What was I doing there? Weirdness. Some years ago I was seeing this woman whose mom had a stroke. Mom was incapacitated and was expected to spend her remaining days in a rest home outside Syracuse. She had been living in a trailer out in the sticks near Wolcott. The trailer needed to be emptied and sold, so I agreed to spend a week with Dana, her daughter, doing this. Hey, maybe I can do some cemetery photography while I’m there.
|Onondaga Nation Reservation, Central New York|
Syracuse has a large Victorian cemetery, Oakwood, where we planned to stop on the way home. Its old barricaded entrance looked enticing as we drove by it on the highway, but it would have to wait a week. Once we arrived at the rehab facility, we found that although Mom had lost the ability to care for herself, she was reasonably alert, chatty, and moving about. So, on to the trailer.
|Glen Side Cemetery|
Between trips to the dumpster or breaks in the work, I would make a stopover to photograph a local cemetery. I found about six in the general area, and visited them all over the course of the week as Dana visited with her mom, friends, and various family members.
Back before you could find everything you could possibly imagine on the Internet, it wasn’t that easy to find cemeteries in a strange land. You had to rely on cheesy local maps and information from strangers (“Hang a left at the fork in the road where the old barn used to be …”). Looking them up now on the Web is a cinch – simply Google “Wolcott, NY Cemeteries,” for instance, and you not only get a list, but a map with their locations pinpointed! Large cemeteries usually have links to their websites, but the small ones don’t. What you can find, however, are Flick’r pages of photographs that people have taken in these smaller cemeteries. Other than cemeteries, I didn’t actually photograph any of the local Wolcott scenery. Looking at photo web pages like this one makes me remember why!
|Glen Side Cemetery|
|Walker Evans, eat your heart out!|
Barton Cemetery was a lovely little place on a hillside with many flat slab headstones punctuated by an extremely odd cobblestone memorial here and there. The fact that it was on a hillside was unusual, as most of the other local cemeteries were flat. Rose Cemetery in North Rose made me realize that many of the graveyards in this area are relatively shallow, side-of-the-road places, typically with woods bordering three sides. They’re barely 200 feet deep, and maybe an eighth of a mile running the length of the road. I was quite enamored with Rose’s single granite angel way in the back near the treeline – I probably spent half an hour just exploring this one statue from different perspectives. The black stains on her face were particularly emotive. Cemetery statuary of any kind is rather rare in this area, the inhabitants being nowhere near as affluent as their big city neighbors in Rochester to the west or Syracuse to the east.
The Lake Country can be beautiful, if you don’t have to earn a living. I used to live in the Finger Lakes region about an hour south of Wolcott − Geneva, NY, to be specific, and oh is it economically depressed. So this visit was sort of a homecoming, but twenty years changes everything. I'd experienced the coldest winter of my life back then at Sodus Point on Lake Ontario, but I'd never overnighted it up here in the summer. I was unprepared for the nightbugs. Not your typical no-see-ums, these things hit you in the face like small sparrows. Central and upstate New York is still sort of wilderness, with people attempting to tame it.
|Lake Ontario, NY side|
|Elk statue, Oakwood Cemetery, Syracuse, NY|
As planned, we stopped at Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse. This was to be the high water mark of the trip (for me), but within ten minutes of entry into this lovely Victorian garden cemetery, my car broke down! It was a very hot day in the dead of summer, so I left the car idle with the air conditioning on (for Dana) and jumped out to photograph this giant bronze elk sculpture. I heard the car stall. Went back to it to try and coax it back to life, but the battery was dead. Poor Dana, I felt like a horse’s ass. Had to walk to the cemetery office and call AAA. They showed up about two hours later and replaced my battery (even though I knew this wasn’t the problem, as I had already replaced it earlier in the week), but it was enough to get us back to Philly. (Here’s a Flickr page with the photos I should have taken that day!).
People often ask me how I discover certain roadside attractions (like Harold’s NY Deli off the Edison exit of the New Jersey Turnpike where all the food is of comically large proportions), and why I retain such vivid memories of them. Simple – these are often places where my car has broken down! In fact this used to happen to me so often that AAA revoked the towing rider on my roadside assistance plan (who knew there was a MAXIMUM number of hundred-mile tows allowed per year...?).
Further Reading and Listening: