Recently we went out of town, actually to another state for a couple of days. We went to Alabama and visited a cemetery there. When we arrived at this cemetery it was very close to dusk. Not a good time to start a visit with those that have passed before.
Old cemeteries and their elaborate fences are always worth a visit and a couple of photographs. These were very old graves with dates going further back than I remember seeing at a cemetery.
It was getting dark fast here and I could hear drums start to play. Not loud but very soft.
The drums began softly. Yes, there were drums playing quietly.
The trees were drenched with moss. I tucked my head under when walking under them, just in case something were to fall out.
It is a beautiful cemetery although one could say it was spectacularly rich in visual decay. Almost park like with the beautiful grounds but with the heavily weighed mossy tress and the antiquity of the graves and markers it all made you whisper and wonder. We tried to read the different names and dates of them all but some were too difficult to. Time had eroded that. The drums were still playing.
I wanted to obey the sign and was eager to say goodbye to the graves that held yesterday’s remains. But then we came across these graves with a different kind of marker.
These made me wonder, were the original markers gone? Were these the originals? Who were they?
And then…..we came across these.
These graves that were covered in seashells. What did it mean? Was this a form of decorating the gravesite? When and who did this? They were covered in seashells and we weren’t next to the coast. We were approximately two hours north of the ocean.
“The traditional method of marking a grave (for the less affluent) in South Alabama during the early years and especially during the Reconstruction era was to create an earth mound 12 – 18 inches wide and from 5 – 6 feet long. Needless to say, the rains washed these mounds away quite easily. At the annual “cemetery workings”, one of the main jobs was to restore the mounds. It was found that seashells, laid as one would lay shingles or a tile roof would effectively protect the mound of earth from the rain and yes, the seashells were also decorative. If there was a plentiful supply, they were not haphazardly “scattered” on the graves.
Salt, during the reconstruction era was scarce and very expensive. To overcome this, “salt making crews” were formed in many communities. These crews would form a wagon train of several wagons, with bucket, cast iron wash pots, wooden barrels, etc. and would make an annual trip to the coast, where they would boil down the seawater or water from salt ponds into salt crystals to take back to their families and communities. While at the coast they would also catch fish, clean them, butterfly filet them and pack them in salt to take back home. And a by-product of their time at the coast was the collection of seashells to take back for the graves in their cemeteries. As a child I remember many graves in local cemeteries that were covered in shells. Sadly to say there are very few of them today” by Wm. Flake Joiner ~ Troy, AL
The drums were being played at the university near by!
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