The Thirsty Ground: Visiting The Historic Riverside Cemetery – Part Two

I’m sorry this took so long to post, but here is part two of my visit to the historic Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. In part one, Teddy’s Ominous Warning, I explained that Riverside Cemetery is Denver’s oldest operating cemetery. The cemetery lost its “handshake agreement” with the city for water rights, and because of this the cemetery no longer has water and many of the trees and plants are dying…

Dying trees in Riverside Cemetery Denver, Colorado to illustrate this cemetery blog story.

It was easy to forget about Teddy’s warning because I became so engrossed in the beauty of the cemetery. This cemetery was nothing like I’d seen before. On one hand it was much like a wasteland with dead trees, and no more than a few tufts of grass, yet on the other it was like walking through a museum, with the history of Denver spread out as far as one was willing to walk. I knew that four hours was not enough time to take in all the wonder of this place. But I was going to try.

Cemetery blog picture of the Baker horse monument in Riverside Cemetery.I passed beautiful statuary, monuments, crypts, and tributes. I found large family plots with ornate carved statues marking the final resting place of generation upon generation of Denver settlers. I saw faded headstones that were no longer discernable, monuments whose meanings were unclear, and tributes to soldiers who fought bravely in the Civil War.

One thing that especially caught my eye was the Baker monument. I could see it from the moment I entered the cemetery, and slowly worked my way towards it, taking in the beauty around me, but rarely taking my eyes off of the magnificent white horse.

The horse was standing atop a pedestal, guarding a sheaf of wheat, his tail seemingly blowing in the wind, drawing me in. Years of wear and hot dry weather have taken its toll on the beautiful stallion, but he was magnificent nonetheless.

Picture of Mr. Addison Baker who was the caretaker of Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.It turns out that this is the final resting place of Addison Baker. Mr. Baker was a prominent farmer and the owner of Denver’s first fresh water supply, Baker’s Springs. Legend states that he used to deliver all of the water to this cemetery in barrels atop a wagon pulled by his beloved arabian stallion “Ali”. I wonder what Mr. Baker would think of the cemetery if he could see it now.

I went from tree to tree trying to find what little shade I could so as not to burn in the heat. Luckily, every once in awhile, a soft breeze would pass through. It saddened me to see the condition of what were once large lush trees overlooking a long gone green landscape. I couldn’t help but think back to what I read about the trees in the cemetery, and how they were dying and falling down onto the headstones. Almost immediately I remembered Teddy’s warning. Could I hear the groaning and creaking of the trees when the wind hit them just right? Nah…

Picture different kinds of headstones to illustrate this story in the cemetery blog.But as I approached the back of the cemetery I heard a noise behind me in the woods, a rustling that was coming towards me. Instantly the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I became acutely aware of my surroundings. I was almost completely isolated, hidden from the rest of the cemetery by a hill full of three crypts and behind me was a wall of trees marking the edge of the cemetery…this is where the noises were coming from.

I suddenly felt uneasy, what could be behind me in the woods? I tried to convince myself that it must be a squirrel or a rabbit, but it was too loud to be such a small animal. There was no place for me to hide either, unless I wanted to plow through cobwebs and descend the stone steps into the darkness of the crypt in front of me.

I looked into the woods, my eyes darting around to find the source of the noise. Nothing. As I turned to walk further, I heard the rustling again. I would be lying if I said i wasn’t seriously spooked, I realized that if there was something back there, it could easily get to me and no-one would notice.

Picture of the Evans crypt on the side of a hill in the Riverside Cemetery for this cemetery blog.I told myself I would just take pictures of the last crypt, and then move away from the trees.

The uneasy feeling continued to build up inside of me as I took pictures of the crypt, and the second I heard the rustling noise again I booked it out of there pretty quickly.

I’m not superstitious, but I know there’s no reason to take chances when you’re wandering a cemetery alone, especially since strewn around the crypt area were old beer cans and other signs of habitation by someone who may be in the woods behind me.

I put the rustling out of my mind so as to make the most of my limited time, but there was a problem. The 96 degree sun had been beating down on me the whole time and and it was beginning to take its toll. Now I had a taste of what the cemetery was exposed to day in and day out, all without any source of water. My own source of water, a single water bottle, was fast drying up. I wondered if the old funeral home at the front of the cemetery was open today, and made my way towards the building, hoping for a respite from the scorching heat.

