This past weekend I celebrated my Birthday, it wasn’t my 29th, but close enough I suppose. As you would expect any photographer to do, I spent the weekend–through Tuesday–photographing. I was working on a project but also testing some lenses–and roaming around aimlessly as I am prone to do once I get out of the city.
Over the years, one of the things I have found interesting is visiting pioneer cemeteries. I can spend hours just reading the headstones and wondering about the lives these people must have lived and how it must have been before electricity, plumbing and, in Texas, air conditioning.. Sometimes, I find a run of infant deaths all within a short period of time and once, a whole family it seemed, 5 children, who passed sequentially about every 6 months to a year over a 3 year period and then were followed by the mother just a few months after the last one. In this case, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sadness inside and don’t think I could ever really understand the agony that mother must have gone through.
Over the weekend, I really wasn’t interested in visiting any cemeteries although I passed one it seemed every 15-20 minutes or so. Maybe I have gotten over the cemetery thing or maybe, with another birthday, I just feel close enough to one as it is. Most of the names of these places I passed have left my mind, except one called Baby Head Cemetery. I did turn around to go read the historical marker there, I mean the name was just too odd to not discover the origins. The story seemed incomplete with Indians having killed a child on the local mountain and left the remains there—that doesn’t rate “Baby Head” in my opinion. Maybe the tale was too gruesome to be repeated in polite society back in those days and was watered down but something just doesn’t seem right–details, I want the bloody details. I will wait for the movie I guess.
Speaking of historical markers, I generally don’t stop to read these things when I am out like this, but on Monday I saw one regarding some war game that was played out on Texas soil in 1952. With concerns about the cold war and nuclear attacks, apparently the government got easements to stage a massive maneuver in central Texas, Operation Longhorn—over 115,000 troops were involved. I only read this one because it was where I had stopped to photograph. Having never heard of this, I started to take notice of other markers I drove by to see if there was more information. Generally, I just slowed down when I saw a sign saying there was a marker ahead and would scan the heading as I passed by, none ever said any more about the war games. But I did follow a sign to one of these markers and was led into a cemetery that was back off the road a ways. The cemetery appeared to still be in use but I could see those tell tale older headstones and monuments in the back and decided to go have a look since I was there.
As I walked around checking things out, I came across several headstones of a type I hadn’t seen before, those for the unknown. At the time, I was more amused than anything with the way the headstones were inscribed. In every way these were just sort of telling. The image here shows 1 of 3 N’s backwards while another had 2 of 3. My guess is that they were probably from about 1890 as they seemed to be made in a similar process to one with that date on it. The one that was made for a client didn’t have the backward letters or alignment issues and so I do wonder if an apprentice was left to his own devices for these.
After awhile, I did start to ponder this whole “Unknown” thing. These particular stones were placed right there along with the more magnificent sculptural headstones and not off in some corner by themselves. It made me think that they were included in the community here and yet no one knew them. Who were they and where did people know them? These were questions that crossed my mind–did they just drop into town and die?
While a birthday can make one wonder about their own mortality, I think I just started thinking about connections and relationships and such. A theme that has sort of dominated my personal photography for the last several years, but this made me think in terms more personal. Just about how important it is to have good friends and family around you. It was great to have all those birthday wishes waiting for me when I got home.
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