Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Happy Fourth of July. One of the great treasures of my home town, Tuscaloosa, is our paper, the Tuscaloosa News. The T-News has great stories of local interest, like this one on the celebration (or non-celebration) of July Fourth in the years after the Civil War. (Registration required). And what did this morning's T-News bring? This awesome front-page story on Nevada Hubbard-Ely, who's worked for (and lived at) the largest local cemetery for decades. Here's a flavor of the story:
[Ms. Hubbard-Ely] worked alongside her husband and, once a phone was installed, she answered it at all hours. She marked off burial sites, maintaining payroll records and helping the bereaved locate graves, although she wasn’t officially put on the payroll until 1950.
“I did just about everything but dig the graves," she said.
Back then, the cemetery was just that: a spot to bury loved ones. The office, which was in Tuscaloosa, was moved onto the grounds in 1952. The chapel was built in 2002, when the business began offering funeral services as well as burials.
In its earliest days, the area was still outside the city limits and so isolated that cows were pastured right next door. Neighbors also grew corn and raised roosters. From the time James Austin purchased the cemetery land in 1929 until the Hubbards arrived to take care of it, there were only 480 burials. Now, Hubbard-Ely said, there have been at least 15,000.
No ghosts have haunted the grounds, at least none that have made themselves known. Her only night visitors over the years have been, in the early days, mourners looking for a spot to place their just-departed loved one, or hapless fraternity pledges who were dropped off at the cemetery in the middle of the night to find their way home, a ritual known as Hell Week.
The boys sometimes came knocking at the door as late as 1 a.m., Hubbard-Ely recalled.
“They’d turn the boys loose with a box of matches," she said. “They were so appreciative of our help, we’d get visitors every night during Hell Week."
Nothin' like stories on cemeteries (or cemetery law), are there?
That also set me to thinking about what other people in the blogosphere are posting to celebrate July Fourth. It's well-known among historians that July Fourth orations are a great vehicle into the minds of the orators. You may have read Michael Kammen's A Machine that Would Go of Itself. It's a brilliant--and I do mean brilliant--use of sources (July Fourth orations) to get at changing meanings of the Constitution. (I've been working for years on college orations in the antebellum era; one of my smaller essays on antebellum orations at the University of Alabama is available here.)
And so perhaps posts----the modern version of the July Fourth oration--will give us some peek inside their minds. We see over at volokh that Randy Barnett's talking about Frederick Douglas' sobering What to the Slave is the Fourth of July. And Emma Coleman Jordan is talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s papers as private and public property. Why, I wonder, aren't people talking about Tom Paine's Common Sense or John Adam's Disseration on the Canon and Feudal Law?
I'm running really far behind on my summer writing--in fact, I'm starting to panic that my papers on the Fugitive Slave Act and moral philosophy and on anti-feudalism in American property law won't be finished by the times students arrive in the fall--so I didn't write the piece I'd been planning for the Fourth of July (on W.E.B. DuBois' empirical work on housing in Baltimore), but I hope to get that up sometime soon.
Endnote: The picture, which is provided by our friends at wikipedia, looks a lot like the Washington Monument, doesn't it? It's the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, built in 1823.
Alfred L. Brophy
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