Tuesday, October 29, 2019

In Old Maine Cemeteries

It was mostly in old, family cemeteries that we found graves of Revolutionary War soldiers. Last week my wife accompanied me on an exploration of rural Maine, one of my favorite activities. Since I’ve been up every road within a 25-mile radius of my home town of Lovell, Maine, It’s become necessary to range farther afield if I’m to survey new territory. Heading east, we found ourselves in the Hebron/Buckfield area with my dog-eared Maine Gazetteer. As a retired history teacher, I felt compelled to stop at every cemetery along the way because they provide a quick, thumbnail sketch of local history.

Well, I shouldn’t claim we stopped at every cemetery. From the road, I could tell if each set of plots was old or new. If I only saw modern, granite stones from the 20th century, I’d pass on by, but if I spotted weathering marble headstones, I knew they were from the 19th century. The oldest stones were dark slate and most of those were from the 18th century. Well-tended cemeteries displayed small American flags on graves containing veterans of America’s wars. Each flag was held up by an iron medallion stuck in the ground next to the headstone with an embossed insignia designating the war in which the soldier buried there fought.

Civil War veterans are so designated by an embossed circle with “GAR” in the middle for “Grand Army of the Republic.” Revolutionary War soldiers’ graves show a circle with a period soldier carrying a musket and wearing a tricorne hat. Some of those gravestones were of weathered marble if they survived into the eighteen hundreds, which many did. Acid rain has taken a toll on those stones, but the older, slate stones have held up well and the lettering remains easy to read.

Most roads lead into the center of town in Hebron which is dominated by the well-tended grounds and buildings of Hebron Academy. It was founded in 1804 by Revolutionary War veterans who were given land grants in town in payment for their service by Commonwealth of Massachusetts, of which Maine was a part — until 1820 when it became its own state along with Missouri. Notable Hebron Academy graduates include Leon Leonwood Bean, or L. L. Bean as he is better known, as well as Hannibal Hamlin who was Lincoln’s first Vice President. Other alumni include Freelan Oscar Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer and Maine comedian Tim Sample.

Finding the grave of a Revolutionary War soldier in an untended cemetery off in the woods brought a certain sadness. While all veterans deserve respect, it seems the men who went out from their farms and shops and fought the most powerful military on earth deserve a bit more of it. They risked the most because even if they weren’t killed or wounded, should their side lose they would lose everything. The British weren’t kind to defeated rebels — as they’d shown over and over in Ireland. Those with the most property had the most to lose, and most who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence were men of means.

Those old, untended cemeteries were symbolic of something else that saddened me. They made me reflect on recent trends in public education, especially that study of the subject I taught. American History has been watered down by progressive educators both during my career and after. Fewer young people are learning what those first American rebels risked in the late 18th century when they demanded rights from England and staked everything they had on those demands. Few students today are taught what is unique about the United States of America — that no other country in history was founded on an idea.

That idea is that government exists to preserve our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How much happiness one obtains in that pursuit is usually gauged according to individual initiative and perseverance. That’s what those Revolutionary veterans fought for and that’s what has been preserved by veterans of America’s subsequent wars — those buried under the rest of the little flags in those old cemeteries.

Today’s students instead learn a history emphasizing America’s carbuncles as if the United States were the only country to countenance slavery. Ignored are historical facts showing that virtually all nations practiced it, including American Indian tribes living here before Europeans arrived. All that is ignored now as students learn about “white privilege” and old white guys who owned slaves. De-emphasized or ignored altogether are old white guys who led movements to abolish slavery and who died by the thousands in that pursuit.

Men buried in those old cemeteries were not perfect and neither was their country. Such a thing is impossible this side of heaven, but ours is the country likely to get closest — if we stick to the ideas upon which it was founded. Keep that in mind on Veteran’s Day, November 11th.


Reality Check said...

Why ruin a nice column with a picture about whites not knowing how to take advantage of their male white privilege? It is ignorant to think a white male even has to try in order to take advantage of it. It shows a complete understanding of the concept.

White privilege is not the suggestion that white people have never struggled. And white privilege is not the assumption that everything a white person has accomplished is unearned; most white people who have reached a high level of success worked extremely hard to get there. Instead, white privilege should be viewed as a built-in advantage, separate from one’s level of income or effort.

