Southern Weekend: Tombstone Twitch

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I had a wonderful weekend, my dears. Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day, one of those just-about-perfect April days we get here on the Emerald Coast (aka God’s Country, The Western Gate to the Sunshine State, Where Thousands Live the Way Millions Wish They Could) – sunny with a few puffy little cumulus clouds, 78 degrees, with a mild seabreeze off the bay. Heaven, I lives there. And I got to spend this glorious day doing one of the most cherished activities for well-raised Southern girls: hanging out in a cemetery, talking about dead people. Dear God, how I love it!!!

You have to understand, here in the South, we love cemeteries. Give me a good graveyard, especially one where I am related to some of the deceased (or at least know relatives of said deceased), and I am in hog heaven. I am obsessed with history and geneology, and nothing makes me happier than figuring out how and why long-dead people behaved the way they did. The fabulous Southern writer Florence King gave this craving for history and desire to spend our spare time gently wiping lichen off granite monuments a name: Tombstone Twitch. Yes, I actually get physical symptoms — rapid pulse, quickened breaths — when entering a good historical cemetery.

Saturday was “Get the Spirit Day” at Pensacola’s oldest cemetery, St. Michael’s. This lovely, eight-acre green space in downtown Pensacola is older than the United States itself, having been a burial ground since the mid-eighteenth century. It was officially designated as a cemetery by the King of Spain in 1807, though that was only a recognition that it was, in fact, the burial ground for the Spanish Colony at Pensacola.The oldest surviving markers at St. Michael’s date from the early eighteen hundreds. Unusually for a cemetery in the Deep South, St. Michael’s is not segregated; members of all races sleep peacefully together through the years.

I was one of the volunteers who told stories about the dear departed, and it was wonderful to see how many people came out to enjoy the beautiful day and learn about our town’s history. From 10 am to 2 pm, there was a steady stream of people wandering through St. Michael’s, and I told the story of Captain Joseph P. Fish, Scandinavian Sea Captain, over and over. Other volunteers were relating stories about Spanish Grandees, Irish adventurers, Scottish traders, African craftsmen, and German physicians. The ‘population’ (so to speak) of St. Michael’s Cemetery tells the story of America’s immigrant experience — all these people, from every corner of the globe, now united in death as Americans.

History is vital to our children’s education; if we don’t know where we came from, how will we know where we are headed? I’m glad that my Southern girl upbringing taught me to cherish the memories of the past and the resting places of our departed predecessors. Besides, St. Michael’s is one of the prettiest, most peaceful places in town. I love it.

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