Tomorrow I’m heading downtown for a little alone time with a few ghosts. I’ve been meaning to revisit some of Charleston’s graveyards, and it’s supposed to be decent weather, and well, I can’t think of a better thing to do with my Sunday afternoon.
I’m a big fan of cemeteries and graveyards. (For those of you who don’t know the difference – and I didn’t until not too long ago – a graveyard is attached to a church, while a cemetery is separate from church grounds.) There’s something about them that can keep me mesmerized for hours, reading old headstones, making up stories about the people who are buried there. Everywhere I travel I search for them. I’ve wandered graveyards in France, and Italy, and Ireland, and in most places I’ve been. My daughter Lauri and I found one tucked away in a park in Venice, and I dragged my oldest daughter Ali to the graveyard at St. Michael’s here in Charleston when she was only a few years old. Sometimes my traveling companions are game, and sometimes they opt to shop while I daydream. Which is OK, because to me a graveyard really is best as a solitary experience.
At an artist residency at Anam Cara in Ireland, I could be found most days at sunset walking through the cemetery on a hillside across the street. I took pictures, wrote in my travel journal, and talked to myself about my characters, imagining them there. While in residence at the Studios of Key West, I rode my bike to Key West’s historic 1847 Cemetery, where I spent an entire afternoon photographing the above-ground tombs and statues. One of my favorite inscriptions there is “I Told You I was Sick.” Another gem is “good citizen for 65 of his 108 years.”
While in Key West, I met an artist who had started his work in stone as a gravestone carver. Imagine my fascination with that. I asked so many questions that I’m sure he wished he’d never run across me. But one day I’ll use that information in a story, I’m sure.
Tomorrow, I’ll take some pictures and daydream, wandering between confederate soldiers and signers of the Declaration of Independence. But the ones that will interest me the most, that always do, are the people no one has ever heard of, the ones I can create stories for.