Cemeteries. Every city has one. They are mysterious, historic, haunting and, to me, fascinating. I developed a fondness for cemeteries as a boy.
Now whenever I’m out of town, I always make it a point to visit a cemetery. To me, they are better than any mountain range, skyline or other popular tourist attraction. They are hidden treasures containing a wealth of information about communities and the people who lived there.
Chances are you have visited a cemetery at some time in your life to pay your respects to a family member or friend, and perhaps you too appreciate the stories represented among the tombstones and monuments.
My travels take me to all over the South and Midwest, so I have decided to start documenting my cemetery visits with a series of photos in a new Sunday feature.
This week’s cemetery is St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Floyd County, IN. It’s one of two Catholic cemeteries in the city of New Albany.
This cemetery brings back a lot of memories. I’m not sure which of my older siblings started the tradition but we always held our breath when we’d drive past this cemetery. Otherwise, it was bad luck!
This was actually the first time in many years I had walked this cemetery. It was almost a reunion of sorts, seeing many familiar names up and down each row of headstones.
John and Camilla Martel, who are buried here, lived a couple doors down from my family. One time I remember hearing someone sobbing heavily as I played outside near their home. Most young boys would blow it off but not me. I knocked on the screen door out of concern. Mrs. Martel appeared out of nowhere. She was holding a tissue and her eyes were red and puffy as if she had been crying. When I asked if everything was ok, she talking about her late husband. It all made sense at that point; she missed him.
Bob Hornung was a builder in southern Indiana. He and his wife Mary Rose are buried here. My mother, who had her real estate license, managed Mr. Hornung’s office for many years. I remember spending many a weekend at my mom’s office. While she worked, I would look through Mr. Hornung’s books on home designs, many of which he built in the area. In later years, I would run into him around town or at Catholic sporting events. And he’d always get a big smile on his face would I’d approach him to say hello.
I also passed by the graves of those who were taken from us prematurely. John Leist was the son of a Floyd County Circuit Judge. Rumor has it he was vacationing in Florida. A storm was brewing in the far off distance and lifeguards were starting to clear the beach when a bolt of lightning came out of nowhere and struck his head, killing him instantly.
Hans Christiansen was the brother of a former classmate of mine. He had leukemia and actually beat it in his younger years. But would later succumb to the disease. I always thought highly of Hans for never letting his disease take away his spirit. Despite having lost most of his hair, he never missed church on Sundays. What helped too was the family support he received from his parents and sisters Linda and Julianna.
When I was a kid, I’d get spooked every time we’d pass this cemetery and I’d see the grave of David Kelley. He went to school with my oldest sibling, and supposedly he and some other classmates were riding intoxicated in a car late one night, skidded off the road and crashed into a tree — killing all of the occupants of the car in addition to a girl who happened to be walking on the road. Hearing such a tragic story about the death of so many young caused by alcohol or drugs scared me. You can only imagine how eerie it was being so close to the Kelley headstone.
St. Mary’s is probably one of the best laid out cemeteries in the city. Each area is clearly marked for easy identification, something you rarely find in a lot of cemeteries. There’s even a section for priests called St. John Vianney.
One of the best parts about strolling through any cemetery is seeing all of the names. I’m especially fond of old traditional first names. One section of this cemetery was dedicated to a family named Tersegge. Some of the names among the large cluster of headstones that jumped out included Henry, Florence, Aline and Stratton. I also passed by a large monument bearing the name Moser, which is a name associated with old money in the city.
St. Marys Cemetery consists of its original section and a couple of newer sections that have been added in recent years complete with a mausoleum. It has many undeveloped acres so it will be many years before this cemetery reaches full capacity.
Until next time….