Friday, May 29, 2009

Lift that Barge, Tote that Bale
Working Skiffs

Cove Cemetery (Cove, OR)

It’s tempting, when considering maritime motifs on cemetery markers, to hark back to our liquid origins and suggest that boats on tombstones recall ancient associations with the water, but I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly, burning bodies on the banks of the Ganges before floating them down river smacks of primordial memory, but I think that water-craft images on Oregonian tombstones are on a par with other vehicular images, which fall into two rough classes: occupational and recreational. You’re either working that boat, or you’re drifting around dreaming.

Tombstone vehicular images, whether of wheeled, water, or air craft, are almost invariably masculine symbols. Occasionally they’re shared with a spouse, especially if one considers RVs, but primarily they’re a man’s world. Women might engrave their monuments with flowers, pets, or a piano (guys get guitars), but men are more likely to carve an image of something that moved. There are occupational images of things other than planes, trains, and automobiles — loggers get represented out here often and I’ve seen a printing press on one stone once — but there’s something primal about boys and things that move, be it skateboards or jet planes. Maybe it’s testosterone: tombstone images of big pieces of equipment are a way for a guy to display his cajones to the world forever. But movement is important. You don’t see images of desks or sales counters or drill presses or labs or cubicles or die stamps on tombstones. It’s train engines, tractor-combines, bow picking gill-netters, or 747s. If it doesn’t move, it’s not worth telling eternity about.

Oaklawn Memorial Park (Corvallis, OR)

Working boats tend to require bigger water than pleasure craft. There aren’t a whole lot of working boats on inland rivers and lakes, save for guide boats and a scattering of minor occupations such as catfish noodlers and frog catchers. A lot of the working boats found on tombstones are military craft, which, I suppose, is a category all of its own. I’m no expert on naval ships, they’re all destroyers to me, though I’ve had two engravings of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington. Naval personnel, of course, are drawn from the entire country and I don’t know if there’s any statistically significant increase of personnel drawn from coastal versus inland communities, but I rather doubt it. In any event, one would expect to find engravings of military craft following normal patterns of personalization over the entire country. I would further suspect that tombstone personalization might be ubiquitous but not uniform across the country; although I have nothing upon which to base that presumption.

River View Cemetery (Portland, OR)

In the set of photos accompanying this post, therefore, there is nothing that geo-locates a tombstone image of a Navy vessel, and to a certain extant the same is true of most of the other commercial craft depicted on local memorial, although there are a few boats pictured which could come from few other places. They aren’t exclusive to the Oregon Territory, but they’re otherwise uncommon and restricted to specialized areas.

Offhand, I’d guess that commercial cargo ships and tankers, while theoretically drawing their work force from the entire country just as the Navy does, in reality share a degree of crossover with the fishing community. There is to an extent an oceanside community that enjoys connections among itself separate from the world a few miles inland, and members of which transfer from one type of vessel to another as opportunity arises. Or, perhaps, as prudence demands. That and the on again/off again, nature of the shipping business — one tends to work several months or years straight and then take several months off — means that it’s easier to maintain seaside employment if one lives close to the sea to begin with; and consequently one is more likely to find engravings of commercial craft in seaside communities than inland. Axiomatic, one might say.

Woodbine/Green Mountain Cemetery (Rainier, OR)

Of the pictured vessels, several are of interest and a couple are very place-specific. Woodbine cemetery, where the image of the tugboat is found, perches above the Columbia River at Rainier, OR, halfway between Portland and the coast, a highly likely place for a tugboat captain to live. Tugs ply both the Columbia River and the open ocean, dragging barges around the world; though I imagine that different vessels, not to mention crews, do different tasks, and it’s not a matter of one tug fits all. Unlike fishing boats, the miscellaneous cargo ships depicted on tombstones are probably not the ship owners proud portraits, as the stones are generally more modest than large ship owners might desire, and more likely represent career vessels. It’s hard to tell just looking at a stone.

