Charyl Says


The Joy of Cemeteries: visiting the Graves of Annie Oakley, Edgar Lee Masters, and Ann Rutledge

There’s something profound about visiting the grave of a legend–no matter what kind of legend he or she may be.  It’s incredible to consider that the remains of what used to be his or her body–the flesh and blood body that breathed life into and lived through what inspired historic events–lies just below your feet.  Those closest to that individual (and the many others who came after) stood where you stand; touching the stone that you touch.  Recently I made two such trips–one to the gravesite of Annie Oakley (“Little Sureshot”) and the other to the final resting place of Ann Rutledge (said to be Abraham Lincoln’s first sweetheart).

Phoebe Moses–or Annie Oakley, as she was known to the public– is buried in a small, country graveyard called Brock Cemetery just north of Greenville Ohio–the area where she lived much of her life.  Born in 1860, she died in 1926 of complications from anemia.  (Note: If you are unfamiliar with Annie’s notoriety, visit this link: http://www.annieoakleyfoundation.org/life.html )

AnnieOakleyGrave

It was a beautiful May afternoon when I pulled into the cemetery and parked alongside her gravestone, flanked by a State of Ohio historical marker.  Surrounded by fields dotted by the occasional farmhouse and patch of woods, the brilliant blue of the sky gave way to the greens and browns of the earth below.  I stood alone in the graveyard taking in the scenery, watching the leaves and grass sway gently in the breeze.  Closing my eyes for  a moment, I listened to the birds and breathed in the heady air.  In its simplicity it was as beautiful of a resting place (if not more) as any dark and extravagant mausoleum.

Approaching her gravestone, I slowly placed my hand on its rocky, mottled surface.  For a moment, I talked to her out loud–speaking in general pleasantries, introducing myself.  Concentrating a little more deeply I reached back in time, ferreting out Annie’s personality–her soul–feeling it quicken with life inside me.  Suddenly, it was as if that energy–that essence of her spirit–existed outside of myself, standing behind my left shoulder, observing.  The only communication between us was that of emotion; imparting her wisdom and expressing to me more than words could ever say.

After a few minutes, I wished Annie well and calmly (almost begrudgingly)  walked away from her resting place.  Yet she didn’t seem quite ready to let me go, as I felt her following me closely as I browsed her neighbor’s gravestones.  Thankfully,  as I headed back to my car I sensed whatever piece of her that had joined me dissolve back into the web of time and space.  I felt a pang of regret as I pulled away, wishing I had the time to whip out my lawn chair and sit a spell with “Little Sureshot.”  Alas, the day was drawing to a close and loved ones waited for my arrival home–so I tipped my metaphorical hat to Annie and went on my way.

AnnieOakleyshooting

Not long after my visit with Annie, I decided to look into the gravesite of another historic woman who intrigues me–that of Ann Rutledge, the alleged first real sweetheart of Abraham Lincoln.  (More info about her here: http://www.mrlincolnandfriends.org/inside.asp?pageID=107&subjectID=11).  Some scholars disagree about the seriousness of their relationship and how much truth there is to the story.  A few things are certain: She lived in New Salem Illinois the same time Lincoln did, she was the daughter of a prominent inn-keeper in the town, the locals claim to have frequently seen them together, and Lincoln fell into a deep depression when she died (possibly of typhoid) in 1835 at the age of 22.  A reaction like that doesn’t happen with just any fellow townsperson.  I like to imagine that the grief caused by her death, helped propel him to change his life–spurring him on to Springfield and Vandalia as a lawyer/politician and eventually onto the presidency.  Who knows if this is the truth, but it’s certainly an intriguing thought.

After an afternoon of visiting the historic New Salem village, I set out to hunt down Ann’s grave in nearby Petersburg Illinois in the Oakland Cemetery.  Oddly enough, I first ran across the grave of poet/author, Edgar Lee Masters (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/masters/life.htm)–who I soon realized had written the epitaph on Ann’s stone.

