#9: Dead Row

May 18th, 2012

A magnificent fat crow glared at me from atop the cemetery birdbath. Under gray, clamoring clouds, it cawed a warning to me. Somewhere, a man reading Lovecraft got an erection he couldn’t explain.

I was going a’writing in a graveyard.

I went to Graceland Cemetery to see “the Cemetery of Architects,” the resting place of Chicago’s hallowed past, from Marshall Field to Alan Pinkerton. I walked up to peer at the stately mausolea, tombstones and memorials when a stately guard walked up to the stately gates and closed them in my face, stately.

So I went to the crummy-looking cemetery across the street because it was open another half hour.

Wunder’s Cemetery is not crummy, let me say that now for all those with loved ones there. Inside, it’s beautiful, sedate, historic. It’s peaceful and lovely, Edgar Allan crows aside.

But the outer building protecting the dead from the living was tagged and scratched. Along the Clark Street row of cemeteries from Graceland to Jewish Graceland and the Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery, Wunder’s did look a bit crummy from the street. I’m glad I was wrong.

Inside, I walked past old, weary graves with German names, a toppled Heinrich Schuster from 1896 twenty feet from a 2007 grave guarded with a stone cat and plastic dragonfly. There was a fresh bouquet on top of a “Beloved Son” who died in 1969. He was born the same year as my father.

You think certain thoughts in a graveyard: deep, meaningful thoughts you only realize later are pretentious crap. My notes include a scribbled “What good are my words when stone wears away?”

What does that even mean?

I wrote that after trying to make out the worn name on an elegant column of a grave. I made out __isner when I realized I was standing on Anna Keck. Grass had partly obscured her marker.

Older graves had German names; newer, Hispanic. An older family plot bore the words “Ruhe sanft.” My computer later told me it means “Gently rest” or “Rest in peace.” It’s also the name of a beautiful Mozart aria for soprano.

Toward the back, I passed a brick garage. A man in his 40s was outside working, doing something that involved kicking flagstones. He looked like a heavy lumberjack, beard and plaid but with a flopping gut Paul Bunyan pictures didn’t offer. I put my notebook away so I didn’t seem like a creep or writer. I quickened my pace. I wanted to leave. The L rumbled by.

Walking out was when I saw the mood-setting crow (or raven — I’ve never been sure of the difference). A few of his friends hopped on the fence as I left to caw me down Clark. Jewish Graceland was closed for renovations, but I peered in and saw a grave marked Frankenstein next to a Wolf. The Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery was open for seven more minutes, but by now I wanted coffee and couldn’t stop thinking about movie monsters.

I stood at the gate but didn’t go in.

Good-bye, Chicago dead, lined up on Clark. Good-bye to the famous of Graceland and the unknowns of Wunder. May your crows stay creepy and your writers pretentious.

And may you stay a place where people mourn forever, where people gather in beauty to remember the ones they loved.

Written in April 2012

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