Picture of the funeral home in the Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado setting of the story in this cemetery blog.Walking into the building was like taking a breath of fresh air. The table and chairs, and ceiling fan were a much needed break from the immense heat. I was surprised that the building was open and asked the man sitting behind the counter if i could rest for a short time out of the sun.

After a few minutes break, the man, who told me his name is Jay, showed me around the building. I saw the original crematory (a room I didn’t stay in for long) and the original chapel which had been turned into a museum of sorts with black and white photos lining the walls. I could write a whole blog on what I learned about the history of the cemetery, but I’ll save that for another day.

As I was headed back outside, Jay saw my dwindling water bottle and offered to let me fill it with the water cooler in the back. I was very thankful for this opportunity, but felt a little guilty that I was getting water, while those magnificent trees were not.

Later, when I was sure I could no longer take the heat, I decided it was time to call Teddy and ask for a ride back. As the train thundered past me I called the number he had given me.

“Hello?” I could hear the train on the other end of the line.

“Teddy, It’s Jenn, can you come and get me?” I asked.

“Jenn! I already came, I am waiting for train, very long. So glad you are okay, I came to check on you.”

Panorama picture of various headstones at the Riverside Cemetery.

A few short minutes after I hung up the phone he was pulling into the cemetery. He told me that he had gotten a call for another fare in a part of town far away and was afraid that I would get stranded at the cemetery. “Cabs don’t come here” he said “very bad area”.

On the way back Teddy was very happy that I had made it out ok and was excited to hear how my day had gone. I told him about my adventures, about meeting Jay and how he had shown me around, and about how beautiful it had been. If only I was staying in Denver longer I could have enough time to explore all the beauty there.

Just as we were pulling up to the hotel it started to rain. As the raindrops hit the windshield, I smiled. The cemetery did get some water, after all.

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An Ominous Warning: Visiting The Historic Riverside Cemetery – Part One

A cemetery blog picture of the Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.

Any time I travel, I try to go to at least one local cemetery to explore and take pictures. So as soon as I knew I was going to Denver, Colorado, I looked up area cemeteries and found “Riverside Cemetery” which was only 6 miles from my hotel.

Riverside Cemetery is Denver’s oldest operating cemetery. The cemetery lost its “handshake agreement” with the city for water rights, and because of this the cemetery no longer has water and many of the trees and plants are dying. I had no idea how I was going to get there, but after reading about this cemetery online, I knew I had to go!


Arriving in Denver

Picture of the hotel the author of this cemetery blog stayed in while visiting Denver, Colorado.As soon as I arrived at the hotel I went to check in, since I was early they only had two floors to choose from, the 7th floor, or the 13th floor. I wanted to be as high as possible, “I’ll take 13”, I said, and was given the key after assuring the front desk person that I wasn’t superstitious. “After all” I said, “thirteen is just a number.”

After getting to my room, I tried fruitlessly to convince Anita that taking the bus most of the way and walking the last mile would be the best way to get to an “abandoned” cemetery in an industrial area of a city I had been in for no more than an hour.

She was not having it.

“Are you sure you even want to go? I don’t know how safe it is” she asked.

I assured her that I would be fine and I would have my cell phone if something happened. “Take a cab then” she insisted “it doesn’t matter how far it is, you need to take a cab.”

So I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said fresh and there was dice in the mirror… Just kidding.


Teddy’s Warning

At about 1pm, on this beautiful sunny afternoon I jumped in a cab and asked the driver to take me to Riverside Cemetery. The cab driver turned around and looked at me seeming alarmed, “You want to go to the cemetery?” I have to admit my first thought was OK, maybe this isn’t a great idea. I mean, I know nothing of the safety of this town, or where I am going, I’m thousands of miles from home, from Anita, and I am going to a random cemetery. But no risk no reward right?

“Yup, going to the cemetery” I replied.

Picture of a cemetery in Ethiopia with colorful headstones.As the cabbie started driving he said “not to be rude, but can I ask you why you want to go to the cemetery?”