Wind River Memorial Cemetery (Carson, WA)

The log tender from a headstone at the small river town of Carson, WA, though, is indubitably a place-specific working boat, evident from the scene shown along with the craft. The body of water is neither ocean nor river nor even a lake (note the leaping fish) but rather a mill pond where logs are stored until processed. Almost miniature little tugs push and pull logs and rafts around these pond, or at least did so in times past, when life was flusher; and that’s what’s memorialized on the stone.

Iman Cemetery (Stevenson, WA)

But it’s the image of the small steamer “Wasco,” in the tiny, eponymous Iman Cemetery on the edge of the river hamlet of Stevenson, WA, that is not only place-specific, but historic, as well. The Wasco was built by one Felix Iman (the eponym) in 1854 and was the third steamer to run between Cascade Locks and The Dalles on the Columbia River. I suggest that non-natives search Google Images for the “Cascades of the Columbia” and “Cascade Locks” to get an idea of what kind of country we’re talking about. The Columbia slices a gorge straight through a snowcapped mountain range here, the Cascades, beginning at The Dalles and ending at the outskirts of Portland. Cascade Locks is in the middle. It’s a world-class chunk of geography.

The first wagon train of immigrants came through the gorge in 1843, making the Wasco an early economic venture for the white population. Iman quickly sold the Wasco and went into the saloon business, from which he immediately exited, as well. Both Felix and his wife, Margaret Windsor Iman have modern markers with brief histories etched into the stones. Hers is particularly dramatic:

Born at Tippecanoe Co., Ind.
1852 Missouri to The Dalles on horse back
Carried motherless babe 500 miles
Took raft down river to Cascades
1853 met and married Felix G. Iman
Survived Indian War of Mar. 26, 1856
Indians burned home
Had 16 children, 9 boys, 7 girls

That was not the half of it. (Notes on her life from an oral transcript of, perhaps, c. 1915 are available on line.)

The Indian attack which she mentions was part of a general uprising in 1856 as a result of a broken treaty on the part of the whites (I know you may find that hard to believe). During the fray the Wasco came under fire from Indians collected where White Salmon is now, across the river from Hood River; but the river is sizable and their balls had no effect

Earlier this month (on the 11th to be exact) I wrote a bit about the Palmer/Bell grave site, on the Washington State side of the Bridge of the Gods (modest name, no?) Norman Palmer, who is buried there with his sister, perished in the same uprising.

Eventually, the Indians were subdued and nine of them hanged, including one who was, according to Mrs. Iman, definitely not guilty; but revenge is often not meted out to the perpetrators of a crime, nor is it necessary. Any Indian will/would do. Mrs. Iman wrote of the hanging that they were “hanged on a tree about one mile from where we lived. Some of them, when asked to talk, shook their heads and put the noose around their own necks. Others laughed at those who were hanging.”

In any event, with the Wasco pulling barges of troops from Portland, the whites won and the steamer subsequently returned to her trade, albeit for only a short period of time. By 1857 she was pretty much out of business on the river. A later newspaper advertisement, from probably the 1860s, offered passage between Bellingham, WA, and Seattle on the “fast and commodious” steamer Wasco for $1; although I can’t be sure it’s the same steamer Wasco. Good price, though.

Lift that barge,
Tote that bale;
Get a little drunk,
And land in jail.

Woodbine/Green Mountain Cemetery (Rainier, OR)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mothers & Children

Belle Passi Cemetery

A Bit of Housekeeping:

I suppose I should have done something for Memorial Day, but I didn’t. I worked that day.

Too bad, too, as down at the local mausoleum they have a locked family room containing two coffins and a stained-glass window, which is open once a year for an hour and a half each Memorial Day. There are no known survivors to the two people entombed there, so it’s unexplained why the room should be secreted away. I suppose I could ask.

Saturday prior to Memorial Day we stopped to eat lunch (from a taco wagon in Brooks) at one of our favorite cemeteries, Belle Passi, outside Woodburn. I write a little bit more about Woodburn and its surroundings in the intro to the cemetery on Flickr at Dead Man Talking (hit link above), should you be interested.

