Investigative Cemetery Explorations

After a couple of mild winters, this year has brought the snow.

Since the beginning of the year, I think there’s been a snowfall at least once a week, and for most of the last month there’s been snow on the ground. It hasn’t been warm enough to melt the last snow, and the next one just piles on top. A few days ago I saw a flatscreen television emerging from a snowbank by the dumpsters, like Captain America from the ice. Not to mention the shattered newspaper box, which still lingers unloved by the mailboxes along the street. Or the fat behind of the stray cat that took up residence on the step of my apartment and my neighbor’s; every time I open the door, he runs away from the door, down the shoveled sidewalk and out to the parking lot, and I watch him flee and wonder who’s feeding him, because he’s surely not being fed here.

Suffice it to say, this endless assault of winter has grown old. And I needed to get out of my apartment, if only for the change in view.

The snow-covered hills of Yoe
The snow-covered hills of Yoe

And since I haven’t been to a cemetery since December, not since my grandmother would have been 100 on Christmas Eve, I decided I would drive down to Baltimore and visit Loudon Park.

There were two reasons I wanted to go.

First, I wanted to see it in snow. There’s been a lot of snow, I’ve seen pictures on Twitter of Washington’s Congressional Cemetery in snow, and I imagined that Loudon Park would look amazing and magical in snow.

Second, I found this image online of the trolley that once ran through the cemetery.

Vintage photograph of the Loudon Park trolley, circa 1920, with graves in the foreground

The trolley ran from the (then) main gate on Frederick Avenue, crossed the creek, and then ran to near where my great-grandparents are buried. Indeed, what little remains of the trolley — a small segment of track — can be seen in the wooded ravine adjacent to my great-grandparents’ section.

Looking at the photograph, which dates to around 1920, a lightbulb went off in my brain as it said, “I recognize this!” While I didn’t know exactly where this was, I felt like I would be able to find this location fairly easily. There are railroad tracks in the background, the pillar-style monument topped with the jar is common but not too common, and I have maps that show where the tracks ran. I’ve even seen the last remaining tracks.

I did not find it fairly easily,

Headstones at Loudon Park Cemeetery

The problem is, I was looking in the wrong place, and I chanced across when I was, essentially, giving up the search. I misinterpreted the line of trees in the original photograph and believed they were the trees that run along the creek. And knowing that there were railroad tracks higher up, I believed the original photo looked south rather than east. I assumed it was looking south, from near the crossing from the newer side of the cemetery to the old where the bridge washed out three years ago in the flooding, toward the railroad tracks on the other side. As a result, I was in the right general vicinity, but the wrong place, looking in the wrong direction, and when nothing matched up and I was giving up to return at another time…

The Addison and Schaefer graves, seem in the 1920 photograph, as they appear today

…there it was.

The reason my brain “knew”? I drive past this place every time I go to the cemetery. The road, seen at left, would go straight into the old part of the cemetery — where my great-great-grandmother is buried — but the bridge has been closed since the flooding. Now instead, I still drive past here, then hook a left, cross another bridge, turn up a hill, take another right and go past Confederate Hill, and that road connects with the road up from the closed bridge. Even if I didn’t consciously know where this was, my brain unconsciously knew.

This is in the Edgewood section, right along the road. The white headstones in the original belong to the Addison family. The gray pillar belongs to the Schaeffer family. It’s interesting to note the differences between the two photos. I like the round site markers in the original photo. The headstones haven’t aged yet and they’re neater. Also, there were only four in a row in 1920 compared to the five that are there now; the fifth belongs to Mary Elizabeth Addison, who died in 1943.

When I go back in the spring, I’ll try to line up a photo that better matches the original.

As you can see, compared to Yoe, there wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground in Baltimore. Which, in a way, was bad. Not because I wouldn’t get what I wanted — photos of a cemetery in snow — but because I ended up driving the Beetle in some places I really shouldn’t have gone.

My plan, to the extent that I had a plan, was to park someplace I could safely reach by car and walk. I thought I might be able to get into the older part of the cemetery. If I could reach the old gate, I’d park there and hike the rest of the way to my great-great-grandmother’s grave. Even if the old part of the cemetery were closed off to traffic, I’d park and walk. But when I saw that the roadways were clear throughout the newer side, that the gate into the old half was open, that the road up to Confederate Hill was clear except for a little unmelted snow…

No, that was not unmelted snow on Confederate Hill. That was hard, smooth ice.

Okay, I got past that, though I had a moment where the Beetle went sideways on a road where there’s literally no room to go sideways — there’s a wall of stone mausoleums on one side and nothing on the other. But I got past that, going in the direction I wanted to go, and everything was fine…

Until I reached that intersection where I meet the road that crosses the closed bridge and the ice patch there.

There’s no greater feeling in the world than the feeling of a car sliding sideways down a hill toward a tree… until your front tires finally hit asphalt and you can steer again.

I turned up the hill, turned left and parked at the top of Whatcoat Hill, as I often do, and said, “What the fuck were you thinking?” I am both stupid and lucky. There are places in the world to wreck a car. An old cemetery is not one of them.

Whatcoat Hill, Loudon Park Ceemtery

My great-great-grandmother’s grave was fine.

Grave of Susan Gardner, my great-great-grandmother

I then explored on foot for some time, as much just to see the place as to figure out how I could get out of the old part of the cemetery. I don’t go back the way I come in. Instead, I usually go straight from where I parked, past H.L. Mencken’s grave, then take a left to come out at the mausoleums, then back down the hill to the gate. Scouting this on foot, I discovered this was impassable due to ice — smooth, slick, and measuring about four car lengths. Getting hung up on the ice and sliding off the road into headstones was a real possibility.

The other way would be to go down the hill and take a left, which would put me on a better road, circle me past the Frederick Road gate (which is closed), and then back to the gate between the old and new cemeteries. While there was ice at the bottom of the hill, I thought this would be passable. The problem was the ice on the road down the hill to reach the bottom — I’d have to cross about two car lengths — but here I could drive partly on the grass so I’d have some traction.

And that was how I went. I ran into side ice near the Frederick Road gate but it wasn’t serious. Once I got back to the newer side of the cemetery, I parked again, this time by my great-grandparents, and went searching for the location in that old photograph of the trolley.

Deer in the distance among the graves

I was not alone. There were deer, and they were about as skittish as that cat that lives outside my apartment.

It appeared there was soon to be a burial.

A pile of dirt, and lid of a burial vault, and planking at Loudon Park

The ground was occasionally muddy and randomly so. I’d go from icy to firm to muddy in the span of feet, and there was one point where I think I sank two inches into the muddy muck.

The Wilkens mausoleum

I’ll go again in spring and get a better photograph of the Addison/Schaefer monuments that’s more aligned with the old photo.

And the the next time I want a photograph of a cemetery in the snow, I’ll just look for photos of Congressional Cemetery in the snow online. Yes, winter sucks. Yes, it’s nice to get outside and explore. But wrecking a car in a cemetery thanks to ice would be bloody stupid.

In any case, it was nice to get out of the apartment yesterday for a couple of hours, especially because Yoe got another three inches of snow today.

“Always winter, never Christmas,” as they say in Narnia.

Published by Allyn Gibson

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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