White privilege includes the facts that:

• White people are less likely to be followed, interrogated or searched by law enforcement because they look “suspicious.”
• White people’s skin tone will not be a reason people hesitate to trust their credit or financial responsibility.
• If white people are accused of a crime, they are less likely to be presumed guilty, less likely to be sentenced to death.

People of color who were unarmed and not attacking anyone were more likely to be killed by police.

In an experiment, people of different racial and ethnic identities tried to board public buses, telling the driver they didn’t have enough money to pay for the ride. Researchers documented more than 1,500 attempts. The results: 72 percent of white people were allowed to stay on the bus. Only 36 percent of black people were extended the same kindness.

In another experiment a much larger percentage of job applicants with the same qualifications were scheduled an interview over the phone after giving a white sounding name than a black one.

So whether you believe it or not the facts prove it exists.

rhondajo said...

Great column! I love old cemeteries and the history they tell. I'm a volunteer for Findagrave. I and a few others have created memorials for just about everyone here in my county and beyond. When I began, I found many family plots where everyone in the family had died within a couple of years of each other. I found this so often that I finally looked it up on line and found the Spanish Flu. It began in the early 1900s, peaked in 1918, and ended a few years later. Many Civil War veterans who made it through the war ended up dying of it. Very sad.

CaptDMO said...

That THIS person existed is less important to me than that SUCH people existed.
The engraving on the stones makes a handy time line marker in conjunction with history
books, and ideally, classes.
Sociology? Economics?
What does a well (OK reasonably) kept cemetery say about the neighborhood?
I mean the "lost" , abandoned, small ones, not the well groomed, well financed,
"taxed" ones.
I came THIS close to adopting the tiny one across the road from Mr. Marvel's joint, but "caretaking" of the cemetery associated with the long abandoned "neighborhood" church in my OWN sphere of influence took enough of my time, until THAT one was administratively sloughed off to "the town".
"We Pledge Our Lives, Our Fortunes And Our Sacred Honor ..."
before Mr. Lee donated his land to Arlington, such folk would be "marked" locally, that generations might see of their existence, maybe even touch the stone.
I choose cremation, with no such "marker", because there's PLENTY of other folks
in my neighborhood, ready to pledge lives, fortunes, and sacred honor, MUCH more worthy of it....aren't there?

Tom McLaughlin said...

Reality Check:

I'm selling my white privilege card. It's 25 years old and hasn't done a thing for me. No welfare checks, no inheritance, no free college, no free food, no free housing, etc. I'd be willing to trade even for a race card. Those seem to be way more useful and more widely accepted. Interested? Contact me on my non-Obama cell phone for which I have to pay every month.

Reality Check said...

Might as well sell it as you don't even know what it is, and because you have been enjoying the benefits your whole life anyway. Unless I'm mistaken and you have indeed experienced all the things I have mentioned above. No, you are oblivious to those things and blinded by your male white privilege.

I see you still have your "Willfully Ignorant" card, your "Denial" card and your "Delusional" card though, and are taking the utmost advantage of all of them!

rhondajo said...

Dear Reality Check,

Isn't there enough negativity in the world without you dumping here on the rest of us, who like Tom and all of his columns?

Sami Gay said...

Dear Rhondajo,

Reality Check probably doesn't realize Tom's blog is a safe space for snowflakes.

The corner of loopy and new said...

"God is ignorant and blind, and so are we all, and it matters what anyone posts." said a believer in everyone else, a dependent on everyone else, who wouldn't admit the truth unless their life depended on it or they could get something out of it, only to deny it again later.

Reality check, you wouldn't know anyone's reality if it hit you in the face. We shouldn't have to keep telling you that where you sit isn't where he is sitting right now, and that water is wet in a puddle as well as a tub. The truth will set you free. Since you're mentally hogtied, I'm wasting my time and electricity typing this...to you. But others will see it, and know what I'm talking about, so it is worth it, as it it worth it to God to try to open eyes and let truth reign instead of selfish ignorance. Unfortunately, we all have to remember that some's eyes are so encrusted with hardened goo like Sami Gay that they may never be able to chisel it away.