Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Old Cemeteries

Over the weekend, my wife and I got out of Houston and headed west to a golf resort in New Ulm, Texas. It's about an hour from our house but feels farther. After two days of the course kicking our rears up one side of the greens to the next, we took a drive. It's your typical northern gulf coast area: lots of open space, barbed wired fences, and cows. This is Texas, you know. You've also got low, rolling hills, something you don't have in Houston.

We stopped at an old cemetery in Frelsburg, Texas. For those of y'all that don't know, central Texas is the place many German and Czech immigrants settled in the early to mid 1800s. You can see it in the town names (Frelsburg, Schulenburg) or things like the Spoetzl Brewery, the home of Shiner beer, just about the best thing to drink on a hot Austin night when your a student at The University of Texas.

I enjoy visiting old cemeteries and looking at the names and birth/death dates. My historian self quickly gravitates to the military men and women. I like to discover if the soldiers lived through their war or if they survived and lived a long life knowing that they did their part. What surprised me in this little cemetery was the grave of a young man who died in Iraq but who was also in the Pentagon on 9/11.

Another thing that is never surprising in old cemeteries are the grave markers of children. There were more than a dozen graves of children who didn't live out a year, some of whom lived a day or two. One precious child didn't even live out the day. I got to wondering about how difficult live was for nineteenth century folks, whether or not they were immigrants. As a father, these things get to me. As bad as it can be in 2009, we have it so, so easy compared to them.

What struck me as incredible was the grave marker of a person who was born in 1793. Think about it: when he was born, George Washington was alive and president. George Washington! And to think that this man immigrated from Europe to Texas and died here but not before fathering children who went on to make more children, all the way up to the present day. It provided a real connection with the past.

Just wanted to share some thoughts about our history and our connections with all that came before us. We are not islands. We are all part of this earth and humankind. Sometimes, it's easy to forget that, what with our souped up cars, headphones, and alarm-systemed houses, all things that block out life and other people. Sometimes it takes a visit to the past via a cemetery to help us all remember where we all come from.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've visited a lot of old cemetaries in Texas. Definitely an interesting way to spend a few hours.

Chris said...

This is so interesting. My wife and I were actually discussing this very thing yesterday. She's been on ancestry.com a lot lately, researching her family tree. Her great (x3, i think) grandfather emigrated from Switzerland with his family to New Orleans and moved to Texas. Also, I listened to a Louis L'Amour interview recently where he talks about the heavy German influence in Texas. Very interesting stuff!

David Cranmer said...

Great post. I spend a fair amount of my time perusing final resting places myself. You may find this interesting: http://davidcranmer.blogspot.com/2008/07/rayne.html and not that far from you.

Kerby Jackson said...

We have a lot of old cemeteries in my neck of the woods (Oregon), as well as a large number of scattered graves where people were buried at the spur of the moment. You see them on the sides of the older roads and on ocassion, people who start construction projects wind up with a little more than they bargain for. A few months ago, one of the local banks decided to build a new park, started digging up a bit of riverfront property and wound up unearthing two previously unknown graves.

One of the really great things about the older cemeteries is that the headstones are a lot less dull than those from modern day. They quite often tell enough of a story about the person buried there that it will pique your interest enough to try to find out more.

One of my favorite local ones is for J.H. Baird which says "Killed by a Grizzly Bear". I later discovered that Baird had went hunting and wound up wounding a big Grizzly. What he didn't realize is that the bear wasn't alone and he was viscously attacked by a group of three Grizzlies. Somehow the man managed to find his way home, but died of his wounds.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just saw Boniface in Savannah. Just thrilling.

Scott Parker said...

Charles - I like visiting cemeteries all throughout the South and seeing how CSA vets are noted.

Chris - Are there any book by LL that specifically discuss/take into account the Germans in Texas?

David - Great photos over on your blog. I've only really been to Slidell, LA. I need to get to New Orleans.

Kerby - Most of the older headstones in Frelsburg are written in German so I couldn't read them. I've been to Portland, the Hoh rainforest, and Astoria. I love Oregon.

Patti - I am not familiar with Boniface. But I'm going to look it up now...

Kerby Jackson said...


Astoria's not bad. They have a different sort of culture up on the NW portion of the coast. It's one of the oldest towns in Oregon and a lot of very strange, dark local folklore.

Portland, regretably, is turning a bit scary. I have a lot of friends up there, all of whom used to love the place, but now they hate what it's become and all want nothing more than to get out.

If you get back over this way again, check out the old farm communities in the central portion of the Willamette Valley. There are a lot of old cemeteries, abandoned homesteads and what not in that area.

By the way, I'm part Bohemian, so I had heard of the great German and Czech communities that were down your way. My father is actually living in Texas at the moment, but I've never been down there myself.


Scott Parker said...

Kerby - Y'all get Shiner Bock up there? Still one of my favorite beers. My wife and I will be up to Oregon again one day. It's our goal to fly up to, say, Portland, and then drive south along the coast to California. We'll make a side trip to Willamette Valley. Thanks.

Barbara Martin said...

There are a couple of older cemeteries in Toronto that I like to walk through on occasion. It is interesting to see the dates on the older headstones some of whom were around during the Rebellion of Upper Canada in 1837.