Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Fancy Me Mad" event at St. John's Church

Last night, the River City Cemetarians attended the St. John’s Church Foundation and the Poe Museum’s “Fancy Me Mad,” their fall event “honoring the spirits of the season, All Hallow’s Eve, as well as master storyteller, Edgar Allan Poe.” While Poe isn’t buried at St. John’s church, his mother is.
This is the second year that I have attended the event. Last year was fantastic but this year they added more ambiance, a few more spirit-actors, and two storytelling sessions. Last year we were packed into the church; with the additional storytelling sessions, we had more room to relax. It also made it so that we were not so pressed for time.
Before we headed over to St. John’s Church, the group met at Patrick Henry Pub & Grille, which is one block from the graveyard. Patrick Henry Pub & Grille was built in 1850. According to Style Weekly, the location used to be a brothel and a speak-easy. And, like so many old buildings from that time, it also is allegedly haunted. The only spirits we saw were those placed on the table by our waitress.
After an amazing dinner where I was thankful that my friends let me try their onion rings, fries, and roasted vegetables which were all so delicious, we headed over to historic St. John’s Church, where Patrick Henry gave his famous Give me Liberty or give me Death speech.
We were each given a self-guided tour that included a map and an itinerary. We followed the pathways to various spirits who recounted stories of their lives and times. As we meandered our way through the churchyard there was tons of ambiance and even some fun puns, including the parish hall being named the perish hall for the evening. 
My coffin selfie
The event concluded with us entering the church to listen to the organist play some spooky music. Finally, we heard tales from Mr. Poe himself.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Enrichmond's Evergreen Cemetery Community Survey

The Enrichmond Foundation’s mission is to serve the people, parks, and public spaces of the City of Richmond. They also act as an umbrella non-profit organization for volunteer groups and Friends’ groups. For example, The Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery is a partner organization of the Enrichmond Foundation

Along with the $400,000 funds set aside by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation to create a conservation easement that would maintain the property as a public cemetery, The Enrichmond Foundation purchased Evergreen Cemetery this summer with the hopes of restoring the grounds to their past glory. I cannot wait to see all the volunteer efforts come to fruition.

Here is your chance to voice your thoughts. The Enrichmond Foundation has created The Evergreen Cemetery Community Survey to solicit public feedback. It is for anyone who would like to give general feedback regarding the cemetery. Even if you have not yet visited Evergreen Cemetery, you are encouraged to give feedback based on your experiences at other cemeteries. The survey is short and requires no more than ten minutes of your time to answer.

To access the survey, click the picture of their post below.

For more information on Evergreen Cemetery, see my post (click here). 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fall and Cemeteries: Here's a list of events

Saturday mornings frequently include a cup of coffee and me sitting in front of the computer to catch up on reading blog posts, especially on raining mornings like this one.

The Official Tourism Travel Blog of the Commonwealth of Virginia shared a post on Facebook this morning that was originally published last year, “Discovering Virginia’s Lesser Known Outdoor Destinations.”

Virginia is chock-full of famous outdoor venues like the Appalachian Trail, Great Falls of the Potomac and the James River. Yet other natural locales are lesser visited, and lesser known.  Virginia’s outdoor splendor can also be found in these unheralded places that you can discover and enjoy.

September has just begun and I am already thinking about cooler days, fewer snakes in the cemeteries, and the leaves changing. This is the perfect time to start planning fall activities, although I have to admit that I am booked through the beginning of November. There are so many fall activities here in Virginia. Of all the fun things to do, cemeteries top my list. Why drive out to see fall foliage when you can walk around a cemetery and see it close up and personal. Not only do you get to see the leaves changing, there are numerous health benefits of walking the cemetery grounds. 

