Monday, March 26, 2012

I attended a cemetery walk at the Pioneer Cemetery downtown.  I'm not sure how often they have these, but I think it's pretty rare  That's why I had to go, even though I knew they'd be having costumed docents playing the parts of various factual dead persons.

You would think that knowing in advance would mitigate the anger I felt at their obnoxious and cheesy little playacts, but it didn't.  The cemetery association did some research on various graves, then wrote scripts for the docents to read.  "Hi. My name is Mary Malloy. I moved to Phoenix in 1880, but oops, I died of consumption two years later. Thanks for visiting me today, I get lonely here!"  Don't know why, Mary, there's lots to see.  You live between three homeless shelters and the State Capital.  Each docent nattered on about "their" lives and deaths, inserting false observations ("shure is lonely out hur in my grave!") in a strange way that, much as I am not terribly sensitive to these things, seemed disrespectful.  Particularly considering they're standing there with one foot on the grave of the person who really did die of diphtheria, or whatever.  Two of the docents were children made up to look like corpses, with Halloween wounds of fake gore.  The event was...really shit.  I felt second-hand embarrassment, kind of like when I watch Kate Bush's Babushka video. 

But the cemeteries were very interesting and are very old, Phoenix-wise.  1880s to 1910ish.  That's old here!  Most of the headstones are missing, but there are some large and cool ones around.  The tour didn't really involve relevant or famous Phoenicians and instead curiously focused on dead kids.  Like, we learned about a toddler who died when an oil lamp fell on her.  That's pretty sad, but why would this be part of the paid tour?  Was the toddler on the territorial legislature?  Did it name Phoenix, or hide gold in the Superstitions?  Because the people who did that shit were not part of the tour even though they are there.  Sometimes all-volunteer organizations suck because having your heart in the right place doesn't mean you're doing a good job, dudes. 

Not that I want to go around dissing on non-profit volunteer groups, but this is why a lot of small museums shut down forever.  Because they are doing it wrong. 

Some of the cemeteries go by a couple of different names. Loosely is one of them. 

This cemetery is full, but doesn't look like it due to all of the missing stones.  Many were broken or stolen, and some were just wood to begin with.  Some were carved of sandstone, which by now has been eroded into unrecognizable chunks of rock. 

Some of the graves pre-date the cemetery, because they were moved.  I don't remember where from.  Some families then moved their dead from the Pioneer to other places, because it was beginning to look fucked up in there from lack of caretaking.

There were a few of these plain looking vaults.  Unusual for here.

Jacob Waltz's grave.  He's the famous "Lost Dutchman" who allegedly hid gold in the Superstitions.  He's also one of my dad's personal favs.  The stone seems to be a later addition.  The head (or foot?) of the grave has a chunk of granite which at one time was painted gold.  There's a dirty shot glass next to it.

Kind of interesting to note the differences between this place and Cemetery Lindo.  Lindo is not closed to the public even though it's part of the "complex" of historic cemeteries.  Also, people still visit the graves at Lindo even though it seems that the youngest graves are 60+ years old.  I saw recently wilted flowers, pennies and small offerings of food on the stones there. 

After the tour, my dad regaled the staff with stories of Jacob Waltz and then offered to pick up the headstones that had fallen or been kicked off their pedestals by delinquents.  They were horrified by this proposition and insisted that only a machine could hoist such a heavy stone.  He laughed contemptuously, then said, "Eh, I'll get a buddy to help me. No problem."  They actually took his contact info for this.  I guess I'll be curious to hear if they call.  They said the City had decided not to address the toppled stones, which is another example of why we can't have nice things in Phoenix.

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