Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Remember Me As You Pass By"

Most people who are familiar with old American gravestones know the old verse,
Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.
In my mind, I have always associated that verse with the oldest of New England gravestones - the ones covered with imps and hourglasses and scythe-wielding skeletons. It just seems like a Puritan-with-a-capital-P sort of sentiment. Douglas Keister, author of Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, tells us that this verse, "and its variants are the most common ones found on Colonial New England gravestones" (132). Keister is not alone in this opinion.

Yet, I have not been able to find this verse on a 17th- or early-18th-century gravestone anywhere in North America. The oldest American example I can find dates from 1772, but the transcription makes it hard to tell whether the verse appears on a joint stone erected in 1780 or two side-by-side stones erected in 1772 and 1780. A variant lacking the "prepare for death" line can be found on the Elisha Doane gravestone (1759) in Wellfleet, MA (transcription here). The Benjamin Scudder stone in Westfield, New Jersey, sometimes cited as an early example (1708), is actually from 1798 (see editor's note here and Benjamin Scudder's death record here).

How old is the "remember me" verse really? And when/how did it come to America?

An 1850 edition of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register cites the Canterbury tomb of Edward the Black Prince (1330-1376) as the source of the verse. Edward's epitaph was originally written in Norman French, but was at some point translated into English:
Whoso thou be that passeth by;
Where these corps entombed lie:
Understand what I shall say,
As at this time speak I may.
Such as thou art, sometime was I,
Such as I am, such shalt thou be.
Edward's epitaph, though it contains some of the sentiments found in the later poem, does not exhort the visitor to, "prepare for death and follow me." Variations on the "remember me" verse seem to have been known in 17th-century Scotland: I found one example of a version from Perthshire, Scotland in 1666:
As. ye. ar. nou
So. onc. vas. Ay
As. Ay. am. so. sal
Ye. be. Remembre
Man. that. thou
Mist. dei.
(transcription third-hand via Texas Graveyards)

I've been puttering around on the internet for days now, and, from what I can tell, that macabre little rhyme was not known in American mortuary culture before 1750. Preliminary research indicates that it became popular in the 1780-1830 period and was used throughout the 19th and into the 20th century. The Federal Writer's project found the verse used in Indiana between 1856 and 1914.

A sample of gravestones with the "remember me" verse:
Does anyone have an example of a pre-1750 version of this poem in America? I'm not asking that snarkily - I am really interested in finding the earliest possible examples and will keep looking. At the moment, I am leaning toward thinking that this verse is NOT a Puritan-American favorite, but rather a gothic/medieval revival favorite.

Faces of America

Are you watching Faces of America on PBS? You should be (also check out African American Lives and African American Lives 2).

Pete and I watched African American Lives with his family two Christmases ago and it inspired us to get our own DNA tests.

Faces of America has been pretty interesting so far, though it does tend to highlight family members who pulled themseves up by their bootstraps and succeeded in America because they just never gave up, at the expense of the louts and ne'er do wells that exist in every family tree. I can just imagine Prof. Gates doing my "Book of Life": Well, shall we start with your syphiltic great-grandfater or those DeAngelis cousins who were executed by the Allies after WWII? Maybe those draft dodgers in Argentina instead?

Still, I like to watch. It inspires me to use my research skills on my own family tree and, exhausting that, Pete's family tree.

Episode 3 airs tonight (Wednesday, February 24th) at 8:00 on PBS.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ovid at Copp's Hill

I always enjoy finding out what early New Englanders were reading by seeing what they quote on their gravestones.

While searching through the Farber Collection recently, I happened across the Joseph Farnum stone from Copp's Hill (1678), which features a quotation from Ovid's Metamorphoses:

In English, it says something along the lines of, "But indeed, one must ever wait for the last day of a man's life, and call no one happy until he is dead and buried."

Happy (Belated) Birthday, George Washington

Sorry, I forgot about this yesterday.

I'm sure that everyone in the world has already seen this video, but it still makes me laugh every time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mount Auburn Mausolea

Note: At the request of Mount Auburn Cemetery, this post has been modified to remove reference to the specific locations of these stained glass windows.

In general, I do not spend a lot of time thinking about Victorian-era gravemarkers. I often walk right past the marble monuments on my way to the slate ones.

Yet, I enjoyed my recent winter walk in Mount Auburn. I particularly enjoyed peeking into mausolea — they're really quite beautiful inside.

Coat, Doll, and Hat

Is there a child under all that outfit?

I like this photo because the doll looks as though it has seen some hard play. My American Girl dolls used to have hair like that.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prospectus Success

Sorry for the lack of posting around here lately.

I presented my prospectus to the Early America workshop last week, so I've been pretty busy writing the darn thing, worrying about it, and talking about it. This was not a formal defense, just a draft presentation, but the consensus of the group was that I should not waste any more time laboring over a document that will bear little resemblance to my final project — I should get to work researching instead. That was encouraging to hear, so I will not worry too much about my formal defense, which will take place in April.

My one-sentence thesis is that New England graveyards (1600-1830) were contested public spaces in which living people enacted political arguments. I have a bunch of examples, several of which I have mentioned on this blog.

