The Suitcase Lady


October 27, 2015, 9:16 pm

For twenty years I taught at a creative arts school for young children. Playing Saint-Saen’s musical piece, Danse Macabre, was an annual Halloween tradition. The kids and I would dance to the music, starting out as sleeping skeletons under the ground, rising up and dancing faster and faster as the night progressed and melting back into the ground when the rooster crows and dawn arrives. What child doesn’t like whirling madly around while pretending to be in a spooky graveyard?

Anyone thinking children should be shielded from any mention of death might be surprised at this historical fact. In the 1800’s cemeteries were used by families as parks are now, for picnics, family gatherings and nature walks.

Consider this quote from a book on the history of cemeteries in America:

“The rural cemeteries laid out by horticulturists in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York in the 1830’s were romantic, pastoral landscapes of the picturesque type. Planned as serene and spacious grounds where the combination of nature and monuments would be spiritually uplifting, they came to be looked on as public parks, places of respite and recreation acclaimed for their beauty and usefulness to society…by their example, the popular new cemeteries started a movement for urban parks.”

Our massive municipal parks such as Central Park in New York and the Chicago lakefront parkway were a direct result.

One of the most famous cemeteries in America is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery near Tarrytown, New York. Dating back to 1849, it is the resting place of Washington Irving who wrote the famous tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with its headless horseman.

I recently mentioned to a cousin of mine who is also our family genealogist that I have been in Tarrytown.

“Did you visit the cemetery?” he inquired. “We have an ancestor buried there.”

I had not known this piece of family history and am grateful to our scholarly historian who has spent many vacations wandering around in graveyards looking for our roots.

A visit to Sleepy Hollow cemetery is now on our travel list. We may even bring a picnic.

5 Comments for this entry

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    We’ll take a ride to Terrytown on a future bright sunny day to take some pictures of the cemetery. Let us know the grave marker you’d like to see. ALSO, talk (self-talk or whatever) is a great way for people to explore their understanding, and chatting with the deceased can reveal interesting things (as does chatting with animals, trees, and other vegetation). Writing is a form of this. The more one writes about topics of interest, the more one understands. The Forest Home cemetery is a great place to chat up a storm! Its monuments come alive when you pay attention to them. I photographed them when I lived in Milwaukee and always left the premises feeling happy and peaceful . . .

  • Mary Tooley on Facebook

    Karen, you need to talk to Ralph and he can fill you in about Tarrytown. Call me if you want his phone number. Ralph will never join the computer age. He lives in real reality and I am thankful there are a few people who do!

  • Noreen Strehlow on Facebook

    I also used Danse Macabre with a video that had well drawn skeletons. I used that as an intro to body movement, gestural drawing, and proportion. If Phoenix Elem. hadn’t made such terrible decisions, I would have stuck around a bit longer.

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    Shall do, but that said I have been involved with keyboards since my dad took me to his “Seconey Vacuum” plant offices when I was a little girl. While other kids played with toys, I played with huge, pre-computerized calculators. I was probably one of the only people in the early ’70s to have an office-style electric typewriter in my home (upon which my girls learned to type). In the 60s, I owned the very finest of manual styles. Then came the dedicated word processors. Kindred spirit Linda and me were the very first to jointly own one, and the rest is history. My motto: never look back . . .

  • evie robillard

    Mary–Holy Rosary in Kewaunee was of course next to a cemetery. We walked through it at least once a day. I could pick out certain relative’s tombstones . . . fell in love with a photo of a WWII victim . . . well, to say the least, it made me feel connected . . . evie