1. A special fondness and interest in cemeteries or graveyards; especially, in collecting epitaphs that are written on the tombstones.So there we have it, I'm a Coimetrophiliac and now that I know that I guess it's easy to understand why I go to so many cemeteries and take pictures! And here all these years I thought I was just slightly morbid or something! Truth be told, there are some absolutely gorgeous cemeteries with wonderful tributes to loved ones who have passed on as well as some cemeteries with a lot of interesting history in them so who wouldn't find them fascinating?
2. A fascination with seeing gravestones and sarcophagi (plural of sarcophagus).
Well, actually, there's a term for that, too, and it's called "coimetrophobia" which is an excessive or abnormal fear of cemeteries - a mild form of which I think I may have actually had when I was a kid though only when it was dark as I distinctly always remember turning my head the other way if we drove past a cemetery at night.
According to my research, "those who fear cemeteries usually are also afraid of going to funerals, looking at tombstones or dead bodies, and just hearing about funerals. Some people will drive long distances out of their way to avoid going by a cemetery or walk on the other side of the street to avoid being close to one." So, just as I'm a Coimetrophiliac there are those who are Coimetrophobiacs. For every yin there is a yang, right?
Anyway, enough fascinating babble aside, I really started out to just do this post on the Old Burying Point in Salem as I had some pictures from my trip up there with Jamie a couple of weekends ago that I wanted to share. It being October and all it seemed like a good time to do another cemetery post and besides, it's been 25 days since my last cemetery post when I wrote about Author's Ridge at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord so I'm really past due!
The Old Burying Point, which is also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, is the oldest cemetery in Salem. Started in 1637 it's also reportedly the second oldest known cemetery in the country. Of course, I'm not positive on that as when I tried to do some research on which cemetery is the oldest in the country, I got a lot of conflicting answers. What was kind of cool though is that I found out that the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven is the first chartered burial ground in the United States which means that a trip there is most definitely in order at some point! Oops, this post is getting away from me again, isn't it?
To get back on track, the Old Burying Point is located on Charter Street next to the Witch Trials Memorial and is a very easy walk from the historic Hawthorne Hotel where Jamie and I were staying. The burying grounds contains many famous and interesting individuals such as Jonathan Corwin and Colonel John Hathorne, both of whom were Judges in the Salem Witch Trials; Samuel Bradstreet who was a Governor of Massachusetts; Captain Richard More who came over on the Mayflower as a boy, not as a Pilgrim but because he was placed aboard the ship with his three siblings from England by his father when he found out that their mother had had an affair with another man and he wasn't their real father; and 25-year old Hephzibah Packer who was fined in 1683 for fornication with her husband before marriage. Hephzibah died in 1684 so considering the short life the poor woman had, I suspect God was quite forgiving of her transgression.
I found a great website that has a gallery of pictures of all the stones at the Old Burying Point that you might find interesting if you're so inclined to click over there and take a look. It's called A Very Grave Matter; in addition to Salem's oldest cemetery, they have a lot of information on other cemeteries in Massachusetts as well as Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. If you're doing any sort of genealogy and you have relatives from New England I bet it's a fantastic asset and if not, it's still a pretty interesting read - at least to Coimetrophiliacs like myself!
Most of the stones at the Old Burying Point are very old and in most cases, very hard to read not only because of their age but also because of the style of writing when they were carved. Still, there's a lot of fascinating history to be found - especially if you can visit the cemetery when it isn't crowded with tourists and you remember to bring your darned glasses which would probably make reading the old stones just a little bit easier!
In addition to the interesting gravestones, there are also some pretty neat old gnarled trees that add to the overall ambiance of the place. Maybe it's just me but I've found that trees grow very well in cemeteries and I've wished more than once that they could talk as I'm sure the stories they could tell would be totally fascinating. Though now that I think about it, if I were walking through a cemetery and one of the trees started talking to me I'm pretty sure that would totally freak me out - at least for a little while until it started telling me some good stories! At any rate, it would most definitely be interesting to know how old the trees are at the Old Burying Point but I've not been able to find any information on that yet.
As much as I've gone schlepping through cemeteries, I forget that Jamie hasn't so she found it quite fascinating that a good number of the gravestones had a lot of interesting carvings on them. I don't know what all of the different symbols mean but I do know that they all symbolized something and many of them were based on people's fears and superstitions of death and the unknown. A lot of the images of pain, torment, and eternal damnation such as the variations of skeletons, angels of death, and dark winged skulls were used as an attempt to frighten the living into maintaining a life of virtue - something that didn't really work for poor Hephzibah Parker, huh?
Of course not all of the carvings were scary or meant to frighten and there are also often winged angels used to represent messengers between men and God or to serve as Guardian Angels over the departed.
Along with the various winged figures, there were also a lot of weeping willows which are the symbolic trees of human sadness and Earthly sorrow.
One of these days I'm going to have to get a book so that I can figure out exactly what all of the different symbols mean as it seems to me if I'm going to continue to explore old cemeteries then I should at least have some idea of what I'm looking at! After all, if I'm going to have coimetrophilia then I should make sure I am well prepared, right? Seems to me that if I'm going to be a Coimetrophiliac then I want to be a good Coimetrophiliac!