Monday, September 19, 2011

Back to the Caged Graves

Last week, I signed the contract to publish The Caged Graves with Clarion. With the book on its way to publication, it seemed an appropriate time for a pilgrimage back to the place that inspired the story – Hooded Grave Cemetery in Catawissa, PA.

I knew, going back, that it was going to look different to me this time. I fictionalized the setting when I wrote the story, changing the geography around quite a bit. For almost two years, I’ve been picturing those two graves outside a cemetery wall at the bottom of a long steep road, between Ransloe Boone’s house and the Shades of Death swamp.



In actuality, the tiny cemetery is squeezed between a cornfield and somebody’s house, and across the road from an orchard. The church is long gone. Somebody cuts the grass, but nobody’s been tending the weeds inside the graves. It was quite sad to see. Both graves were damaged. One of the flying eagles was missing from Sarah Ann’s cage, and the wire had been bent and mangled on one side of both graves. It looked as if somebody had been pulling on the wire trying to get their hands in. (Or get their hands out!) In fact, the damage to the cage is eerily similar to an incident in my book, which is kind of creepy.



My first visit, 21 months ago, was on a bitter cold day in January. We didn’t stay long – just took a few pictures and left. This time, we spent time looking around and examining the other graves. I couldn’t find the graves of either of the husbands – Ransloe Boone or John Thomas. In fact, as I looked around, I realized most of the graves belonged to women and children. It started to creep me out, and I wondered why no men were buried here. Eventually, I did find two headstones for adult men – but all the rest were women and children.



There were a lot of open spaces between the graves, so maybe headstones are missing – crumbled and cleared away, or sunk into the ground. And of course, the mortality rate for women and children was higher than for adult men. Nevertheless, their near absence added one more unsettling element to this place.

All old cemeteries are fascinating to me. I love wandering through them, looking at the names on the tombstones and trying to figure out their stories. But Hooded Grave Cemetery seems to have more secrets than most. I could probably write half a dozen more stories inspired by the strange things I noticed in just this one visit.

Rest in peace, Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas. I hope I made up a good story for you, but I’ll always wonder what really happened.

15 comments:

  1. God, just the sign gives me the willies! This place seems just chuck full of inspiration and possible stories. LIke WHY only women and children? Very cool.

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  2. I've never seen grave cages before. Creepy. Especially when it looks like someone was trying to escape from one.

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  3. Congrats on signing your contract! It's always nice when it becomes official. :)

    And, boy, those caged graves ARE creepy!

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  4. hi miss dianne! hooray for signing that contract! i cant wait til you do a launching party and for sure im gonna be watching for my t shirt. maybe you could have we hear the dead on one side and caged graves on the other. then i could be a walking ad for both. :)
    ...hugs from lenny

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  5. How exciting about signing! Congrats.

    I can't wait to read this book. Any idea when it may come out?

    And those pictures really add to the intrigue. *shivers*

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  6. Congrats Dianne,

    I am new to your blog. You must be so excited now that it's official. What an intriguing place for your inspiration.

    I am sure Sarah and Asenath are glad to be remembered in any way.

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  7. Spooky, even in your daytime photographs. Yikes, do I dare open the book after dark?

    Malcolm

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  8. I'm so excited for this book! The pictures are beautiful, I hope they make it into the cover art for the story.

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  9. Those graves are strange, intriguing. I can see why you wanted to write something about them. Really, they were just begging for a story. And omg I cannot wait to see Caged Graves as book!!!

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  10. I will likely have nightmares tonight. Just so you know.

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  11. Okay, I am sufficiently creeped out!!! I would have had to RUN out of that cemetary!!! #scaredy-cat

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  12. I work in graveyards in Norway and love the old caged ones. There is something in their histories that is mysteriously intriguing. Ship Captains, Russian Soldiers, Constitution (Norway’s) signers, recent Utøya shooting victims, etc.

    Here, we find bones that have either worked their way up & out do to freezing ground temps, or not completely decomposed when the graves are reused. Coffins & urns are biodegradable by law here and graves can be used again after 20-25 yeas if no additional fees are paid to retain the grave by family members.

    My all time favorite graveyard is still at Virginia City, NV.

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  13. Ya know, even the name of the cemetery creeps me out. It's so unusual, no? Sounds like the name of a cemetery in a fictional piece. (Smiles)

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  14. I live about a mile and a half from there. There use to be three. But one was removed for some reason. The remaining two were badly damaged. Two replicas were made and put in there place. I studied to find the purpose of them. People said they were put there to prevent wild animals from digging up the graves. I found that in the 1800's medical schools could not get enough dead bodies for there medical school students to practice cutting on that the bought bodies from people who stole them from graves. Iron boxes were put on the graves until the body was decomposed enough that it would be of no use. (grave robbers) The graves near here were children of someone who owned an iron works business. People think they were mostly for decoration. The tombstones are about 3 feet high and 1 1/2 inches thick. They were originaly laid flat on the grave. Someone got the idea that tey were suppose to be upright. So the have been upright for many years. One is broken in half because they broke easy being upright being thin and tall. From the pictures they look like they have been damaged. Someone told me the person who mows the grass there damaged them with a riding mower.

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  15. Todd, I ran across several of those explanations when I was doing my research. I worked a couple of them into my story, one way or another. I did not know that they used to lie flat on the ground.

    I'm sorry they were damaged by the lawn mower, but at least it wasn't deliberate vandalism. That would have been very sad.

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