Woodburn is an old (for here) town in the center of the Willamette Valley, which is the agricultural marvel of the Pacific Northwest. Belle Passi was a whilom town near Woodburn. The core of downtown Woodburn is Mexican these days, offering some of the best Mexican food in the state in a scattering of restaurants and bodegas. Throw in the Russian True Believers, who haunt the outskirts of town, and you have one of the most interesting burgs in the region. And it’s got an outlet mall and a drag strip to boot. What more could one want?

Belle Passi Cemetery

But back to the cemetery: The three photos accompanying this post were shot that Saturday before Memorial Day. There’s no significance to or connection between the three other than that I was struck by the pathos exposed in them. Children’s graves are often the hardest to absorb, but their poignancy acts like chili powder for the soul: it’s painful, yet we can’t walk away.

Not only are these children’s graves, but they all appear to be of children who didn’t survive birth or much beyond. From the tombstone alone, it’s impossible to tell if Susanna Cravens was stillborn or died shortly after birth, but she evidently didn’t survive for a second day. Carole Ritzenthaler was eight months pregnant when she and her baby died, although we don’t know the specific causes. Then there’s the sorrowful anonymity of the stone chiseled simply “Mother/Baby.” Given no other information, it’s hard to avoid thinking that mother and child died together at childbirth.

I have felt the pain.

And I feel so much better.

I’ve never been to war so I can’t say this from first hand experience, but I’ve read often enough of the great sense of relief that some people feel on the battlefield when a person next to them has just been killed; the sense of relief coming from the uncontrolled and very real relief of not having been killed themselves, of having dodged the bullet, very literally. I’m aware, naturally, of the guilty pain many people suffer from having had that involuntary reaction. In trying to figure out why I, myself, one, likes going to graveyards, I’ve come to suspect that part of it comes from the relief of still being able to go visit them, period. And perhaps unconsciously, the added pain of a child’s grave gives one the added burst of relief that it didn’t happen to them or their loved one. (And if it did, God bless them.)

Belle Passi Cemetery

More Housekeeping:

A quick “hello” to all you new duly registered “followers” of this blog (what the heck, hello to you old ones, too), and let me say how grateful and amazed I am that anyone finds this of interest. My wife and children don’t read it, trust me; so I’m delighted that others find entertainment and their own relief with these walls.

Our turn is coming. Let’s whoop it up while we still can.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

News of the Hereafter

Masonic Cemetery (Sheridan, OR)

Late breaking news from the world of the dead:

You probably saw this stuff in your hometown paper or elsewhere, but if you happened to have missed it, here are a couple notes from our paper, The Oregonian:

An unnamed cemetery in Chicago (4/26/09) has built “a red brick wall designed to resemble the one in dead center at Wrigley Field… and is ready to accept the cremated remains of Cubs fans—inside $800 Cubbie blue and white urns if they wish.”

I’ve heard said that being a Cubs fan will kill you.

The same paper reported (5/13/09) that the State of Oregon is looking to regulate new body disposal methods, ones I’d never heard of. One process called “resomation” (if you can believe that; I couldn’t find it in any dictionary on-line) “dissolve[s] bodies into a soapy liquid.” That sounds especially wonderful. Another alternative is to freeze-dry Uncle Jake and grind him up “into a fine powder” which can be disposed of in a biodegradable coffin.

Or, presumably, added to your favorite cake recipe, little by little.

“Eat up now, children. Remember how Uncle Jake used to love chocolate cake?”

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ah, Fellow Cemeterians,

A note to let you know I’m still here but occupied elsewhere these days. I have done a little cemetery photography, which you’ll see by and by (a return to River View), but including a quick stop at the Palmer-Bell grave site in Washington, the Flickr entry for which (plus minor additions) follows this. If you think my cemeteries have suffered, you ought to hear my banjo. Maybe you shouldn’t.

