Bring Out Your Dead!

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

We visited a graveyard on Halloween, but not just any cemetery, Copp’s Hill, the second oldest in Boston. It was chock full of revolutionary spirit. What could go wrong? It had been a long day, what with first visiting Harvard, crashing the Red Sox parade and then walking the Freedom Trail through North Boston. Copp’s Hill is the physical highpoint of that trail. From its grounds, one can see Bunker Hill to the north, the Old North Church and modern Boston’s city center. Founded in 1659, it continued to accept new customers until 1825.

Of the headstones in this burying-ground, most are adorned with one of three symbols. The winged skull is the most common carving found on gravestones in Copp’s Hill. Around 80% of the headstones are adorned with the death’s-head. It is a symbol of death and mortality that has been used since medieval times. The prevalence of winged skull type symbols reflect the early date of this graveyard and the Puritan religious influence of that time. The winged face or cherub, also called a soul effigy, is a more genial symbol common from the mid-18th century. There are fewer winged face designs at Copp’s Hill than at other colonial cemeteries, suggesting a more conservative clientele in the North End. The urn-and-willow design became popular after the American Revolution. The urn is a classical symbol associated with death and the weeping willow indicates mourning and sorrow.

In the mid-19th century, paths were added to the burying grounds. To facilitate their construction the remaining headstones were lined up into rows, detaching many stones from the graves that they were made to mark. I suspect that only the groundskeepers were happy with this development.

Both Anne and I have been feeling our own mortality as of late. I started coming down with a cold near the end of our stay in Boston and Anne caught it too, but fortunately not until after the election. We have been commiserating with each other, while lying low, read lots of coughing, sneezing and blowing of noses. At times, I am reminded of this bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

The Dead Collector: Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!
Peasant 3: Here you are, here’s your ninepence.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn’t: I’m not dead!
The Dead Collector: Hang on, he says he’s not dead!
Peasant 3: Yes he is.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn’t: I’m not!

Annie Moore

Registry Hall Windows Ellis Island

She was the first person to immigrate to America through Ellis Island, the first of 12 million. She arrived the first day that it opened. It was New Years Day 1892 and it was also her fifteenth birthday. Arriving on the SS Nevada, bound from County Cork, her two younger brothers and an Irish longshoreman hustled her to the head of the line, with cries of “ladies first.” She was greeted by the Superintendent of Immigration, who presented her a $10 gold piece, which she promised to never part with. She then promptly disappeared into New York City. For years it was thought that she had met an untimely death that after marrying an Irish patriot, she had died beneath the wheels of a street car in Texas, at the age of 46.

Then in a 2005 case of historical revisionism that enhanced a legacy instead of subverting it, a team of genealogical adventurists, led by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, tracked her down. She had never left New York City. Instead, she led a poor immigrant’s life on the Lower East Side, married a baker and had eleven children, only half of which survived childhood. She died in 1924. She has great-grandchildren now, descendants with Irish, Jewish, Italian and Scandinavian surnames, “poster children” for immigrant America. Annie Moore came here with no more than dreams, but stayed here and enriched this country with her diversity.

Armistice Day

Colorized Photo of Men of the Artists Rifle and 2 Scouts in Front of the Tower of London 1914

Armistice Day commemorates the end of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning, the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. Today is the centennial of that commemoration. Last year, when we were in London, Anne took a picture of the above photo, while touring the Tower of London. The Artists Rifles was a volunteer battalion of the British Army that was drawn from painters, musicians, actors, architects and others involved in creative endeavors. They were billeted at the Tower in October of 1914, before being sent to the front. She took her picture with the intent of sharing it with our son, Dan, who is also an artist. The original photograph is black-and-white, but using an App from Algorithmia, I was able to colorized it. I think that adding a little color helps to humanizes these people a little bit. In part, because the Great War didn’t turnout to be the war to end all wars, we now call Armistice Day Veterans Day and it is usually observed on Monday, making for a three-day weekend. A lot has changed in a hundred years.

The Red Sox are Coming

Old North Church and Paul Revere

A car honks in Boston. This happens because:

  1. Another car is in the driver’s way
  2. The driver is an ebullient Red Sox fan
  3. The driver is a disgruntled Yankee fan
  4. The driver just likes noise
  5. All of the above

We started the day walking to Harvard. It was not very far, plus we found a nice coffee shop in-between. There, we toured the Yard, Square and art museum. There were lots of other tourists around, many in groups. Except for in-between classes, when the grounds were flooded with students, we tourists ruled.

Hopped the T for a ride downtown. The T is short for M.T.A., which in turn is short for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Immortalized by the Kingston Trio, their song of woe chronicles the trials and tribulations of Charlie, who because of an ill-timed fare increase is stuck forever beneath the streets of Boston and never returned. Except he did, we bought a rechargeable M.T.A. fare card and found that it is called a Charlie.

Exiting the T, we surfaced next to the Commons and into the throng of Red Sox fans that had gathered to celebrate the team’s World Series victory. Boston, Red Sox parade, Halloween, what could go wrong? Our going in plan was to walk the Freedom Trail, but first we had to detour. Yankees suck! Yankee suck! By the time that we hit Faneuil Hall the crowd began to disperse.

Switching from Red Sox to Redcoats, we toured Paul Revere’s house, the Old North Church and Copp’s Hill cemetery. On the Charlestown bridge, we crossed the river. The bridge’s steel grate pedestrian walkway has interspersed steel plates that are marked acrophobia friendly. I’m still uncertain as to whether or not this was a joke, but the signage looked official enough and I wasn’t about to hangout there any longer than I had, as rush hour traffic shook the bridge with an unholy roar. We arrived 15-minutes too late to tour the USS Constitution.

Doubling back over the bridge, we met Dave in the same Old North End that we had been touring all day and that doubles as Boston’s Italian neighborhood. Trick or treaters were coming out and all the shops had baskets of goodies laid out for them. Dave picked a very nice, white tablecloth restaurant for dinner. After, we hit Mike’s Pastries. We had been seeing Mike’s signature string tied white boxes all day and once got lost from the Freedom Trail, led astray by promises of cannoli. We snagged a few and then Ubered home to snarf them.