County, and local preservation organizations, to clean up and restore the graveyard.

The owner of the land where the cemetery sits has given us permission to visit and maintain it. However, the access road next to the cemetery, Snyder Lane, is privately owned, and its owner has not given his permission.

As soon as the situation is resolved, we'll be helping a local contractor with the restoration. Members of other families who have ancestors buried at Old Ebenezer Cemetery are welcome to join us. (Among these are the Derry's, the Virts's, the Everhart's, and the Coe's.) I'll post photos on Facebook, which you're welcome to download. You can find me at Steve Marcella,, or by e-mail,