Forgotten History

 

Mt Moriah abandoned cemetary - saved 23Nov13

“Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.” – Gladstone.

Have you ever walked through a cemetery that did not hold some relative? Some people find them scary, even creepy. Personally, I enjoy them. I enjoy looking at the gravestones and monuments, seeing how they have changed through the years. I wonder about the people who were put to rest there – who they were, what they were like. Sometimes they give you clues, small bits of information put on the stones by loving family members. Other times they only have a name and a date.

Maybe liking graveyards makes me weird, but I find them to be peaceful places, often beautifully maintained. But what about the abandoned graveyards? Who is left to remember those interred beneath their soil? The question was brought to my attention by an article published in September 2013 about Medal of Honor winners buried in the abandoned Mount Moriah Cemetery near Philadelphia (http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/09/25/historic-cemetery-reveals-medal-of-honor-winners.html), their grave markers hidden beneath heavy underbrush and weeds, forgotten.

I did some research, trying to find out how common these abandoned graveyards are, expecting it to be an occasional occurrence. I was stunned to find that there are estimated to be thousands of abandoned cemeteries in the United States alone. Although every state I checked has statutes to protect grave sites, even abandoned ones, I could find no statistics regarding them. In Florida, a legislative task force determined that some counties have 100 or more abandoned cemeteries and that more exist but are completely forgotten.

These abandoned cemeteries exist for a variety of reasons. Some were originally private graveyards on estates or farms. Others served populations that were not considered important by the people in charge at the time of the burials, including old cemeteries used by blacks or immigrant laborers. But some, like the 380 acre Mount Moriah Cemetery were large and heavily used into recent history. These were the victims of neglect as newer, more modern cemeteries increased in popularity and the economics of maintaining the old cemeteries as income decreased resulted in their abandonment. Even being placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places has not prevented Mount Moriah’s decline.

Some states, such as Connecticut, have passed laws allowing communities to take over abandoned cemeteries but they contain no requirement that funds are allocated to even clean them up, let alone restore them. In fact, it can be extremely difficult to determine who owns these areas. The city of Tucson, Arizona paid for an outside study of a nineteenth-century cemetery, known as the National Cemetery, in 2005, prior to building a new Joint Courts Complex. They were surprised to find how little documentation existed – they could determine who used it and when but were unable to find either a map of the exact area of military or non-military burials or any comprehensive record of the actual burials.

It seems the only way these abandoned cemeteries are restored in any way is if some local group takes an interest in them, as happened with the Mount Moriah Cemetery. Sometimes this comes in the form of a Historical Society, as when the Prentiss County Genealogical & Historical Society took an interest in the “Campground Cemetery” in Prentiss County, Mississippi (http://www.wtva.com/news/local/story/Once-abandoned-cemetery-offers-historical/IxycMgss5E26EgHl2LCY9A.cspx). Other times, someone local to the area raises questions about the cemetery and persuades the town to get involved. This happened with both the Sunset Memorial Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida (http://members.jacksonville.com/news/metro/2010-08-10/story/group-fights-recognition-veterans-resting-abandoned-northwest) and the East Hills Cemetery in North Hempstead, Long Island (http://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/cleanup-for-forgotten-east-hills-cemetery-1.3858575). The North Carolina Cemeteries Survey (http://www.archaeology.ncdcr.gov/ncarch/reporting/cemetery.htm), which is attempting to record data related to old cemeteries, was the outgrowth of an Abandoned Cemeteries Study conducted between 1978 and 1981.

There are attempts to either clean up these old cemeteries or determine who is buried in them and move the inhabitants to newer, maintained cemeteries, but they are sporadic at best. I find it very sad that these people, once loved dearly, now lie forgotten by everyone. If Gladstone was correct in his assessment, what does our treatment of these old grave sites say about our current society?

 

 

I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at http://www.leomaretan.com.

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A Quiet Hero

Last week a story related to the very late receipt of a Purple Heart from World War II was published ( http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/19/purple-heart-given-to-wwii-soldier-daughter-7-decades-later/  ).  This was no ordinary “late award” story.  The military did not make a mistake and lose track of things.  The reality is both stranger and more impressive.

The original recipient of the award was PFC John Eddington of Missouri, a soldier in Italy during World War 2.  The finder of the award was Donna Gregory, whose only relation to PFC Eddington was that she was helping her husband clear out his grandparents home.  The box also contained a letter from the War Department to Eddington’s mother, informing her of his death.