So I explained to him my fascination with cemeteries, headstones, and the people buried there, I told him I write a blog and take pictures. At this point is when he solemnly said “You know, in my country it is very very bad luck to go to the cemetery during the afternoon, very very bad luck.”

I was pretty taken aback by this and asked him what country he was from. He told me his name was Teddy and he was from Ethiopia and had moved to America five years ago. He said that it was quite a culture shock coming to America, but the craziest thing he had ever seen was this young white girl who wanted to go to the cemetery during the afternoon, by herself.

He went on to explain that in Ethiopia you could only visit a cemetery during the morning hours. And to visit during the afternoon, especially on a beautiful sunny day was such bad luck it could only mean death. When someone visited a cemetery during the day, that meant that the person was willing to die to visit their departed loved one, and it was very sad. He said “If you visit cemetery during the afternoon, everyone would watch you and say ‘who’s that crazy white girl risking her life to visit cemetery’” and he laughed nervously.

Picture of the sun rising behind some trees in an Ethiopian cemetery.I asked him if you could visit at night. “No, no! Cemeteries are very bad places at night, no good to go at night.” I made a very weak joke about zombies and ghosts, but I have to admit I was getting a little nervous. What was I getting into?

Teddy told me that his father is buried in Ethiopia and how he couldn’t visit because he lives so far away, and how he wishes his daughter would visit but she never knew her grandfather. I told him that one day a graver like me might come by and pay his father a visit, and wonder about his story, and maybe even look him up. But only in the morning, I promised. He smiled.

Teddy said that he would love to walk around with me to see what I do and to look at all the headstones. But it was afternoon on a beautiful sunny day and he had to work afterall.

But if it was morning…


Alone

Picture of an angel and cross monument and headstones at the Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.As the cab pulled into the cemetery, Teddy gave me his phone number, asked me how long I was planning on staying, and asked me to please call him when I was ready to go. I told him the cemetery closes at 5pm, so I would be leaving shortly before that.

I got out of the cab and he asked me “can I ask how old are you?”

“32”. I responded, after some mental math.

“You look much younger, be careful” – he warned. And he drove away.

I stood there for a minute watching Teddy drive away and taking it all in. Realizing at that moment that I was completely alone with only the 70,000 or so people buried there to keep me company. But the cemetery was beautiful, with large statues and monuments as far as the eye could see, I had 4 hours to explore, and after all, I had told the front desk person that I wasn’t superstitious…

Read part two here

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A Resting Place With A View – Our Visit To The Healy Cemetery

Anita and I recently took a road trip (250 miles) to Healy, Alaska to fulfill a Find A Grave photo request for the headstone picture of Lisa Take. We also wanted to get photos of the headstones for the other people listed on Find A Grave, and add memorials for those that hadn’t yet been added. While we were there we met some awesome ladies, Judy and Jeri, who had spent all day readying this beautiful cemetery for Memorial Day.

The cemetery is located in a picturesque location with amazing views all around, and with the added care from Judy and Jeri, it was just spectacular. I hope you enjoy the views as much as we did.