Need some help planning?
If you would like to join the River City Cemetarians, here’s our Fall Schedule: 

Saturday, September 9th at 9:30AM- Cathedral of the Sacred Heart
Saturday, September 23 at 1PM (Winchester, VA)- Mt. Hebron Cemetery Walking Tour
Sunday, September 24 at 1:00 PM- Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery Inaugural Book Fair
Saturday, September 30 at 11:00 AM (Williamsburg, VA)- Bruton Parish Churchyard & Jones Family Cemetery
Saturday, October 21at 4:30 PM- Dinner & Fancy Me Mad Graveyard Tour
Saturday, November 11 at 9 AM (Lynchburg, VA)- The Gravegarden/ Old City Cemetery

Need more suggestions: 

Shockoe Hill Cemetery posted their upcoming events:
Free Sunday Cemetery Tours-- September 18th; October 2nd and 16th at 2PM
Their Shockoe Hill Cemetery Book Fair is Sunday, September 24th, from 1-5 pm at the Byrd Park Round House.

They also have scheduled their clean-up and cradle grave gardening workshop for Saturday, October 7th, from 9 am - 3 pm.

Hollywood Cemetery also has several walking tours scheduled through October. You can check out their schedule here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fred Gwynne- Sandy Mount United Methodist Churchyard

If I played a clip, I’m pretty sure that you would recognize his distinctive bass-baritone voice. Most of us know him as the lovable Herman Munster from The Munsters or even his later role as the endearing and knowledgeable neighbor in Pet Sematary. When I posted where I was going, my brother immediately dropped lines from My Cousin Vinny. Fred Gwynne was an American actor who passed just shy of his 67th birthday in 1993. 

When I learned that Gwynne was buried in an unmarked grave in Finksburg, Maryland, I figured that I would be taking a journey to his graveside this summer alone. It’s probably important to note right here that I don’t get googlie-eyed over celebrity. In fact when I hear the term “Hollywood Actor”, I usually tune out. So, I’m not necessarily making it a goal to visit actors’ resting places. But there are a few actors who mean something to me; and, Mr. Gwynne is certainly one of them.

Gwynne is buried at Sandy Mount United Methodist Church cemetery which is behind the church. Sandy Mount church has a long history and I was fortunate enough to find the paperwork for the historic listing and even the nomination for location to be added to the National Historic Places listing. There is a deed from September 28, 1827 that shows that the land was conveyed from Allen Baker to five trustees under the condition that they must erect a house of worship. In 1855 there was a controversy about whether or not to allow enslaved Africans to worship with their “masters”. The church remained divided and part of the congregation moved to another location and began Pleasant Grove Methodist Episcopal Church… that is, until 1943 when they were again reunited. In 1867, three stone masons by the names of Ward, Bush and Shipley who had built the Pleasant Grove church, built Sandy Grove’s stone sanctuary which currently isn’t being used by the church except for special occasions. There is even a legend that because the three men had gone out drinking the front walls appear slightly irregular. It would be fascinating to find more information about the cemetery itself but what I have discovered has been quite limited. Although it isn’t very big, there are some old gravestones.

When I was doing research for the journey, I didn’t expect that most people would want to visit a grave without even a marker. Of course, my friends are not *most people* so it turns out that once Jade and I went, a few friends were very excited about the adventure (and perhaps a bit disappointed they didn’t get to come along).  

Why Gwynne’s remains rest in an unmarked grave isn’t quite clear. As far as I can tell, at the end of his life Gwynne wanted to be Fred Gwynne the man and not Fred Gwynne the actor. In an article in Harvard’s The Crimson (2001), it reports that his daughter Madyn Gwynne reveals, "He was a far more complex character than the one he played on The Munsters." Of course he was! Gwynne studied portrait-painting before enlisting in the Navy in World War II. He served as a radio operator in a submarine-chasing vessel. After serving, he attended the New York Phoenix School of Design, and Harvard University. I was excited to learn that Gwynne was also a children’s author including It's Easy to See Why, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, The King Who Rained, Best In Show, Pondlarker, The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, and A Little Pigeon Toad.

While he may have tried to distance himself from roles that rhymed his Herman Munster character, during a 1982 interview, a reporter asked about his favourite roles. Gwynne noted plays and then he paused... "and I might as well tell you the truth, I love old Herman Munster.  Much as I try not to, I can't stop liking that fellow."  