The relationship between his mother and the grandparents of Donna Gregory’s then-husband is unknown, but the box troubled her.  With the Purple Heart was a very personal letter from the soldier to his new daughter, who was only four months old at the time of his death.  The letter told about how much she meant to him.

Donna Gregory made it her mission to find that daughter – to give her the medal and the letter.  It took her 14 years of searching but finally, earlier this year, she found Peggy Smith, John Eddington’s daughter, now 69.  Peggy Smith knew that her father received a Purple Heart but she didn’t know what had become on it – the subject of her father was far too painful for her mother to discuss.  In fact, she knew very little about her father.

Thanks to the dedication of Donna Gregory, who went far beyond what anyone would expect, and the advent of social media which finally provided a breakthrough in her search, Peggy Smith now has her father’s Purple Heart.  More importantly, she has the letter he wrote to her so long ago.

Donna Gregory is a true hero.  She went far beyond what most people would do, spending her own time and resources with no expectation of a reward – just the desire to complete the circle begun when PFC John Eddington wrote a letter to his infant daughter from that battlefield so far away.

Next time you find yourself in a position to make a choice – to spend some of your own time and effort to help, or to just pass on – remember Donna Gregory, who spent 14 years to bring a lost letter and a lost award back to the family of a man lost long ago.

 

 

I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at http://www.leomaretan.com.

 

Where were you?

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Do you remember where you were?  I had just reached my office and was checking the news.  The first thing I saw was the video of the towers.  At first I thought it was a movie trailer or a hoax.  Then I discovered it was all too real. . .

Take a moment today to remember the people who died just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, the people who died trying to help them, the people who lost friends or loved ones – remember everyone who was changed forever in that few minutes of time.

 

 

 

 

I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at http://www.leomaretan.com.

 

The Hero Inside

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Today’s graphic speaks for itself.  The heroes we hear about in the news do great things that should not be discounted, but there are many small acts of heroism every day that will never be known to the public.

Be there for your child or your spouse or your friend even if you’re in a hurry and it slows you down.  Help a stranger even when it would be easier to just let things go. Say something when you see bullying.  You won’t make the news but you can be a hero to the person you help, all the same.

 

I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at http://www.leomaretan.com.

 

Television Heroes

Heroes and superheroes are popular topics for films these days, causing television to try to get into the act.  With the success of the X-Men and Avengers films in theaters and the series Arrow last season, others are jumping on the bandwagon.  Arrow is returning, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is starting, and there’s talk of a new version of The Flash potentially spinning off Arrow.  Even reality television is joining the party.  Over the summer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hosted a reality competition called The Hero, which tried to put ordinary people in situations that would make them face their fears.

Superhero series have generally not done well on television in recent years, often dying quickly.  Various people have looked at the reasons for their failure from a television critic’s point of view.  I would like to look at it from a fan’s point of view.

I admit it.  I have watched superheroes on television for most of my life.  When I was young, I used to rush home from school to watch Marvel Superheroes and a Japanese import called Danguard Ace, among others.  Since that time, I’ve seen a great many series come and go, with varying levels of success.  What makes me reject one series and embrace another?

  1. I like my superheroes to be heroic.  Sure, they need to have flaws and weaknesses to make them interesting characters.  They can’t go too far into the “dark side”, though, unless it’s a temporary condition caused by something done to them.  I shudder whenever the critics describe a show or its characters as “edgy” or “out-of-the-box”.  Generally, that translates to “I’m going to hate it”.
  2. The show can’t be too preachy.  The heroes stand for right and justice but they need to show that by their deeds, not through a bunch of boring speeches.
  3. The show needs to have a sense of humor.  Characters that are all business, all the time, are dull.  There needs to be a balance between the world-saving ‘big events’ and the interplay between characters.
  4. The show needs to stay true to the established mythology for the character, when there is one.  If it varies too far, unless there is a rational progression to the change, I will reject it.
  5. While I enjoy exploration of the mythologies, preferring it to the ‘bad guy of the week’ technique of story telling, the writers need to be careful about making the mythology so convoluted that it requires a written flow chart to follow.
  6. I do not want my superheroes either swearing constantly or jumping into bed with everyone in sight.  For me, these are not heroic characteristics.  Quite frankly, I have very limited tolerance for them in any show and I won’t put up with them in my superheroes.

I’ve told you my view of what makes a superhero series good or bad.  What’s your view?

I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at http://www.leomaretan.com.