Picture of a sign that says Cemetery and points to the Valley View Memorial Cemetery in Healy, Alaska.
The Cemetery was located on a dirt road near the town, but tucked into the woods just enough to be peaceful and away from all the commotion of traffic.
Picture of a car parked on the road to the Valley View Memorial Cemetery in Denali Borough, Healy, Alaska.
I just got this car, so maybe I baby it too much, but this muddy water was deeper than it looks, and I didn’t want to risk getting stuck so far from home. So walking it is!
Picture of the road and entrance to the cemetery in Healy, Alaska.
Andy was in a big hurry to get there.
Picture of the entrace sign to the Valley View Memorial Cemetery with trees and mountains in the background.
Entrance sign of Valley View Memorial Cemetery.
Picture of the headstone for Lisa Ellen Take who is buried in the Valley View Memorial Cemetery in Alaska.
Amazingly, the first headstone we walked up to was the one we came for. I really like the personal touch of the surround for this headstone.
Picure of part of the cemetery in Healy.
It was around this time that I met Judy and Jeri, who were working hard to set everything up just right for Memorial Day. I got so caught up in conversation, and learning about the history of the cemetery, that I forgot to ask if I could snap a picture of them.
Picture of the dedication monument for the Healy cemetery which is called Valley View Memorial Cemetery in Alaska.
This is the dedication monument for Valley View Memorial Cemetery. The cemetery was dedicated only 25 years ago, on May 30, 1988. The three markers are the young people that this cemetery was built in memory of.
Picture of the Lions and Pioneers Monument in the Healy Valley View Memorial Cemetery.
Lions and Pioneers Monument. Judy and Jeri were volunteers with the Lions Club, an organization whose volunteers help meet the needs of local communities.
Picture of the headstone for John J. Millich who is buried in Valley View Memorial Cemetery in Healy, Alaska.
Headstone of John J. Millich. The views from these resting places were phenomenal.
Picture of the headstone for Doris and Darrell Bean in the Healy cemetery.
Another beautiful spot. It was especially nice that Judy and Jeri had taken the time to make sure that everyone had flowers.
Picture of an angel and flowers on the headstone of Samuel Kochanowski in the Valley Memorial Cemetery at Healy, Alaska in the Denali Borough.
Mother Mary watching over Samuel Kochanowski.
Wooden cross as part of the resting place of Arlin Scott Menke at the Healy cemetery.
Cross for Arlin Scott Menke surrounded by rocks and trinkets carrying messages from loved ones.
Stones with messages and art left by loved ones, also with a quote that says If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.
Closeup of some tokens left for Arlin Scott Menke.
Picture of some flowers and the headstone of Anthony Pollock who is one of the people that the Valley Memorial Cemetery in Healy, Alaska is dedicated to.
Anthony Pollock, one of the young people the cemetery is dedicated to.
Headstone for Kim R White in the Healy cemetery.
Headstone for Kim R. White. Attached to the side was a beautiful handwritten poem.
Picture of the headstone for John C Grys and a representative of the gorgeous views that are part of the Valley Memorial Cemetery in Healy, Alaska.
Resting place of John Grys. One of the most breathtaking spots I saw.
Picture of a wooden cross and rock plaque headstone marker that is part of the Usibelli family plot.
Usibelli family marker, with amazing views behind.
A panorama picture of the Valley Memorial Cemetery in beautiful Healy, Alaska.
Part of a panorama I took showing the spectacular views of this cemetery.
Picture of the road leaving the Healy cemetery, with trees and mountains in the background.
Leaving this awesome cemetery was hard to do, but with a four hour drive ahead of us, we had to. We will definitely be back!
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An Unusual Gift, And The Story Of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery

Picture of the Uninvited Guests baseball card commemorating Bachelors Grove Cemetery in Illinois.I was positive I would be able to guess the present Anita handed me a few weeks before Christmas. “I’ll only give you two hints,” she said, “One is that you can blog about it, the other is that it is so unusual, I have never seen anything like it.”

I can blog about it eh? That means it must be related to graving. This should be easy.

The present was a very small square and very thin. I quickly took the gift and hid it next to the bed, that way I could look at it every night. After countless nights of poking and prodding at it, I finally had my guess, it was related to graving, and certainly unusual, “It’s a headstone ice scraper!” I exclaimed. Not wanting to let me down on my ridiculous guess, Anita simply said “you’ll see.” Spoiler alert: It wasn’t a headstone ice scraper.

So what was this super unusual thing that she had never seen before that I could also blog about? It was a baseball card. A baseball card for a cemetery.

Black and white picture of headstones at the Bachelor's Grove cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.I had never seen anything like this before, and it was definitely the most unique graving related item I had ever seen. The card is titled “Uninvited Guests”, and has a picture of an overgrown cemetery surrounded by eerie trees.

At the bottom is the name of the cemetery the card is for, “Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery” in Chicago, Illinois. I had never heard of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery until I got the card. I learned from the card that Bachelor’s Grove is an abandoned graveyard that’s “said to be haunted by ghosts who appear, float around and disappear as mysterious orbs of light. Satanic rituals have also been reported.”

Of course my interest in this cemetery was immediately piqued, and I set out to find out about this cemetery as it must have an interesting history if it was put on a baseball card.

Bachelor’s grove cemetery was established in the 1840’s and at one point had as many as 200 headstones, a stark contrast to the less than 20 that now remain.

