Some people collect stamps or coins or baseball cards. I collect grave stones. Whether ceramic, plastic or cardboard, I can’t resist them. Every October I set up a little graveyard in front of my house. I have had a few of these items since the first Halloween I moved here twenty-three years ago. One of my most prized possessions is a small gate from a cemetery in Brooklyn, New York where my husband’s family is buried. His mother gave it to me years ago and, being a detective’s daughter, I thought it best not to ask too many questions as to how she acquired this particular piece.
As a child I loved to hear my mom’s stories of growing up in the caretaker’s house at the graveyard. She would tell me how on Halloween they never had trick or treaters because the neighborhood children were scared to come back there. Mom said that she was never afraid in the house, though she did refrain from watching spooky movies when they came on television.
When I was a teenager and went to sleepovers my friends and I loved to tell scary stories. A very popular one was about Black Aggie. Black Aggie was the name of a statue that was once in the Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikesville. Much to my disappointment the statue had been moved by the time I heard the tale. She was a great, mournful sculpture that rested at the Angus family plot. It was said that her eyes glowed red at the stroke of midnight. We girls would huddle together in my darkened basement chanting her name, daring something to happen. My friend Billie Jo told us if we went into a dark room and stared at a mirror while chanting Black Aggie, scratches would appear on our face when the lights came on. It would have taken far more Boone’s Farm wine than I could ever smuggle in to get the courage to try that one. Now that Black Aggie resides over in the courtyard of Dolley Madison’s house I’ll have to pay her a visit…after a couple of glasses of wine that is.
The Victorians enjoyed having picnics while paying their respects on Sunday afternoons. I, however, spent many a Sunday teaching my son how to drive on the narrow roads running through the graveyard. It was a safe environment where the most traffic came from dog walkers. We’d ride around for an hour or two discussing the various headstones and notice how some were always decorated for the upcoming holiday. I guess decorating a grave is not any stranger than decorating a house with graves.
There’s one cemetery I rarely visit, though, and that’s Louden Park. My dad is buried there. His site is marked with a small bronze plaque on the ground with the dates of his birth and death engraved in the center. It gives only the bare facts, just the way Dad wanted it. He never much cared for weddings or funerals, insisting they had too many things in common. Occasionally I ride over and sit in my car on the path closest to his grave. I keep the doors locked because it’s not in the greatest neighborhood to find yourself alone. The blackjack he gave me still sits under my driver’s seat and I finger it, wanting the reassurance of its presence; his presence. I don’t want to think of him here in the ground or remember the years leading up to his death. I want to remember the man who gave me this small weapon to protect myself. There is no comfort here for me.
This weekend the graves are lined up out front and I’ve arranged my new passion, a miniature graveyard, on a table in my office. I have orange lights hung around the porch and a huge bag of chocolate ready for the costumed children who aren’t afraid to come up my walkway. I encourage them all to whistle as they pass.
Do you find graveyards spooky or fascinating?