Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Our Veterans of the War of 1812 and the Costs of Auto-Dependent Enclosure

While walking through the cemetery on Veterans Day, my comrade-in-feets pointed out the one known Revolutionary War Veteran buried in Oregon.

After that war, in 1810 William Cannon got into the fur trade and was at the pivotal Champoeg meeting of 1843. He died in 1854 and is buried in St. Paul. It's not surprising that French Prairie would have the oldest Veteran in Oregon. (More here and here.)
John Pollard Gaines
1795 - 1857

So who are Salem's oldest Veterans?

The Salem Pioneer Cemetery turns up five from the War of 1812, most of whom were born in the 1790s, a generation - or maybe two - after Cannon:
One the one hand, sure, these historic facts are trivia.  But are we so numb to history that we think them trivial?  The War of 1812 was two centuries ago!  By Salem standards that's a long time.

Corvallis' Crystal Lakes Cemetery Walking Path Opening
Signage:  Dogs on Leash, Closes at Dusk
One of the real costs of our lock-down and auto-oriented approach to cemetery security is that we miss out on encouraging walks through the cemetery that will turn up wonderful facts like these. Casual visits to the cemetery have a role in civic society! Instead of promoting cemetery security through the eyes and ears of curious adults and children, we hope for security through secrecy.  This hoardery approach to cemeteries is self-defeating!  Safety and security arises through activity, not emptiness.

Our cemeteries are one of our greatest resources for connecting with local history, and the more we hew to an inflexible model of perimeter security that turns them into primarily auto-oriented destinations and discourages the casual visit, the less we will know, and the more difficult it will actually be to maintain cemetery security.

(In the cemetery there are also many Veterans of the Mexican War, the so-called "Indian Wars," and the Civil War, including at least three on the Confederate side. Plus many more in the 20th century.)

2 comments:

Sarah Owens said...

SBOB, thank you for reminding us to visit and value our cemeteries. They connect us to history through the forbears buried there, but they're also really interesting (to me) public spaces.

"Formal burial in the United States, prior to 1860, was primarily restricted to interment of the body on the grounds of a church or meetinghouse, or occasionally within the church itself...Graves were laid facing east and west, with the head to the west; all available space was used, with burials very close together, and at times on top of each other...Cemeteries were dreary places affording little room or light for vegetation, and thereby not encouraging the passerby to linger and to appreciate...As the 19th century progressed, towns grew to cities, and population increased proportionally. For reasons of public health and overcrowding, burial grounds began to be located outside of population centers, no longer on church ground. These cemeteries spawned the “Rural” Cemetery Movement, beginning in 1831 with Mount Auburn, Boston; Laurel Hill, Philadelphia (1836); Greenwood, N.Y. (1838); Lowell, Mass. (1841); Evergreen, Portland, Maine (1855); Forest Hill, Madison, Wisc. (1858); and countless others as the country and movement expanded."

"The rural cemetery was designed with romantic vision, based upon English landscape gardening. Nature, in contrast to an increasingly urban setting, was idealized and sought out; cemeteries, located close to the city, were consciously designed to provide sanctuary, solitude, quiet, adornment, and beauty. It was common, especially on Sundays, for full families to picnic in cemeteries 'taking long walks in the peaceful setting, thinking about the past and the future, and keeping a little bit of history alive for themselves.'" This and more at: http://www.crl.edu/focus/article/8246.

Now our Pioneer Cemetery was not the product of landscape design. It started as a "family burial plot on the claim of Methodist missionary David Leslie." http://www.salempioneercemetery.org/history.php. It "grew to its present size of approximately 16 ½ acres after the Independent Order of Odd Fellows purchased adjoining land for community burials beginning in the 1850s", and Salem, through the Parks division, took title to the land 1985. Id. Others will have to say whether families strolled contemplatively in Pioneer Cemetery on Sundays.

But you make an important point: we should think of and maintain our cemeteries as public spaces, to be used by the living. "It has been argued that the rural cemetery, serving as an oasis within the expanding urban and industrial landscape of the country, actually became the foundation of the American park movement. [internal citation omitted.] Leaving the city and seeking rural beauty had its merits, but was not available to all, while a public mall or promenade, centrally located in the city itself, would serve more of the citizenry. By the end of the 19th century, the role of the cemetery as a place of escape from the city had been supplanted by the establishment of parks, and by the blurring of city and country as suburbia evolved. Natural sanctuary became rare as “sprawl” increased and landscape homogenized. Again, lost was the place of beauty in which ease of tensions could be found; again, a new movement evolved; this time, the wilderness movement." http://www.crl.edu/focus/article/8246.

One good example of a designed cemetery that might interest readers is Frederick Law Olmstead's Mountainview Cemetery.
http://mountainviewpeople.blogspot.com/2011/06/frederick-law-olmstead-and-mountain.html, who is himself a worthy subject for study. See, e.g., http://places.designobserver.com/feature/frederick-law-olmsted-and-the-campaign-for-public-health/15619/

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for more on the national and cultural contexts!

You may have noticed recently that the cemetery was just listed on the National Register of Historic Places! The Nomination form doesn't yet seem to be on the national database website, but the State Historic Preservation Office will have it for a while on their "recently listed" page.

In the nomination, Elizabeth Potter notes that the original name of the cemetery drew explicitly on the rural cemetery movement:

"In Salem, the intent of Chemeketa Lodge No. 1, I.O.O.F. [the Odd Fellows] to express the rural cemetery ideal is made explicit by the chosen title. Lodge-member J. Henry Brown, compiler of the Salem City Directory for 1871, described the attributes of Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery and named Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery as an exemplary model."

In the path/road system there is a heart, and you may find that there is more landscape design there than you had supposed!

(While the Olmsteds weren't active here, they were the authors of Portland's Parks Plan in 1903/04!)

For more on the debate over opening the cemetery for a connection between the Candalaria and Fairmount neighborhoods, see notes here. It has been an unfortunately contentious conversation.

Since there was a witty apology for having dismissed the Gettysburg address in the news this week, readers might also be interested in Garry Wills' book, Lincoln at Gettysburg, which analyzes the address, all the more remarkable given its brevity vis-a-vis the hour-more orations alongside it, in terms of the rural cemetery movement among other things.