What is it that makes people care for the graves of strangers? Last week Canahan paid a visit to the grave of a British soldier, Henry Charles Lucas of London, who is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave near his home in France. He and his wife left flowers on the grave of someone they didn’t know.
Last weekend I visited a historic cemetery at Bishop Hill, Illinois, the site of an early Swedish utopian community. At the back of the cemetery was a large uneven plot of ground with a marker in front of it announcing:
In this area a large number of early Bishop Hill residents are buried in unmarked graves. Many perished from the hardships of establishing a new colony far from their homeland. Others were placed here simply because they were poor or alone. Most are unknown but to God.
In front of the marker someone had left a planter of annual flowers, in memory of strangers who died in the 1800′s.
The newer part of the cemetery is unremarkable; it looks just like dozens of other midwestern cemeteries, with huge expanses of green lawn and grave stones of the variety that is easy to mow around.
The older section of the graveyard is more interesting. Markers have a graphic design quality about them, the stones meticulously spelling out exactly how many years, months, and days the occupant of the grave was alive. One stone is in Swedish. I have already outlived most of the people buried here.