Things are getting a little bit out of hand when we go to a cemetery to photograph an ancestor's grave and find the gravesite festooned with flags of the U.S., Australia, Ireland, Scotland, and the Crawford family coat of arms and a fresh bronze plaque on the site. We had just missed the once-in-a-lifetime gathering of American and Australian Crawfords to celebrate their common progenitor, Aaron Crawford, who happens to be Elsa's Crawford memorial great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. We think that also means she's about eighth cousin with every Crawford in the country, give or take a few removes.
That's one of the fun things about genealogy -- the more you plow into history, the more identities you get! Now we're not just Pendletons and Walthers, we're Crawfords and Phelons and Cadwells and Bells and Hopkos and . . .
Anyway, we giggled a lot about all the flags, until we saw that the surrounding countryside was covered with Crawford Road and Crawford store and Crawford this and that. We continue to be amazed how one's ancestors supply a nexus for understanding and appreciating a town or region. The history seems to come alive when one feels kinship with the actors.
We have become quite attached to cemeteries, especially the ones containing ancestors, and most particularly the small old burying grounds outside tiny towns. They are lovely spots where we are the only humans (there are always squirrels). Large old trees provide shade even as their roots tip a gravestone or two. These days there's a carpet of leaves and the grass is dewy. In one cemetery the caretaker pointed out that long ago the highest cemetery lots had been sold to the richest folks who wanted a view over the town, but now there are trees blocking the view from the hilltop!
The most attractive eighteenth century gravestones are carved in slate and bear a picture at the top, often an angel or an inscrutable head, sometimes New England fall color a tree or a bird. The older inscriptions are wonderfully hand-made, with uncertain spelling and capitalization, and occasionally a caret marking a word which had been missed and inserted between the lines above.
Leaving the Oakham cemetery we noticed several Civil War soldiers packing up their tent on the lawn by an old house. They were history buffs from the local university, chatting with a couple of members of the Oakham Historical Society, who gave us a tour of the old home (their museum) and some comments about the Bell and Crawford Families who had lived in these parts around 1800, as well as the opportunity to purchase a book about the little town.
It's That Time Of Year in New England: autumn colors. Even the highway signs flash the message: EXPECT FALL FOLIAGE TRAFFIC. New England roads, which were built long ago along Indian paths, don't go straight, so one has to be on the lookout for parked cars disgorging older sightseers and photographers. Yes, older. The younger folks must find fall foliage watching too tame a pastime in today's speeded up world! Of course we don't quite fit the pattern of October travelers, either. While everybody else is enjoying looking at the blazing colors on hillsides and river valleys, we are down on hands and knees scraping grass away from the lower lines of a gravestone inscription. Unidentified Berkshire wall
Included among today's photographs of spectacular fall folliage is a puzzle for our readers - what is it? We photographed this stone and tile construction by the side of the road first; later we saw a roadside display that had an illustration of the edifice, but no explanation. It's located on top of a hill in Becket, Massachusetts. The road climbs up the hill a little at a time, and has long been called "Jacob's Ladder." At one time there was an observation tower at the summit -- about four stories up on wooden stairs to overlook the surrounding forests and hills. (They call them mountains here, but of course that's wrong.)
The strange edifice used to stand near the observation tower and 1920s tourist attraction. It's just the thickness of a wall, and shaped somewhat like a triangle; the center piece appears to be a huge flat stone slab, about the size of a door. It's been carefully set off from the road, with wooden posts and beams in front. At first we thought it was part of a building that had collapsed, but there's no other debris around, and it appears to have been constructed as is. There's no sign identifying the thing for twenty-first century tourists. Can any one help identify it?