Saturday, January 30, 2016

Cemetery Road Trip to North Jersey

Brownstone angel grave marker, Chester Cemetery, Chester, New Jersey
We had planned the trip a few weeks ahead of time, my friend Frank and I. The fact that it was twelve degrees Fahrenheit the morning we set out did not dissuade us. When it comes to art, we both realized you must sometimes suffer. Plus, in the words of Queen Elsa of Disney’s Frozen, “The cold never bothered me anyway” (song crescendo, crash, boom).

So off we went in Frank’s Chevy Blazer (floor heater not working), on a three hour dead-of-winter trip to northern New Jersey. The trip was uneventful while in Pennsylvania, though we did see a quaint church with a graveyard around Lahaska. The early morning light was perfect. We figured we’d hit it on the way back when the light was not so good (which is exactly what happened so never do this!).

Eventually we crossed into New Jersey, the land of roadside oddities. New Jersey is like an entire state filled with towns like Austin, Texas – here a pair of yellow Adirondack chairs the size of Volkswagens, there a giant ice cream cone ----- with a few dead deer thrown in for good measure. We actually had a destination in mind – this was not one of my usual ramshackle expeditions, setting out with inadequate funds and no map. We were headed for Chester, New Jersey. This is in north central New Jersey, which is a miasma of small towns, with no major highways connecting them. But hey, that’s why God gave us the GPS.

Frank had been up here recently on other business. While driving through the area, he noted some interesting churchyard cemeteries and an abandoned farmhouse that he wanted to photograph at a later date. Hence, our trip.

Chester "Cemetery," with First Congregational Church, Chester, NJ
Both cemeteries we found were, I guess, technically "graveyards." I recently read an article ("Difference between 'cemetery' and 'graveyard' in English") that defined each: a "graveyard is a type of cemetery, but a cemetery is usually not a graveyard."

"From about the 7th century, the process of burial was firmly in the hands of the Church (meaning the organization), and burying the dead was only allowed on the lands near a church (now referring to the building), the so-called churchyard. The part of the churchyard used for burial is called graveyard, ....
As the population of Europe started to grow, the capacity of graveyards was no longer sufficient (the population of modern Europe is almost 40 times higher than it was in the 7th century). By the end of the 18th century, the unsustainability of church burials became apparent, and completely new places, independent of graveyards, were devised—and these were called cemeteries." - "Difference between 'cemetery' and 'graveyard' in English"

So there you go. Both the Chester Cemetery and the Union Cemetery were, um, graveyards next to a church. The former alongside the First Congregational Church in Chester, New Jersey, and the latter in Califon, NJ, along Route 513, next to the Lower Valley Presbyterian Church. 
Union Cemetery, Califon, New Jersey

Zinc memorials, Union Cemetery
When we stopped in to explore the Union Cemetery (hey, that's what the sign on the fence said, what can I say!), I was surprised to see two massive, and well-preserved zinc, or white bronze memorials. These were in wonderful condition. This “graveyard” was established in 1910, about the time the zinc memorial craze was coming to an end in the United States. (Read more about zinc, or "white bronze" cemetery monuments on my Cemetery Traveler blog post, "White Bronze Memorials.")

Cemetery Traveler Frank in Union Cemetey
Did I mention that it was cold that day? Maybe it reached the low twenties by midday. I brought a few chemical pouch hand-warmers for inside my gloves, but got lazy. Both Frank and I would jump out of his warm and running truck to grab a few shots, thinking we’d only be out in the cold for a few minutes. Then of course, you become intrigued with some detail – a statue of a WWI “Doughboy,” an interesting inscription, an iron fence. Next thing you know, you look like Frank here!

Marble "doughboy," Union Cemetery
After a frigid half an hour at Union Cemetery, we drove toward Chester to explore an abandoned farmhouse, which was brilliant in its decay. Aged ruins are a big attraction for me, especially when they offer evidence of past lives - a mirror, a crumbling piano. We had to tear ourselves away from this after an hour or so in order to get to the Chester Cemetery, while the light was still good. Cold winter’s day, bright blue cloudless sky. It seems the sun is never directly overhead in the winter months (which of course it is, but just for a short time) which makes for good photography. 
Evidence of lives passed ....
We thawed out our hands on Frank’s dashboard heating vents as we drove the few miles to Chester. While there were no extravagant statues in Chester Cemetery (established in 1777), the iron fencing and the old stones were rather amazing. North central New Jersey must be the cutoff point in the northeast part of the U.S. where Colonial-era angel-carved headstones exist. North of here, they’re all over the place. You can’t swing as cat without hitting one, as Mark Twain would say. South of here, they are extremely rare. The reason? 

The far northeastern part of North America was the first area of the continent inhabited by the early European settlers, our immigrant ancestors, so this is where all the early stones are. As time went on and the population grew, it moved south and inland – along the way, burial practices changed as did the memorials used to mark the graves. 

1772 brownstone grave marker with angel, Chester Cemetery
I was particularly taken by the brownstone “angel head” carved stones you see here. Quite typical of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century in the U.S. There were not many carvers at the time, and while their overall style was similar, certain details differentiated the, Note, for instance, the long nose on the angel at the beginning of this article. My knowledge of these carvings is not great, so I was quite taken by the cloud-like thing over this angel’s head! Certainly not a toupee, do you think? LOL. I put the question out to my friends at the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS). Perhaps in my next blog will be the explanation!