Recently, a friend invited me to come along for a walk through the historic Bosque Bello Cemetery in Fernandina Beach, near my home. A cemetery, particularly an old one, can be a great place to enjoy a quiet walk and encounter few people without worry about social distancing. The visit triggered memories for me and reminded me how much I enjoy the peace and comfort of these memorial parks.
My interest in cemeteries goes back to when I was about six years old, when we visited Franklin Cemetery where Daniel Boone is buried. He was one of my heroes. My little brother and I were running around the cemetery, probably being a bit disrespectful of the solemnity of the setting, playing hide and go seek behind tombstones. I found myself suddenly alone, parents some distance away and brother presumably crouched behind a nearby marker, when I stepped atop a grassy mound. I saw a wispy figure with its arm extended forward, palm perpendicular to the ground, silently saying “stop.” I froze then shivered, as if someone had swiped a feather across the back of my neck. Something odd had happened but I did not understand it. I told my parents I thought Daniel Boone had visited me; they paid no attention and I never spoke of it again. Since that time, I have been curious about cemeteries and have been far more respectful.
One of my favorites is Congressional Cemetery, located in the Capitol Hill area of Washington, D.C. Among other notable monuments and markers, it is home to 171 cenotaphs (empty tombs), monuments to Members of Congress who died in office during the early years of our nation.
Congressional Cemetery established a K9 Corps, or Cemetery Dogs, that allows owners, by membership, to walk their dogs off-leash through the 35-acre grounds. Members pay fees that help support cemetery upkeep and agree to contribute to the beautification of the grounds. It was a smart decision that helped the nonprofit's budget and brought it much-deserved attention and gave city dogs a place to stretch their legs.
A cemetery walk can be an opportunity to ponder, undisturbed, to reflect, remember, or even search for clues. Occasionally there are benches or shady spots where you can stop and rest, or spend time honoring those spirits that surround you.
Bosque Bello and other cemeteries offer insight into local and national history, reflected in family groupings, service records, and messages engraved on the stones. I find it comforting and I read the names out loud. Much as when we speak names of those in need of prayer, during church services, it is a way to honor individuals who have passed and maybe awakens a spirit or two. The graves watched over by lambs are often those of infants or very young children; theirs are names I always speak.
There is a national cemetery registry where you can search for gravesites. It is especially helpful in genealogical research to confirm birth and death dates and even spelling of names. Those who died in service to our country deserve particular attention.
Since the experience in the cemetery with Daniel Boone, I have not had another spirit encounter. I know I might again someday, and I will give it no reason to be annoyed with me. In the meantime, and especially during this isolating time, I will walk among the stones, read the names aloud, thank those who died in service, and honor the families represented there.
It is rare to encounter others in a cemetery walk, and there is no need for a mask. Now is a good time for a cemetery walk. Social distancing is not an issue.