June 1, 2011

Many lives chronicled during Memorial Day weekend

As I write this column, we are approaching Memorial Day weekend. I often wonder how many young people today know the occasion is more than hamburgers on the grill and entertaining.

The first Memorial Day came after the Civil War when Americans honored the fallen in both the North and the South. Today, we not only decorate veterans' graves with American flags, but we also plant flowers at the final resting place of our loved ones.

It may seem morbid to some, but I really enjoy walking through cemeteries. When we lived in England, we saw headstones that chronicled the lives of people who died in the 11th and 12th centuries — a long way back.

I also remember visiting a little country church in England that had a doorway so low that I, at 5-feet-3-inches, had to duck not to hit my head. An engraved tablet inside explained that the small chapel was one of the last places soldiers visited before setting off to war during the Crusades. More than a place of worship, however, it also held the remains of men, women and children, interred in the walls centuries before.

Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers, many local cemeteries have been walked, foot by foot, recording names, dates and various information on those inhumed. About 10 years ago, Moira resident Joyce Ranieri spearheaded this effort in Franklin County. I believe that every cemetery that was reachable on foot has been listed online.

Until I took part in the project in 1996, I never realized how important it was in 1931, 1954, 1970, 1980 that responsible people took the time to chronicle names of people buried in local cemeteries. Many stones had completely disappeared over 60 years and would have been lost forever without earlier lists.

Because most of my McGibbon family is buried at Briggs Street Cemetery in Westville, my mother and I spent hours there writing down all the names on all the stones that were standing, as part of Ranieri's project. One sunny August day, we took a bright red umbrella, lawn chairs, sun hats and had a most enjoyable day working amongst the headstones. The cemetery is located in the middle of a field, so cars and trucks passing by slowed down trying to figure out what was happening in the cemetery.

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