Fifty (or more) shades of Gray: Viewmont Cemetery on a Winter’s Day.
There is something about overcast winter days that draw me to old cemeteries. Aside from the skies and weather appealing to my contemplative, melancholy side, on the off chance my visit coincides with the start of a zombie apocalypse, I have a sense they don’t move as fast in the colder season.
A cloudy day allows one to appreciate the decorations and carvings on the gravestones. Subtle details or words, softened over time, rendered in infinite shades of gray tend to get washed out under bright sunlight.
The cemetery in Viewmont is great to visit. Not only do the names reflect the history of Germantown, the headstones within its compact layout illustrate an interesting variety of symbols while attesting to the artistic talents of nineteenth century stone carvers. Here are some of my favorites
Anchors can mean Hope or Eternal Life. Not only are they (unsurprisingly) often associated with sailors’ graves, they can also be a Masonic reference.
Hands pointing upward towards Heaven
Note that if you ever come across one pointing down, it’s probably not what you think. A hand pointing downward would be God’s descending from heaven (which never quite caught on in popularity, for obvious reasons).
Flowers, Buds, and Branches
Roses can indicate beauty, love and hope.
Lilies can represent innocence or purity. A broken bud or branch can indicate someone who has died too young.
Some of my favorite gravestones are those with curtains or drapes carved on them. No, it doesn’t mean the person was an actor or a nosy neighbor.
In this instance, the drapes symbolize the partition between life and death.
Curtains or swagged drapes serve to create an opening for the soul to pass through.
Cloth draped over the urn is meant to be the shroud left behind when the soul departed the body.
Hands down, the most popular decorative element found on the stones here are willow trees.
Interestingly, Willows were originally associated with the goddesses of the underworld, most notably Persephone. While the use of polytheistic iconography might seem at incongruous with Christian principles at first glance, it is important to remember the era.
In the early decades of the Republic, America looked towards the world’s first recognized democracy and went through a “Greek craze”, using Greek symbols in art and architecture.
This was well before those prudish Victorians overwrote the meaning of the willow to mean weeping!
Whether your tastes run towards, history, art, or simply the macabre, Cemetery at Viewmont is well worth the trip, particularly on a gray day!