ELMELMgrave

After paying my respects to Edgar, I discovered Ann’s grave only a few feet away, right on the corner. A large, chiseled  stone surrounded by an old metal enclosure bore Edgar’s words:

AnnRutledgebigstone

A much smaller and older stone–barely more than a smooth river rock–had been placed inside the enclosure.  Assuming it to be her original grave marker, I ran my fingertips over the engraved name and dates–picturing generations of others (perhaps even Lincoln) doing the same.  A stranger had placed a bouquet of flowers on her grave.

AnnRutledgeStone

AnnTree

I decided to walk for a bit and explore some nearby markers.  The cemetery was of a moderate size, with new and older stones.  Rolling hills were dotted with towering oaks (the largest of which had been named in Ann’s honor) that nicely shaded the grassy burial grounds. For whatever reason I kept being pulled back to the peacefulness of Ann’s resting place.  I took in the beauty for a moment more then returned to my car to briefly sit and rest.  I closed my eyes and listened to the insects chirping in the trees and the leaves rustling all around me.  The sound of tractor hummed in a distant field.  A gentle breeze moved the warm summer air.

I lost myself as (eyes still closed) I daydreamed back in time–picturing Ann’s family dressed in black mourning attire and gathered around her stone.  I pictured a young and tousled Abraham Lincoln weeping over her buried remains–his energy becoming one with the very grass, trees, and air around him.  I saw him bent over, kneeling.  I heard his voice lilting, alone–speaking to her in an urgent and mournful tone.

Opening my eyes I was back in present day, sitting in my car.  I reached down to pick up my camera phone to take a picture of the site before heading home.  To my shock, in that few moments of meditation, my phone had gone from 80% charged to 0, and had completely turned itself off–something that this particular phone has never done before.  Battery drainage is typical of paranormal phenomena and investigation.  It made me wonder if I had unwittingly drained my own battery, using its energy to mentally (or perhaps astrally) transcend time; or if I had been joined by another soul using that energy in an attempt to manifest.  Maybe it was just a coincidence.  In any case, it struck me as odd.

It occurred to me that somewhere in my research I had read that Ann’s body had been exhumed from her original resting place and re-interred in this cemetery decades ago.  A quick search revealed her original grave to be in a small, old cemetery called Old Concord burial grounds outside of town in the middle of farmland.  I felt drawn to the area–feeling strongly I needed to explore it and wanting so badly to soak up the residual energy that may still exist on a spot where Lincoln wept over the grave of his beloved (that is, before Mary came along).

I located it on my GPS and headed out, only to find myself parked in the drive of a farmhouse where no one seemed to be home and two large dogs barked at me from the yard.  I looked out over the fields marked off with fences, where in the distance I could see a patch of land that clearly indicated an old cemetery.  One could almost see a young Lincoln standing tall on that hillside–but unless I was willing to trespass on this farmer’s land–navigating the rough field, climbing the fences, while being mauled by a couple of dogs–it didn’t look as if I’d be having my sought-after experience anytime soon.  Like so many other things in my life… it was within sight, but just out of reach.

OldCemetery

Some scouting along an old road called the Lincoln Trail revealed that a long, overgrown grassy swath between the fields might have provided a back way into the cemetery.  Unfortunately being alone, without the proper attire, and knowing the day was coming to an end soon (especially since I was over an hour’s drive away from where I was staying in Illinois at the time)–I thought it best to not attempt the trek until conditions were more favorable, I had more time, and a possible partner could be rounded up to accompany me.  You can be sure that once I experience it, I will post an update.

Regardless of my ability to see everything that I set out to on my daytrip, I left the Petersburg area that day with a sense that I had indeed touched the past–and that another adventure awaited me in the near future.  A good day, by any means.

And now you know one of the (many) reasons why I enjoy visiting cemeteries, burial grounds, and historic sites.  Far from being morbid places of death, sadness, and monotony (that is, if you can get over the fact that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of skeletons and decaying corpses mere feet below you)–cemeteries are alive with energy, history, beauty, and adventure, free for anyone to experience…  if only you’re willing to look just a little deeper!

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