I love randomly visiting old cemeteries, even the one where a poisonous spider glared at me from a nearby tombstone. I’d planned a weekend trip for my husband and our two young history-loving sons where we’d visit the home of President Ulysses S. Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio. Unfortunately, I’d inadvertently made hotel reservations at—and gotten a TripTik to—Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
Once we’d arrived at our destination, we recognized we weren’t going to be visiting Grant’s home, after all. So, we walked to a nearby cemetery where I saw the gravestone of Dr. Jesse Bennett (and the venomous arachnid). This doctor, in 1794, may have performed the first successful c-section in the United States—doing so on his wife, Elizabeth (née Hogg). Biographers claim that Elizabeth and their baby, Maria, both survived and lived long lives—but this heartwarming story tarnished when I learned that, after the doctor gave his wife laudanum, two of the people he kept enslaved helped by holding down Elizabeth.
Earlier in life, as a young teenager, I couldn’t resist climbing inside an aboveground stone in Maryland, one where the entombed was long gone. I can’t give personal details about the person who’d been buried there, though, because my mother kept telling me to Get Out, curbing my exploration urge.
Nowadays, I stop by the local Dollar General on certain holidays to pick out something patriotic—perhaps a plastic red, white, and blue wreath—to place in front of the gravestone of Augustus M. Silverthorne who is buried in the Charleston Cemetery that’s just one block from my house. Silverthorne fought in the Civil War, the only known soldier from that war buried there. He enlisted on December 21, 1863 for three years.
A little more than a year later, though—on January 19, 1865—he was mustered out of service via a Surgeons Certificate of Disability. On February 27, 1866, he died and, in the words of Professor Eddie S. Glaude, “When people don’t die right, they haunt.”
Beauty also haunts and, if I walk through a cemetery with crumbling, nearly illegible stones, alone at dusk, I imagine I hear the silvery tones of a flute, but then it gets lost in the breeze.