For my service learning project I decided to do the cemetery option. For this option I had to photograph 500 tombstones between the years 1800 to 1920. The point of this cemetery service option is to support the idea of the burnt over district and how it may have occurred in our area surrounding the Erie Canal during those years.
To support this idea, I chose to photograph the Forest Hill cemetery in Attica, which is located in Wyoming County. I had to go back two times because my camera memory wouldn’t fit all the pictures at once. Most of my pictures are normal, but when I went back the second time, it started snowing and about the last one hundred pictures have snow on them. While I was photographing, I noticed some differences between the design, texture, shapes of all the tombstones I photographed. The first twenty pictures I took included some tombstones that didn’t even have legible writing which was supposed to be captured. These stones were about a inch and a half wide and the texture was sandy and gritty almost like they were sand blasted concrete. They glistened in the sun. Others, as we got more recent, the tombstones were mostly made of marble in a variety of colors. I found a very unique design in the Forest Hill cemetery. The tombstones for the Waterman family were designed like a tree literally. They resembled logs with veins and they were made out of marble. It was really interesting to see and I had not seen any stone that was even partly similar. The youngest member of the Waterman family died in 1905 so it’s not even like the stones are that recent. I was surprised to see a design like that one which might have been from the burnt over district. I am attaching a photo of the Waterman head stone and one tombstone photo to so you how unique this design really was. No other tombstones really stuck out to me as far as design, texture, and shape, they were all pretty similar. Something else, did however stick out in the cemetery.
When I went back for the second time, I noticed a black cat prancing around a family head stone. The Shaw family was the host of this intriguing cat. I was right on the road which was to the right of this head stone. What I found the most bizarre is that the cat walked over to me and was a foot away from me. Now I live on a farm with barn cats that we feed and I know that they still are skittish with people in general, let alone unfamiliar people. This cat was not skittish at all. It seemed like it was a house cat by its actions. This cemetery is on route 98 and there weren’t any houses close. The most interesting part to this story is that I took a picture of the cat next to the tombstone and I noticed something in the picture. There was a perfect white circle floating above the black cat. I don’t know what it was, but whatever it was, was peaceful. Maybe it was just irony in the sense that is was a snow flake because it was starting to snow, but I believe it was something more, what, I don’t know and I may never know, but I did capture it on camera and I attached the photo.
I enjoyed this service learning very much. Yeah it’s probably weird to hear that a person enjoyed photographing tombstones, but it was so much more than that. While I was there, I felt as if I was with the deceased people. It was peaceful and definitely an eye opener to myself. I felt sad for those who lost their lives and at the same time I felt respect for those that passed on.
By Alexandria Miller, GCC student