Saturday, June 16, 2012

Stories in Stone

I always remember an epitaph which is in the cemetery at Tombstone, Arizona. It says: "Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest." I think that is the greatest epitaph a man can have.
Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States (1884-1972)

Although this might be revealing a personality quirk that I should keep under wraps: I enjoy visiting cemeteries. I appreciate the art of the tombstones and the history and poignancy of their inscriptions. Historian Robin McKee's "Stories in the Stones" 1812 tour expanded the interesting family histories beyond what is recorded on the epitaphs and revealed the history beneath Hamilton Cemetery's undulating landscape.

Here was what was planned to be the "Last Stand" of the pro-British forces against the invading American army 199 years ago. The beautiful undulating hills are, in fact, a series of earthen embankments designed for mass killing. As fate would have it, the invading army didn't make it to Hamilton; in a surprise predawn attack on June 6, 1813, the Americans were routed at the Battle of Stoney Creek, just a few miles to the East.

The two-hour tour was packed with fascinating snippets of local lives, some of which have international significance. For example, if Robert Land's wife, Phoebe, had not had the conviction that perhaps her husband was still alive 10 years after she was told he had been killed and if, with that conviction, she had not made the arduous journey with her children from Nova Scotia to the isolated Burlington Heights, Charles Lindbergh would not have been born. I didn't know that! And that's why I'm looking forward to Robin's next cemetery tour.

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