One thing I'm I little worried about is the wide sweep of my chronology. On one hand, 1830 seems like a logical place to draw the line between colonial-era graveyards and the rural cemetery movement of the Victorian era (Mount Auburn Cemetery was established in 1831). On the other, the heart of my project is in the 18th century and I could probably make my case by confining myself to 1720-1799. I suppose the best thing to do would be to start with an 18th-century chapter that will definitely fall within the chronology and then work my way either backward or forward as necessary.

In any event, I'll be a better blogger in the coming weeks now that I have this weight off my mind.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom!

I am a bit tardy in posting this, but only because I spent the day with my mom instead of blogging, so I guess that's ok. My mom is the baby being held (and mocked) by her grandmother.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Victorian Gender Pronouns

I recently read Kate Summerscale's intriguing The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher for the class I'm tutoring. It's a great read and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Victorian England, detective fiction, or the beginnings of modern law enforcement.

The book concerns the 1860 murder of 3-year-old Saville Kent, a crime that captured the attention of the nation and inspired the genre of Victorian detective fiction.

One peculiar thing that caught my attention was the tendency of all of the participants — family members, neighbors, detectives, reporters — to refer to the murdered child as "it," as in, "Its little head fell almost off" (pg. 17) or
the child has woke and recognised its Father that the Father through Fear of an Exposure in the Family strangled it in the Room after the Nurse Maid had gone to sleep that  he there carried it to the Closet and cut the Throat (pg. 166).
The use of a gender-neutral pronoun does not seem to indicate that the speaker wished to dehumanize young Saville. Rather, the widespread usage makes me think that Victorians considered a 3-year-old to be more of a gender-neutral child than a gender-specific boy or girl. A few of the court records and press reports do call Saville a boy, but most call him a child and use gender-neutral pronouns.

I can't imagine calling a modern 3-year-old it without being punched by its mother. We talk about infants and toddlers in very strongly gendered language from birth, if not earlier. We dress them in gender-specific clothing and provide them with gender-specific toys. Despite our apparent return to some elements of Victorian mourning culture, a wide gulf separates us on this issue.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Black and WTF

Visit Black and WTF for a collection of strange black-and-white photographs.

Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Levenger Bookmarks

Today, as I was ripping my new Levenger catalogue into strips to use as bookmarks, it occurred to me that this was not exactly what the Levenger people had intended.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Soldiers in Hats

The State of New Jersey has an extensive online collection of Civil War cdvs, many of them featuring excellent hats.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jules Marcou

Mount Auburn Cemetery

Poor Little Match Girl

I suppose this child is supposed to be praying, but he just looks so cold.

Friday, February 5, 2010

In Which We Do The Victorians One Better

Many people are creeped out by Victorian hair jewelry.

If you are one of these people, you are probably not interested in purchasing anything from If, on the other hand, you would like to wear a loved one's ashes around your neck, please click through.

Cathedral Window Quilt

I am a novice quilter. Really, I just like to buy pretty fabric and it sometimes (rarely) makes its way into a project.

My least favorite part of quilting is the planning. I'm terrible at the math/measuring/cutting part and can never get the geometric shapes to line up the way they should. In short, I am not a precision quilter.

That's why the Cathedral Windows pattern is perfect for me. The quilt grows under your fingers and you can stop whenever you feel like it. It's also pretty forgiving of my inability to get blocks to line up exactly. Even though I use the same template to cut out all the pieces, they never seem to be exactly the same size. This pattern allows me to fudge it a bit. One final perk: I can use all the scraps I've been saving for years.

If you are interested in making your own Cathedral Window Quilt, follow this excellent tutorial via Hyena in Petticoats. It has good step-by-step pictures for all you visual learners out there.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Red-Tailed Hawk in Mount Auburn

On my trip to Mount Auburn yesterday, I watched a pair of hawks circle around, startling a flock of starlings everywhere they went.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February Roses

This morning, I went walking in Mount Auburn Cemetery. It was snowing, but not too cold, which is perfect for evoking Victorian melancholy without suffering too much.

Near the Mary Baker Eddy memorial, I happened across a scene that appeared to have been stolen from a 14-year-old goth's imagination:
What kind of roses still cling to the bush in February?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


When customers ordered gravestones from far-away workshops, the stones occasionally arrived with mistakes in them. Sometimes, the customers (or local carvers) attempted to correct the mistakes:
Abigail Grosvenor
Pomfret, CT

Whoever carved that "JUNR" was not a pro, but it was obviously important for him/her to make a distinction between John Grosvenor and John Grosvenor, Jr. That distinction was not as important to the Foster workshop carver in far-away Dorchester, MA.

More Febwary!

William Foord
Marshfield, MA

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sledding Hat

Celebrate winter with the American Museum of Photography's online exhibit: Faux Snow. Apparently, late-19th-century photographers sometimes filled their studios with fake snow in order to stage fanciful winter scenes like the one pictured above. While you're there, check out the rest of the museum's lovely digital exhibits.

Happy Febreware!

This message brought to you by James Stanclift.