Focused on Mississippi: How the living honors the dead

Focused on Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – You have to admit that cemeteries are for the living. The dead are wherever they go after they die. And I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want to hang around just to watch the flowers wilt over their graves. So what we put in cemeteries is for us.

You might think that columns at gravesites in old cemeteries weren’t built very well because so many of them seem to be broken, like ones in Aberdeen. Actually, they are symbolic of a life that was cut short by disease, an accident or maybe even a duel that turned out to be a bad idea.

Speaking of Aberdeen, there is a crypt in which a lady is eternally sitting in a rocking chair. Why? Maybe that’s what she liked to do most in life. Natchez has a similar story. One man is entombed sitting in a rocking chair.

Grave shelters used to be a way to show final endearment for the departed, building a roof to keep the rain off their grave. Up in the Goose Pond. we ran across what looked like a little village out beside a Methodist church. But it’s a cemetery with a community of grave shelters, mostly made of brick.

The cemeteries on the coast look like little villages, too. I have been told that they bury above ground here because of the high water table. But I really suspect that it’s just cultural. 

My friend, History Professor Emeritus at Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston Charles Sullivan, told me about some wooden grave markers he had run across in rural Stone County. They are little round and diamond shapes atop a piece of wood that probably held a name and date way back there somewhere. Nothing but the wood left now. And not much of it on the older graves.

We give our dead a good send off, and then we mark where we put them and make it meaningful for us, if not a little creepy, too. It says something about them and us. And makes wandering about Mississippi interesting. 

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