Friday, August 23, 2019

Looking for Tolomato



The name Tolomato, beautifully wrought in metal over the new gate of Tolomato cemetery, declares the Indian heritage of the site, and one of the first things our visitors hear when they take our Third Saturday tour is the story of the Tolomato Indian mission that was located on that plot of land, long before it became a cemetery.  

This being St Augustine, in the 19th and 20th centuries, visitors heard much more sensational stories, ranging from tales of a 7-foot tall Indian named “Chief Tolomato” who appears at night -  mostly to the ghost tours - to the gruesome tale that a Franciscan friar was slain in the Varela Chapel (built 1853) by Indian raiders in the 16th century.  Not true, of course, although there is another Tolomato, far away and long ago, where this actually did happen.

The name Tolomato is somewhat like Brigadoon, the mythical town that appeared and disappeared, because it seems to keep popping up along the SE coast from Georgia to St Augustine.  Historians and archaeologists know where it started, but even so the details have remained elusive, with the exact locations of some of the sites that bore that name having been lost to things ranging from violence to time and sea water.
Because our TCPA docents start off by telling visitors the history of the name, it occurred to us one day at a meeting that we could make this long and complicated story a little more real for ourselves by taking a field trip to the original Tolomato and seeing where it all began. The area is now known as Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge and is on the Georgia coast, right across from St. Catherine’s Island and about 60 miles south of Savannah. It’s less than a 3 hour drive from St. Augustine, so we picked a date that we hoped was before the mosquitoes would be in full blossom. And then a small band of TCPA members set out, armed with our cameras.  Louise Kennedy took her usual great photos and several others of us did our IPhone best, but I'll have to post those elsewhere and send out a link.

Harris Neck is a little remote and not oversupplied with hotels or even places to eat, so to make life a little easier for ourselves, we stayed on Jekyll Island and made a day trip to Harris Neck.



First we found a fictional Tolomato, of course.  Hwy  17 from Jekyll Island to Harris Neck goes through Darien, a very interesting town that suffered greatly during the Civil War and in fact was burned to the ground. It recovered, became a sleepy Southern town with a Civil War museum, and is now on its way to becoming a modern “cute” B&B town.  But it also boasted, or thought it boasted, a Tolomato site, a ruined tabby chimney and walls that the town hoped was from the chapel.  Once word got out, the name Tolomato began popping up on local roads and historical markers. But alas, it wasn’t true: the site was actually all that was left of a late 18th century sugar mill.  That didn’t stop anybody, however, and a new luxury subdivision named Tolomato Island has already seized the name. 


But what name?  The name of the original Tolomato Mission, founded in 1595, was La Natividad de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Tolomato (The Birth of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tolomato).  To “unpack” the name for those unfamiliar with Spanish church naming customs, it refers to three different things. First is the Catholic feast day on September 8 celebrating the Birth of Our Lady, which was also chosen as the official founding date of St. Augustine in 1565. Thus, the friars chose that name to refer to the founding of missionary efforts in Florida. 

Next is “Guadalupe,” which of course refers to the apparition of the Virgin to the Mexican Indian San Juan Diego in 1531. Guadalupe is a place in Extremadura, Spain, which had an early painting of the Virgin that was somewhat similar what Juan Diego saw and the image that appeared on the inside of his straw cape, and the 16th century Spanish bishop of the area, which is now part of modern Mexico City, was from Extremadura.  But as the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe (the image in the photo below) began to refer more commonly to the 1531 apparition to an indigenous Mexican, the Spanish then often included it in the name of churches directed to missionary activities among the Indians of the Americas.

Finally, we have “Tolomato,” referring to the place where the mission was located. Tolomato is thought to mean is thought to mean “on the river bank” or “between the river banks” in the Guale language. The aboriginal Tolomato population were Guale Indians, which refers to a language group or nation rather than a “tribe.” There were several major language groups along the SE coast, and the languages were not mutually intelligible. There were the Guale of north Georgia, a little further south there were the Mocama and then the Timucua, to name a few. 



The location of Tolomato was indeed on the bank, as seen above, or possibly between two rivers, since Harris Neck is actually a peninsula in the coastal marshes, with its tip pointing to Santa Catalina, aka, St. Catherine’s Island. There is an important mission site on St. Catherine’s Island that has been the subject of many excavations and even now has a rededicated cemetery and church, but in the 16th century, the Tolomato mission was considered the most important. It was probably the residence of the most important cacique, or chief, among the many groups of Guale Indians who lived in the area.  Below is a map in the visitor center at the park which will show you a little more on this.
However…a word of caution!  There were several missions scattered through the Sea Islands, and the only one that has been definitively identified is Santa Catalina.  There are researchers who think that a mission known as Talapo was the mission located on Harris Neck, and the Tolomato mission was actually located at a place now known as Sutherland Bluff, near Shellman Bluff and across from Sapelo Island in Georgia. However, we decided to go with the Harris Neck site, simply because it is the one that appears most often in the literature.  And we checked with the Federal ranger in charge of SE archaeology, Rick Kwasniewski, who told us that Indian and Spanish artifacts of the right period have been found at two locations on Harris Neck, with the most probable location of the Tolomato village being near the modern day boat ramp.  If some future excavation turns up something new, we’ll just have to make another trip!

In 1595, the Franciscans established a mission church at Tolomato, with a resident friar, Fr. Pedro de Corpa, a Franciscan from Astorga, Spain.  Early Southeast mission buildings were usually simple wooden and thatch constructions, and inventories carried out by Spanish governors and religious authorities revealed that most did not seem to have permanent tabernacles or even baptismal fonts. The missionaries would bring altar vessels and other things as they needed them for fear that they might fall into hostile hands if the mission was attacked.  So we don’t know exactly what the mission looked like, but it was probably fairly simple and not like the much later, more developed California missions.  Below is a recreation at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee of the mission chapel.



