Monday, March 28, 2011

Honor Your Dead

Death is a much bigger business than people think it is, but it seems as if nowadays, once you are dead, you’re dead and no one is going to pay attention to you any longer.  That seems to be the sentiment of one local cemetery in Norristown. 
Back in the Victorian times, cemeteries used to be places where families would go to be with their dearly departed and spend a lazy summer afternoon.  You can see evidence of that if you go to one of the large cemeteries in the area such as West Laurel Hill where the grounds are meticulously maintained.  According to one site I looked at, “views and practices related to death and burial in America paralleled those of Europe and began to change significantly in the early 1800s”.  Graveyards were made elaborate and landscaped like parks.  People had various customs they would follow, such as wearing mourning clothes for a specific period of time depending on your relationship to the deceased. 
Nowadays death is something we rarely talk about.  It is a difficult subject to talk to your parents about, and certainly one you don’t discuss around the proverbial water cooler at the office.  Many people seem to have a fear of dying; I know I did until a few months ago.  But that’s not what this entry is all about.  This entry is about the abysmal shape of the Tremont Cemetery on Sandy Street in Norristown.  A few days ago, I happened to be in that area and wandered through the graveyard.  I was shocked and dismayed at the condition.  As you can see in some of these pictures, the grass is overgrown, headstones toppled, and trash strewn about.  Is this any way to honor our dead?  Tremont has some incredible history there.  Yes, most of the people buried there were poor, in fact it is rumored that there is a mass grave of the people who died from the flu in 1918.  But it is significant as Tremont is a cemetery where blacks and whites are buried together side by side.  That was almost unheard of in the 1800s.  But the minister at the First Baptist church at that time was very forward thinking and demanded that it would be that way. 
I had a chance to communicate with the new pastor of the First Baptist Church, who owns the property. They have a small congregation and with limited resources they can’t maintain the grounds and only mow the grass in the spring and summer.  I know of several groups who used to help out, but don’t any longer.  We have a wonderful peaceful place in our community and it is falling apart.  It could be a beautiful park if people could get over their fear of death and just go and sit and contemplate in this small open space.  And since the owners of the property don’t have the resources to help, they need help from us.  After all, evidence of our past is there, including some people who fought and died for our freedom and they are being forgotten. 

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