Gardening takes up an inordinate amount of my time right now, with a lot of hours spent simply idling among and admiring the flowers. For the first time in our lives we have birds renting a bird house for the season, Bewick’s wren; and not just any bird house, but one our granddaughter made for her Grammy. A few days ago we started hearing the peeps of tiny newborns.

The rest of the time, the time where I carve out “writing time,” has largely been spent of late spitting out one more version of a small article which I write over and over again, usually stopping somewhere midway and abandoning the project for several more months or more, only to start over anew. It’s one of those quirky obsessions that lay people get into now and again, trying to prove one set of professionals or another that they’re full of hokey. I’m working on archaeologists, particularly those interested in human evolution.

Essentially, I’ve known for a long time where humans evolved. Ever since reading Desmond Morris’s “The Naked Ape” in the late 60s, I’ve known that the savannah theory of human revolution didn’t hold water and that water was the key to human evolution. It took me some time before I figured out just how water played its role in our evolution, the theories of the late 60s weren’t as advanced as they later became. The premise of “The Naked Ape,” which followed the seminal work of Alistair Hardy, which was popularized through Elaine Morgan, was that there was an aquatic phase in humans’ past, which caused the curious abnormalities shaping people: hairless, slow of foot, defenseless, etc. Hardy’s epiphany of the relationship between human body fat and that of seals discovered the obvious: water had something to do with it.

Which is does, and there’s been a group of adherents to that theory who have been hounding the profession ever since Hardy/Morgan/Morris went public. The profession, for its part, has resolutely ignored the water-babies, as it were, and stuck as religiously as possible to their theory that humans evolved on the savannah; but they’ve nonetheless slowly begun to adopt some of the probabilities of a water-based evolution theory. The evidence is too hard to ignore.

My addition to the fray has been what I call the demographic theory of evolution. It’s premise is that, essentially, we all currently live in the same place that we did when we first became bipedal: on the shore/beach/bank. We never moved; we’ve learned how to recreate that environment wherever we go, but, effectively, we haven’t left that environment. It was living on the beach that made us stand up for good; the pickings were too rich. The advantage of the demographic theory is that is avoids all but the most minimal ecological changes. Another name for the theory could by the Occam’s Razor Theory of Human Evolution. Occam’s Razor is, essentially, the geographical theorem that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line; i.e. the simplest explanation is probably the best. The demographic theory doesn’t have people moving from anywhere to anywhere to acquire all the characteristics they have now (including their migratory history); ergo, it’s the simplest theory of human evolution. By the rules of the game, if you have the more complicated theory, you have the burden of proof.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been piddling away at.

See ya later.

Palmer/Bell Grave Site

And herewith, the Palmer/Bell Grave Site spiel:

Not really a cemetery, containing but two-plus people. The “plus” being the leg of an Indian chief who, according to “Explorations,” a newsletter from the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, lost it during “a shooting accident and was a friend of the Palmers”; a story which was repeated to us by a honey vendor parked there when we stopped by. Related to the old chief by marriage, the vendor also said that recently a buried skull was found in the course of some utility pole work and that everything was currently halted to see whether or not the entire place was an old Native American burial ground. If so, he claimed, then the Indians would own the bridge, which appeared to amuse him considerably. According to legend and backed up by geologists a large chunk of a neighboring mountain fell into and blocked the river about 500 years ago, providing a natural bridge across it until washed away. Legend has it that the bridge lasted for several years, but my guess would be that any blockage would have been cleared away the first winter, at the latest. I’m told the USGS estimates it to have lasted “several months.”

The massacre referred to on the stone was, according to the same “Explorations,” brought on by the “breach of the Treaty of 1855.” It’s an old and oft repeated story.

The man-made bridge, which stands where the natural bridge once was (or close enough), while suggesting a more mundane origin, is still a bridge for, if not of, the gods. Of all the Columbia crossing from Oregon to Washington, this is the most heavenly. The view from the middle of the deck is sublime. One can only imagine what it was like when the river ran free. Maybe someday…