Posts Tagged ‘Cemeteries’

Thruout NJ, historic black cemeteries are in poor condition

All across NJ there are historic black cemeteries, Many in poor condition

why I like visiting cemeteries

New Jersey was discovered by Henry Hudson around 1609 and Dutch settlers came soon afterward. Most families buried their dead on the farm or perhaps in a small church cemetery. Markers were often crudely carved stones or wooden crosses. As NJ has become more and more developed, the family cemetery became outdated. People now bury their dead either in church cemeteries or large private cemeteries. Some cemeteries can contain as many as 100,000 dead.

Cemeteries are essentially history. Besides functioning as a place for the families to come and be with their loved ones, you can see patterns amongst the stones. Perhaps it’s the same name over and over and over, or a large number of markers in the same season representing a bitter hard winter. Sometimes cemeteries will have a Jewish section, or a German section, reflecting waves of new immigrants. Sometimes you’ll even find a slave section as well, reflective of that ugly period of American history where such things were legal. Other times you’ll find a mass grave of some disaster or accident. History in the making.

The large cemeteries of today can also provide quite a bit of eye candy. There are beautiful headstones with pictures of the deceased, images of serenity, or pictures of something the deceased enjoyed doing, such as sailing. Then you have large mausoleums where the deceased are interred above ground, avoiding the normal process of decay that consumes from below ground. Then there are the incredibly beautiful (and sometimes very large) images of Jesus, angels, weeping wives & mothers, children, cherubs, crosses, and more. The money spent on monuments like this is unimaginable. I also like when you find a headstone from the 1700’s and it looks smooth and perfect as if it was put there last week. Makes me wonder why other headstones become so decrepit and decayed so quickly….Speaking of decay, it doesn’t matter if a person is rich or poor, young or old, all share the same final destination. As a character on “Six Feet Under” said: “The whole world is a graveyard”.

I enjoy wandering thru cemeteries, appreciating all of these things, and I hope that you the viewer understand why I do this. Just because I enjoy wandering thru cemeteries doesn’t make me morbid, nor am I a goth fan. I don’t dress in black and listen to punk rock, nor do I conduct ceremonies at midnight. I’m just an average guy. I hope you’ll appreciate this section and look on it with respect. Nothing here is meant to make fun of or denigrate any one here. One person I know said,”About a hundred years ago, families would go to cemeteries together with a picnic lunch, the adults would take care of the graves while the kids would wander around. Cemeteries were a place to be respectful, but they weren’t seen as macabre or spooky the way they seem to be by some people today.”. Well stated.

I especially love old cemeteries. The markers are different from the ones they make now. I also enjoy speculating about the people who were buried there. I sometimes find nameless markers and feel sorry for the deceased because they have no family, or sometimes find incredible monuments and think “Damn. This was Somebody.” On the other hand, a large expensive ornate headstone or mausoleum doesn’t mean they were somebody, though often this is the case…


Five children born. Five children died before they were a year old.

Commonplace for the time period, a reminder of how fragile life was 100 years ago…

The Totowa Book of the Dead

Totowa has a population of 10,000 but over 84,000 buried in it’s cemeteries. Laurie Giordano, son the famous electrician buried at Laurel grove cemetery, is currently working on a photographic memoir, “The Totowa Book of the Dead.” Although it will be about the cemeteries in part, it’s about life growing up in Totowa. Excerpts and pictures can be found at the website listed above. I look forward to it. I like the B&W photos she is using, since B&W is so much more moody and expressive then color….

The final resting spot of Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman is considered by many to be America’s greatest poet . Born in Long Island, he lived in New Orleans, and Washington DC before buying a house in Camden, NJ where he would remain till he passed away in 1892. Whitman is buried in Harleigh cemetery in Camden, and his birthplace is a historical and interprative center



Skunk Hollow Cemetery

I heard about this cemetery called Skunk Hollow in the Palisades Interstate Park area. I contacted the director and this is what he told me.

Skunk Hollow was considerably north of Zabriski, in the area northwest of State Line Lookout. If you go on the ski trails there you can find some old stone walls and such from the settlement. There are also a few old cellar holes, very small, if you poke around a bit. The cemetery, which is unmarked/unmapped, is apparently in Norwood, down in the valley, and not in the park. A small grave site is in the park, but if you weren’t looking for it, you’d go right by it: it has two stones, both of them unmarked and overturned, nothing more (it’s off the trails, and I doubt I could find it again even if I were looking for it). The Parkway goes right through the center of the Skunk Hollow site, and I’m guessing a good portion of its ruins etc. are under the pavement. For more info: there’s an historic marker on Rt. 9W at the state line proper, just north of the Lamont entrance; there’s a booklet published by Bergen Co. Historical Society called “Jack Was Earnest” by Reginald McMahan, available at many local libraries; a woman named Joan Geismar did a dissertation on Skunk Hollow that was later published as a book, though I don’t have the publishing info on it offhand (I have a copy of the original dissertation). The Skunk Hollow church moved to Sparkill, NY, and is still in existence and active (I believe there’s a marker in front of the church as well, but I’m not sure).

Has anybody ever been there? I’d like to go visit it

This headstone insciption makes me want to know the whole story