Mount Mora, St. Joseph, Missouri

Mount Mora was full of poison ivy and great mausoleums.

Despite having to watch where I put my feet, I had a great time here. I’ve never seen so many mausoleums in one place at least not in the midwestern U.S.

I caught a couple of nice little orbs in this one. Spirits or sun spots, you make the call.

Beautiful patinas, lovely colors. Can you imagine what these monuments must have looked like brand new and gleaming?

I didn’t know the stories behind all the grand monuments, but I did get the scoop on this last one.

According to John Gary Brown in his great book, Soul in the Stone, in the 1880’s Mr. and Mrs Vanderlinde stopped in St. Joseph on their way west. Mrs. V. died in childbirth. Mr. V, without friends or family in the area, built this tomb for his wife. He moved on with their child shortly after completing it. Recently, groundskeepers noticed that the wooden door had deteriorated. After a quick look inside, they bricked over the entrance. What they saw in the tomb was Mrs. V’s preserved body lying on a plank held by two saw horses. She had on her wedding gown.

Sigh.

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Shy about hanging out in graveyards?

Here are some common sense guidelines to help you break the ice and indulge your inner taphophile.

1. Ninety-nine percent of cemeteries are closed after dark. However, many have special tours organized at night, especially around Halloween. Watch for those, they’re a blast.

2. Drive and bike through cemeteries slowly, under 15 mph. You’ve got to watch out for the living. Their eyes may be open, but they could be focused on another plane entirely.

3. Yes, it’s okay to walk on the surface above a grave. Unless you’re a professional dancer, hopscotching across acres of graveyard just isn’t practical.

4. Most people come to cemeteries for quiet contemplation.  It’s okay to laugh, cry, have a conversation, among the graves. Just be courteous to other visitors, (alive or dead).

English: «Dia de los muertos» in the indigenou...

5. Picnics, yes or no? In cultures all over the world there are holidays where it’s traditional to picnic on the family plot. Generally, quiet picnics are fine any time of year. If you share a meal with the dead, clean up, take your trash home with you.

6. Listening to music while strolling through a cemetery can be a sublime experience. Just keep your tunes to yourself. Use ear buds or your imagination.

7. It’s okay to touch tombstones, but gently and only with clean hands. Using them for furniture or leap-frog is not okay.
8. Taking rubbings or using shaving cream on hard-to-read tombstones erodes delicate surfaces. Shine a halogen flashlight across the face instead. The shadows, even in the day time will make writing easier to read. I have one with me at all times.
9.  People leave all kinds of tokens on graves. I leave a rock on my mother’s grave every time I visit. Mom liked rocks. It’s okay to look but not to touch. Read a note if it’s left open and exposed, but don’t snoop into a closed envelope.

10. Many lucky dead are planted with peonies, jonquils, and irises. Unless it’s a member of your family, don’t pick the flowers. Unless you’re there as an official volunteer, don’t give in to your inner gardener and pull weeds. You may be denying a loved one a cherished chore.

11. Cemeteries are a weird realm of publicly displayed grief and the promise of privacy. Take all the pictures you want as long as the only living souls in them are the ones you brought along. Never take pictures of strangers. Leave the area if there’s a funeral going on.

12. Volunteer! If you really want to get your fingers dirty, find out if your favorite cemetery has a restoration or care-giving group.  Often volunteers are the only way the oldest cemeteries are maintained at all.

It’s common sense and common courtesy really. Be respectful of the living and the dead.

Atchison, Kansas

Atchison, Kansas, hometown of Amelia Earhart, sits so close to the mighty Missouri river that you can walk down Main street and dip your toe in.

Floods have come close to wiping out the town several times, but Amelia’s house remains safe, high on the bluffs overlooking the river. 

I spent a long afternoon exploring Mount Vernon cemetery in Atchison a few weeks ago.

There are several gems like little Ned Rigg. I couldn’t make out what he’s writing. Hopefully, not homework for all eternity. 

The empty child-sized chair had cast off clothes and toys carved on the front, “Jimmie’s” things. 

There were several intriguing epitaphs, even a Shakespearean quote.

Have you ever seen stones autographed by the deceased? There were several in Mount Vernon.There were MANY more interesting graves I’m not posting. Mt. Vernon’s definitely worth a visit. It’s a few miles outside of town, near the Amelia Earhart Earthworks.