Picture of damage and vandalism at Bachelor's Grove cemetery in Illinois.Over the years the cemetery has fallen into disrepair since a major road was re-routed away from the cemetery and the area evolved into a party spot for local teenagers or a place for dark rituals. Local lore even states that the murky pond next to the cemetery was used by the mob as a place to get rid of dead bodies, as it was much easier to just chuck a body in the pond rather than try to bury a body without being discovered.

Authorities in the area tried various half-hearted ways of trying to stop the destruction of the cemetery, like blocking off the entrance with trees and other debris, but it wasn’t until the hobbyists came around that the cemetery started to get some care and protection. Lured by the stories of ghost sightings and strange happenings, people interested in hobbies ranging from ghost hunting to graving made pilgrimages to bachelor’s grove and began to document and care for the cemetery. Recently, there have even been efforts to recover headstones that were thrown into the pond.

Bachelor’s Grove isn’t nearly as well kept up as it could be by any means, but there is now a move in the right direction. You never know what you’ll see at the end of the overgrown (and ever so slightly creepy) road that leads to the cemetery itself, but these days you’re probably more likely to meet friendly types like ghost hunters or gravers taking photos than people performing dark rituals.

I wish there were more items like this card for graving enthusiasts, as quite honestly I am pretty attached to this one and would love to start a collection. That said, I am going to Chicago in August and thanks to this unusual card I now plan to visit Bachelor’s Grove.

I am not sure about going alone though…who wants to come with me?

Picture of the dirt road through woods that leads to the Bachelor's Grove Cemetery in Illinois.

Update! I did get to go to Bachelors Grove in August, click here to read the story and see the pictures. :)

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The Seafarer’s Memorial: Honoring Those Lost At Sea

In January Anita and I traveled to Homer, Alaska for some much needed R&R. Of course I wanted to get some graving in, and the great thing about graving is that pretty much everywhere you go there is a cemetery or memorial to explore.

While driving out to the hotel, Anita noticed the Seafarers Memorial, a pretty common sight in a coastal town I’ve been told, but I had never been to one before. This one is located on the Homer spit overlooking Kachemak Bay, and despite the poor weather, was still a beautiful and peaceful spot for reflection.

Picture of the Seafarer's Memorial on the Homer Spit in Alaska.

A walkway with stones dedicated to loved ones leads to the main focal point of the memorial, an open gazebo type structure lined with the names of those lost at sea. In the center of the gazebo is the statue of a fisherman standing in honor of those poor departed souls. At the base of the statue lie rocks, incense, and trinkets, symbols to represent recent visitors. The statue itself was also adorned with offerings, such as a straw hat, a lei, and a wreath.

Closeup picture of the face of the fisherman statue at the Seafarer's Memorial in Homer, Alaska.What really struck me about this place was the tiles inside with the names of those lost at sea. I don’t know when the memorial was erected, but the oldest tile dedications I saw were for Marion Anderson and her daughters, Aileen and Elizabeth, who died on October 23, 1934 aboard the “Monson Mail Boat”.

A google search revealed precious little details about the deaths of the Anderson family, but I was able to find this snippet about the accident:

“The boat was coming from the larger town of Seldovia to deliver passengers, mail and supplies but foundered offshore.

As it went down in the rollers, a young mother and her two daughters drowned within sight of a large group of people who had come to meet the boat to get and send mail and freight. The mother [Marion] and older girls [Elizabeth] bodies were recovered, but the baby [Aileen] never was.”

Bell at Seafarers Memorial in Homer, Alaska

Nearby stands a bell with pretty elaborate carvings on the stand, which states “This bell tolls for all the souls set free upon the sea.”

My understanding is that when a memorial for a person lost at sea is held in this spot, the bell is rung in their honor. I wondered whether or not the sound of the bell ringing would be welcome, I can’t imagine having a memorial for a loved one here and hearing that bell ring, it seems so…final.

I am really glad that we stopped by this place, it was so serene and beautiful, a very apt place for such a memorial. Looking out on such a vast body of water while in this setting can be very thought provoking.

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

Picture of the mountains and water at Katchemak Bay in Homer, Alaska near the Seafarer's Memorial.

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