Wednesday, September 3, 2008

101 Ways, Part 18: Was Still Born

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

At last! A competent photograph. That should be your first clue that I didn't take it. This example comes from commenter RJO's work at the South Street Cemetery in Fitchburg, MA.
In Memory
of a Daughter
(of the Rev. Mr.
John Payson
and Mrs. Anna
his wife,) who was
still born Augt.
16th 1775.
Unnamed infants seldom receive their own gravestones. I have seen some individual stones for 4- and 5-week-old babies, but this may be the first for a child born dead. Usually, very young infants do not show up on gravestones unless their mothers also died and the two (or three) are buried together. Occasionally, they will be buried along with other siblings and a single stone will stand for all. I agree with RJO that this baby may have received a stone because her father was a minister.

Another interesting thing about this stone is the tympanum design: a sort of bedraggled-looking plant. I've noticed that very young children's gravestones (and some women's and slaves') sometimes have abstract designs such as an acanthus or a geometric shape. I'm not entirely sure what the significance of this is.

3 comments:

RJO said...

Your photos are always excellent, and I've meant to ask what equipment you use. If this one is good the credit mainly goes to the sharp chisels of the Park workshop, and to the accident of its placement. The lower right corner of this stone is completely embedded in a large tree trunk and the stone is leaning back at almost a 45 degree angle. That made it impossible to get a direct shot, and it highlighted the lettering even more than usual. My standard documentary shots don't seem to look this good, even when the light is right.

The letter forms are lovely here, no? The italic is especially well carved.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Thanks. I just got back from a frustrating trip to Newburyport, where I waited for hours for the light to get better and it didn't, so I was feeling a little peeved when I wrote this.

I use a Nikon D50, which is a great camera that is easy to use. My husband is the photography buff. He got me a lens that miraculously reduces shakiness so I don't have to use a tripod.

What I really need is a mirror so I'm not at the mercy of the sun.

RJO said...

I have a recollection that this symposium volume has an appendix listing many Massachusetts cemeteries with the best hours for photography at each location according to the orientation of the stones:

Puritan gravestone art. Dublin, NH: Published jointly by Boston University and the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 1977.

I don't have the volume at hand and so can't check, but if you're near a library it might be worthwhile to investigate.