Soon before Gwynne passed, he and his wife bought land in Taneytown, Maryland which is Northeast of Baltimore. During that time, he only worked as a voice-over artist in commercials. Within a year, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When he passed away from complications associated with pancreatic cancer, he was buried in Sandy Mount Cemetery in Finksburg, MD.  His funeral was private and he was buried in an unmarked grave.

Thanks to which pointed me in the direction of Tod Benoit’s book, I was able to find the location and a picture of Gwynne’s grave that is mapped out with the description, “Approximate yet accurate location of Fred Gwynne's final resting place at Sandymount Methodist.”

Walk into the cemetery behind the church and near the back is a distinctive Shannon stone. About twenty feet in front and to the left of the Shannon stone, Fred is buried in a grave that, but for the grass covering it, has no marking of any kind." (Where Are they Buried?, Tod Benoit, p.179)

In 2015, when Jade from Daughter of the Jaded Era and I were planning our Blogger Meet Up Adventures Part 2, I knew that I didn’t want her to have to run through a snowy DC again. She also had only seen a small part of the U.S. so I suggested taking the journey together. We headed out on Thursday which was a pretty beautiful day to be in a cemetery. GPS made it fairly simple to find the cemetery. We picked up flowers at a grocery since we couldn’t find a local florist and located Gwynne's location. There were numerous old graves that could use a bit of restoration in the cemetery on the side of the church. The cemetery includes obelisks and other traditional turn-of-the-century markers. The Rush stone was near the parking lot. I thought it was a stunning example of craftsmanship. Gwynne's plot is located in the back of the cemetery in a section that appears much more modern. Most of the cemeteries that I visit are quite wooded. At Sandy Mount, one can stand near Gwynne's resting place and see for what seems like miles. In the distance there is even a windmill. Not a bad place to spend forever if you ask me. 

Of course, neither of us ever knew Fred-Gwynne-the-man so we can only discuss the characters he played… and naturally, the character of Herman Munster sticks with us. I think it’s easy to start comparing The Addams Family and The Munsters. Both series aired from 1964-1966. When Jade and I were standing graveside, she even mentioned this. At the time she stated and then later noted in her post that the family of The Munsters was a bit dysfunctional. At the time I wasn’t quite sure why I felt the urge to defend these characters. This week has been filled with so much activity that I’m finding myself slowly processing; trying to grasp each reflection has been like grabbing a cloud. I’ve always been much more connected to The Munsters than The Addams Family. This could be because The Munsters were aired as reruns right after school so I grew up watching these old episodes. I think what connected me to the Munster family was their working-class roots. The Addams always appeared to be independently wealthy while Herman Munster with his enormous lunch box had to go off to work at the funeral home. He even started out as the “nail boy” working his way up through the business. And, viewers learn that he used to be in the army and fought in WWII. In many ways, the characters come across as a typical American family and Mr. Munster is (at least stereotypically) the all-American Dad who is a bit childlike but who always means well. So many of the episodes followed the formula of *fitting in* and blending…immigrants coming to America and living the American dream in an old house that they thought was just right (albeit dusty and dilapidated just like our own homes). I guess I connect because The Munsters story is my story in many ways. My family immigrated and they always thought they blended in even when their Polish roots stuck out… but just like the Munster family, they didn’t mind. They loved being themselves and they loved being here.  

So while Mr. Gwynne and his family wish to keep his resting place quiet, visiting a grave is a way to pay our respects, to say “Thank You!”, and to connect to someone who made a difference in our lives.  
This was only the first stop in our adventures of the day and I will write more about our other adventures that afternoon and the next day in later posts. Jade has already mentioned the "spirited" self-guided Ghost Tour  that we took so you'll want to visit her post to read about that. I really wish we had videotaped ourselves giving the tour... but I'll write more about that later.
After two days of gothy fun with Jade, I turned around and headed to Hollywood Cemetery's Rose Pruning Work Day
to volunteer and reconnect with Connie. Today I'm still scratched, achy, and bruised... but let me just say that being in a group with THE Woman In Charge was super awesome! And, dare I write that we worked on some of the best roses in Hollywood?!? One was the famous Crenshaw Rosa Moschata (Musk Rose) which is a historically significant rose that I wrote about in my guest blog post for The Cemetery Researcher More tales soon!