An Explosion of Trees

Last weekend I was in the Baltimore area. A former colleague from Diamond was holding a comics and toys show in Westminster, so I drove down to show my support. After, I drove down to visit the cemeteries, which I’d not done since Memorial Day.

I was both glad and sad that I did. Glad in that I was able to document what I saw at Loudon Park. Sad that I had to.

A number of trees had exploded.

There really is not a better way to describe it.

It was evident as I drove into the cemetery. Something looked off. The way I go through the cemetery, I’ll pass near my great-grandparents, look in their direction, and turn to go into the older part of the cemetery so I can work my way back. Something didn’t look right.

In the old part of the cemetery, I drove across the wreck of a fallen tree branch. Nothing large. I thought nothing of it.

Then I reached the top of Whatcoat hill.

A tree branch has collapsed from a vine-covered tree onto headstones, some of them fallen and displaced
At the top of Whatcoat Hill

Whatcat, as I’ve probably mentioned before, is an old part of an already old cemetery; the graves from Whatcoat Methodist Episocopal, the building of which I believe now belongs to a Baptist church, were relocated here in the 19th-century. There’s much in Whatcoat that postdates that, such as my family, and I’ve little reason to believe that my family was connected with that church, but there are very old graves here, especially at the top.

There’s a tree at the top of Whatcoat hill. I often park near it — it makes getting out of this part of cemetery easier — then hike past it, over the hill, and down into the basic.

The tree is dead, and probably has been for a long time. The only thing living holding it up are the vines that have overgrown the trunk and branches, covering every last inch of it, choking the very life out of it.

Sometime in the last two months — and probably more recent than that — something inside gave way, the tree’s structure and the vines could no longer support the branch, and it fell.

At least,. that’s what I thought in the moment as I got out of my Beetle and snapped off a photo. It’s true, but it’s only partly true. Because when I turned around to get back into my Beetle, I saw that another tree fifty feet away had dropped a branch onto a series of headstones. And, though I wouldn’t notice until later, the tree behind the tree in the foreground of the photo above had also dropped branches.

Something, clearly, had happened here.

Visiting my great-great-grandmother’s site, the scale of what had happened came into view.

My great-great-grandmother Susan, for the record, is fine.

Uphill of my great-great-grandmother, on the hill opposite Whatcoat, there once stood two mighty trees. One still stood, though it had lost several branches. The other had fallen, leaving a mass of branches and tossed aside headstones across the hillside.

I examined the stump, and everything about this screamed in my head that this was recent, within the past few days, certainly no more than a week.

Had a storm blown through that took the trees down in the heavy wind? There were reports of a negligible earthquake a few days prior; had it not been so negligible after all? I didn’t have the answers.

Looking across the cemetery, a shattered tree's stump and branches
The shattered tree in section SS, from the site of Henry Hardy and family

After walking around and taking many more photographs than these, I returned to the Beetle to drive back over to the other half of the cemetery.

This stopped me.

A tree and its fallen limb near Babe Ruth's father

This is near Babe Ruth’s father; I’ve been there before, he’s about ten feet to my left. I’ve walked through here a number of times. I’ve trekked up that hill, which is not easy as it’s rather steep, most recently in March.

As I neared the old (and closed) entrance to the cemetery on Frederick Avenue, which is the oldest part of the cemetery, I saw another collapsed tree to my left. I knew this to be in the vicinity of Mary Pickersgill, the seamstress who sewed and assembled the Fort McHenry flag, so I pulled off and had to take a look.

The tree was rotted and hollow from the inside, and it fell in the direction of Pickergill’s grave. (The second photo is what the fallen tree looked like from Pickergill’s site.)

The gravesite of Mary Pickersgill, seamstress of the Fort McHenry flag
The gravesite of Mary Pickersgill, seamstress of the Fort McHenry flag

Pickersgill herself was fine.

I really don’t know what this is. Is it a church? Is it a school? Google Maps isn’t edifying.

From here I took a circuitous and unfamiliar route back to the newer half of the cemetery. I’d walked through these areas a number of times, but I’d never driven them, and I went past some familiar locations, like Napoleon’s nephew until I reached Confederate Hill. I didn’t notice any other shattered trees in the old half of the cemetery, but I also knew I’d only scratched the surface.

In the newer half of the cemetery, I saw a handful of recently exploded stumps, but the trees themselves had been cleared away, such as one near my great-grandparents’ site.

My great-grandparents and their three children were fine as well. “Near” is a relative term; this ruined stump was easy walking distance — I parked about midway between my great-grandparents and this stump — but their site and this tree were probably 100 yards apart.

What happened here? A week later, I’m still at a loss.

A dead or dying tree collapsing under its own weight, a heavy and neglected branch dropping off — these are unstandable. But multiple branches? Multiple trees? As Auric Goldfinger puts it in Goldfinger, novel, not movie: “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.” Something happened here. Something caused these trees to explode. Something wrecked dozens of graves, scattered across the cemetery. Storm, heavy wind, earthquake, I don’t know.

The dead are long past caring. Many of these sites are old; they would have few, in any, deliberate visitors. Yet I was saddened to see the cemetery in this state, just as I was three years ago when the cemetery was badly flooded.

I’ll return, probably in the autumn, to see what’s changed and whether things have been cleaned up.

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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