When I was about eight years old, my family went in search of the "lost graves" of our ancestors. We all have lost graves. They are the ones that have been documented as being in one town and they are actually in the one across the bay. This usually happens to those that have gone long before us when there was no real documentations of marriages, births or deaths. Not everyone chooses to spend a two week family vacation looking for them as my parents did, but my father has been into his genealogy for as long as I can remember. I wonder if finding out that one of his relatives was a real live pirate had anything to do with that. I guess we can't all wear the white hat!
Our four unit family went to Eagle Harbour, Michigan, USA to stay at the Jennisons hotel right on the lake. I do not recall the name of the hotel, but the Jennisons had been there for my parents honeymoon and were still there for our vacation. There was a delightfully scary cemetery down the road and the hotel loaned out bikes to their guests and as my father was not going to check out the cemetery until the next day, I thought I would get a head start. Wouldn't it be marvelous if I could help him in this search?
The fence was laying on its side like an old tired out sentry and the gate was hanging on a hinge that promised to let loose the moment that someone touched it. All I knew was that the cemetery opened almost as soon as the town was formed so I was looking at over 200 years of history written in stone. The only warning I had was flitting around in my head, and all it said was to watch out for the sunken graves and to give them wide berth. That may have just been remnants of the coaching of my father, but it FELT different.
I heard a males voice, so to be quite honest, I walked towards the sound. I was hoping to find a caretaker or at the very least someone who could give me a bit of information about the cemetery. I was a newcomer to the wonderful world of cemetery gazing and I thought I might need some tips that did not come from my father. I mean, how much could he possibly know that someone else didn't?
In the back of the cemetery was a chicken wire type fence that protected twenty to thirty plain white wooden crosses. There was no gate, you just sort of unhooked the end of the fence from the beginning of it and pulled it out far enough to walk in and then refastened it. The first thing that struck me was the silence in the fenced-in areas. Aside from the male voice carrying on a conversation with a voice I couldn't hear answer, there was no other noise. No rodents through the dried leaves, no birds in the trees, no crickets calling to another... Nothing.
Standing inside the chicken wire fence I turned slowly, a bit confused. Okay, I was really confused. There was no writing on any of the crosses. No names, dates, soothing words to loved ones left behind. Marked graves for unknown persons? I noticed the man who owned the voice then. He was sitting beside a fresh grave holding onto what looked like daisies and just talking about everyday things. I assumed he had very recently lost a loved one so I left him be with his private emotions and went back to the crosses.
Upon exiting that "gate" I noticed a sign that I had not seen before. It said quite simply "Colored". I grew up knowing about racial differences and was even locked in a basement during the Detroit Riots, but I was caught completely off guard. Good Lord, have we not come far enough that my neighbor of color and my neighbor of peach could not find a resting place beside each other?
Angry, I went to talk to the man at the grave. He told me that we may be equal in God's eyes, but man is still having problems filling in the other colors. We spoke for a while and then I took my leave. I got about half way back through when I realised that I should have asked his name, being young, I went back to ask.
I found no new grave. I found just a few rotted boards sticking out of the ground where the crosses had once been. The graves were overgrown with vines, brush and blueberry plants. Under all the dead leaves, I located some rusty chicken wire. I ran like the guardians of Hell themselves were after me. I tripped over a marker, bounced off another, fell on a couple more and jumped the outer fence onto the bike and headed back to the hotel with flames belching out the back tire of that poor Schwinn.
After excitedly telling my father what happened, he took me back there. This is not to say he believed me. He did not. He was set on proving to me that my imagination would only lead me to trouble. He explained that there could be no new graves as this was an inactive cemetery and there are no rows of crosses as he researched it all the night before. All was as he stated. Walking all through the cemetery there were no signs of anyone having been there for quite a few years.
All except for the skid marks of little feet. And piles of leaves where the skid marks ended. And my father's great-great-great-aunt's grave, and that of her baby who were supposed to be buried in Eagle River that I had uncovered when I tripped over the one and bounced into the other.
I still can not explain what may have actually happened that day in that sun drenched cemetery. I researched for years and all I came up with for the crosses was a documented and well cared for site of a Tom Brown. His wooden marker says simply: Tom Brown/colored/died 05. The date may be wrong as there are several accounts of this sailor who actually passed on a voyage to Michigan and his body was laid to rest here. I don't think I fell asleep, I was not unaccounted for long.
What happened? Does ANYBODY else have a similar experience that could shed some light on this?