Last summer, I visited Fernwood Cemetery at the intersection of Long Lane and Baltimore Pike in East Lansdowne where my great-grandparents are buried. It was the first time I was ever there, but visiting a cemetery was a common activity for my grandparents. They lived around the corner from us in East Lansdowne and often came to our house for Sunday dinner. Often, but especially on Easter, they would mention they had earlier visited the cemetery after church. My own parents were enlightened Presbyterians and thought cemetery visits vaguely idolatrous. So, after these many years, I was curious where my grandparents went and what their experience was like.
If you do not know where the grave is located, your first stop is at the cemetery office. The one at Fernwood is surprisingly active and informal with two agile middle-aged women behind a battered wood counter hustling around, answering phones and scheduling waiting maintenance men. It reminded me of morning at a busy camp office with friendly people and thumb-tacked notes everywhere. Fernwood is still burying people, two scheduled for the day I was there.
Her first question was not the name, but the year of death. Uh-oh. I’m not good with dates. Maybe 1930, I guessed. She stepped over to a bookshelf and pulled out a large, ancient leather-bound ledger book and I saw why the date was important. The graves are listed by date of internment, handwritten entries in ledgers, one for each decade. Searching is done by scanning with one finger down page after page. She was willing to search as long as needed, and, after a few false starts, she found the name of one side of the family, but not the other. She triumphantly marked the spot on a cemetery map and gave it to me with a wave in the general direction. I easily found the gravestone, and, by chance, even the gravestone of the other side of the family nearby.
Looking at the gravestones and the surroundings was a very pleasant experience, not at all morbid. My thoughts were not with the dead, moldering bones below, but with my then-living grandparents, much younger than I am now, standing in that very spot they thought was so important on Easter Sunday afternoons many years ago, and the gravestone once selected by them at what must have been considerable expense, and everything looking just as they saw it.
Almost as a reward for my filial efforts, I saw a tall statue not far away, and as I got closer, saw it was one of the most impressive statues I had ever seen, so impressive that I took a photo of it (shown below, double click on it to enlarge). The figure exudes strength and pride, amazingly, fully rigged in a diving suit. Even the suit is a masterpiece, expertly duplicating the feel of rubberized fabric.
I asked about the statue back at the cemetery office. They said years ago, the son visited the grave site, but when they asked him about it, he said he didn’t want to discuss the matter and abruptly left. Go figure. If you are ever in the area, the statue alone is worth a visit.