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Dee Burris Blakley ([personal profile] dee_burris) wrote2011-02-21 08:16 pm

"Dear Board of Trustees and Staff of Elmwood Cemetery"

I've met a lot of family historians, genealogists and gravers* who grumble about large cemeteries.

You know the big honking ones with paved streets and street signs - the kind you *need* a map to get around in.

If it has more than 20,000 burials, then I call it a large cemetery.

Some of them say they find the big ones, especially the corporate big ones, cold, impersonal and dismissive.

I think those are probably really the (very small) minority of the tens of thousands of cemeteries all over this country where people are dying to help you (pun intended.)

And every once in a while, you run across a stellar operation.

I think that should be acknowledged.

*graver. Noun. A person who photographs funerary art for the sheer joy of it and is catapulted into a state of bliss when the stones are damp with a recent light rain.

Dear Board of Trustees and Staff of Elmwood...

I’ve been to Elmwood twice in the past six months. Before then, I am ashamed to say, I didn’t even know it existed.

I am a “graver.” I have loved and photographed funerary art for many years. So Elmwood should have been on my radar for that reason alone. It is a stunning presentation of funerary art that has evolved over decades, and is immaculately maintained.

I found Elmwood because I was searching for my g-g-g grandfather’s date and location of death, and his place of burial. It took me two years of looking off and on until I finally mis-spelled his surname badly enough for a Google search engine to give me some valid results.

Nathaniel C Callaway (1819-1862) went off to fight in the CSA on 6 Mar 1862. He enlisted in his home town of Arkadelphia, in Clark County, AR. His youngest child had just celebrated his fourth birthday. Nathaniel and his wife, Julia Ann, had just buried their second child nine months earlier.

And he just never came back.

None of the descendants at the annual family reunion knew when or where he died or was buried. No one’s parents knew what happened to him.

And I finally found him at Elmwood. Not only that, but one of his cousins. They were buried in the section called Confederate Soldiers Rest.

So I rounded up a Callaway cousin and we came to see.

We discovered that Nathaniel C and Levi A Callaway’s graves were not formally marked, but had the numbered concrete markers installed on all the Confederate graves in 1886. So we ordered their military markers from the VA.

And waited.

From the very beginning, our experience with Elmwood has been marvelous. We have now been to Elmwood twice, and enjoyed the hospitality and professionalism of your staff – from the front office all the way to the cemetery superintendent, Todd Fox. In addition, I’ve had perhaps a half dozen telephone conversations and email exchanges with your staff that expedited setting up a date to watch Mr. Fox install gravestones on our Callaway ancestors’ graves.

Nearly a century and a half after they died, we now have photos of their properly marked graves, in the shade of wondrous southern magnolias. I am grateful that our Callaway men who died so far from home have such a lovely resting place. Almost next to each other.

Please share this letter and my thanks and appreciation with everyone who works so hard to make Elmwood the fine cemetery it is.


Sent it by email this afternoon and the hard copy will go out in the snail mail tomorrow.


(Anonymous) 2011-02-25 03:56 am (UTC)(link)
What a great reminder to thank people when they are very helpful. :) I'm sure that they will all appreciate your letter.