September 19, 2009

Cemetery Walk

This morning, I had the good fortune to spend two hours with dead people. It was a lot of fun, although they didn't say much.

I kid, of course - sort of. My friend Jessie told me about this cemetery walk that Rienzi Cemetery hosts every year, so I joined them and about 25 others for a guided tour of that very large cemetery (so far, it houses about 30,000 and counting); large for Fond du Lac, anyway! There were supposed to be costumed actors at various gravesites around the cemetery, but someone was in error (either the cemetery or our newspaper), because it was actually supposed to take place next week. I'm actually kind of glad that it didn't happen - sometimes, if the acting is over-the-top or just plain bad, it sort of dampens the whole experience. Instead, we had a very knowledgable guide from the cemetery itself, a woman who has done extensive research of the former residents of Fond du Lac and the surrounding area.

Anyone living in the Fond du Lac area for the past three weeks knows we're living through a rare loooong high pressure system - it's been almost Floridian here. All of September, we've had highs in the 70s and 80s and sunshine every single day. Today was no exception. It was perfectly chilly to start the walk and became warmer gradually throughout the two hours. But it certainly made the walk more pleasant, if that's possible. One of the highlights for the tour, for me, was the discovery of a rare elm tree by the Rueping plots (the Rueping family started a very successful tanning business, called Rueping Leather, that thrived for nearly 100 years. They shoed entire regiments for the Spanish-American War). I don't believe I've ever seen an elm tree, because most succumbed to Dutch Elm before I was born. Does the fact that it was exciting to see an elm tree make me old? It was also fun to learn that about twelve years ago, the cemetery implemented a pet cemetery. Viewing those very heartfelt grave markers was the only time I got a little choked up. These people viewed their pets as members of the family and gave them quite a wonderful send-off.

I was suprised there were special sections for the Greeks, the Lithuanians, and a separate Jewish cemetery, which is part of the whole but has its own gate, and is dedicated to the 6 million. Our guide didn't take us through it, but I would've loved to have seen it.

Rienzi Cemetery is one of the most beautiful places in all of Fond du Lac, in my opinion. It's an enormous place; it's wooded and hilly and somehow quiet, even though it abuts Highway 151. It's really close to my house; before the highway cut the path, it was quite easy to walk there. But it only takes three minutes by car (I do have to take the car - I'm not walking across the highway!), and it would be a lovely spot for a daily stroll. It's a shame that Brian won't go but alas, he is not as fond of cemeteries as I.

Neither is my sister. When I told her yesterday that I was going to take this tour, I was met with several seconds of silence. I couldn't tell if the silence was because she thought it was creepy, or because she would never think of spending her Saturday morning this way, or because she thinks I'm a geek (she would be absolutely correct in her assessment, by the way).

I encourage all of you reading this, if you haven't done so in the past, to visit a local cemetery. They're really not 'creepy' at all, and just looking at the headstones is interesting. Look for Victorian symbols like laurel wreaths, chafs of wheat, inverted torches, head stones that look like wood stumps, etc. Exciting stuff! Honest!
*Photo of Rienzi Cemetery stone by Rosebud81 on Flickr.

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