Basically, the villages functioned as any other village, ruled by their chiefs. But where the Indians  had originally been more migratory, they now lived a stable, agricultural life (since this was the European ideal), often with some common work to support the mission, such as the production of hides in the California ranching missions. They were also instructed in the Faith, began the day with prayers and hymns, attended Mass and were expected to conform to Catholic moral teachings, particularly in the area of marriage. Sometimes the Franciscan treatment of the Indians was good; at other times, it was harsh, although often the Franciscans stood between the Indians and even harsher treatment by the Spanish or Mexican civil governors.  And of course the missionaries were often caught in midst of the rivalries and animosities between different Indian leaders and groups.

The Franciscans extended this model across the country.  Below you see a painting of two 18th Franciscan friars, one of them from the Provincia de Santa Helena (which included St Augustine and the Florida Georgia missions).   He was killed in a hostile Indian attack in Arizona in the late 18th century, and the painting is in the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, which also had a Franciscan presence.  



For the first two years, everything seems to have gone well for Fr. Corpa, but it changed literally overnight. One morning in late September or early October of 1597 – the exact date is unknown, but the friars’ report arrived in St Augustine on October 7, 1597 - as he recited his prayers, he looked up to see a group of hostile Indians, including the cacique of Tolomato himself, burst into his cell. Still kneeling, he was clubbed to death by one of the warriors at the command of the cacique.
Supposedly, he was then beheaded and his head was mounted on a post near the boat ramp, although the Spanish do not report finding it when they arrived. His body was buried in the woods near the village, and the church, the friar’s residence, and the council house were burned.  Later the Spanish found a statue of St Anthony de Padua (a popular Franciscan saint) and the altar – probably not the altar table as we think of it in modern churches, but the altar stone, ara, in Spanish – hidden in the woods near the ruined town.
Why this happened is still a subject of discussion. To make a long story short, the best book on this confusing subject is probably Murder and Martyrdom in Spanish Florida, by J. Michael Francis and Kathleen M. Kole (American Museum of Natural History, 2011).  



In any case, the attacks put an end to Tolomato and of all of the missions in the area, with most of the resident friars being killed, and one taken captive for a year.  The important mission buildings had been burned by the Indians themselves during the uprising, and in the succeeding months, most of what remained of the villages was destroyed by Spanish reprisals. However, within a few years, the Franciscans returned, and several of the other missions, most notably Santa Catalina, were revived. David Hurst Thomas, from the Museum of Natural History in NYC, did extensive work on the site, and remains interested in it. Click here for a really interesting - if lengthy - video about his work and its sequels on St Catherine's Island. Ignore the lemurs.


But by then Tolomato seems to have disappeared for good from Georgia, and the name is only found again in the 1620s, this time in Florida, in the reports of the Spanish Governor don Luis de Rojas y Borja. Residing in St Augustine, he speaks of the establishment of a new mission Indian village, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Tolomato, on the Guana River not far north of St Augustine.  The Guale Indian residents were to provide labor for ferrying goods across the river, cutting timber, etc. and they had their own village, church and priest at the new “Tholomato,” as it appears in the record.
This, alas, turned out to be just the first step in the long journey of the Indians from Georgia to Cordova St.  But since we're only looking at the beginnings of the journey, that story will have to wait for another post.

As for Harris Neck, its story after the departure of the Indians is also an interesting one.  After the gradual departure of the Spanish from the Georgia area and the destruction of the mission chain by British colonists from Georgia and South Carolina in the early 1700s, British settlers acquired land in the area.  The large hammock got the name Harris Neck in the mid-18th century, when one William Thomas Harris established a large plantation dedicated to cotton and rice growing.  It passed through his family and a large section was bought by Jonathan Thomas, who called it Peru Plantation and raised cotton there. One of his descendants, dying without heirs, left it to a former slave, who in turn sold parcels to other black - and some white - families after the end of the Civil War.  It is considered part of the Gullah-Geechee corridor, since most of the African American residents are descendants of slaves brought from West Africa to work the plantations, who then became landowners after the Civil War.


Things changed later in the 1880s, when some of the land was bought by wealthy people from Savannah and other parts of the South.  One of these was Pierre Lorillard, of the tobacco family, who built a mansion – really, more of a party house - for his mistress and friends who would arrive at his deep-water dock on their yachts. The mansion had fountains and formal gardens and was even used as the Officers’ Club for the Harris Neck airbase during WWII! But it had deteriorated by the time Harris Neck became a wildlife refuge in 1962 and was torn down. Below is the one remaining, algae-filled fountain, and above is the huge stork and marsh bird nesting area that is now the main feature of Harriss Neck.



The famous Georgia archaeologist Lewis H. Larson thought that this might be the location of one of the Tolomato mission village. A shell mound runs through the area, and Larson's excavations in the late 20th century turned up Spanish and native pottery fragments and even aboriginal house floors.  As we moved through the area, carefully and unsuccessfully trying to avoid ticks, we found intriguing traces of shell deposits that certainly predated the mansion.  It is not likely that the Lorillards spent much time shucking wild oysters in the gardens of their mansion.

Some of the later history of the land is not pretty.  When the land was seized by the government for the building of the airfield, the black families were compensated at $26.90 per acre, while white families received $37.31 per acre. In addition, after the war the families were not allowed to move back to their land as promised, but the entire property was turned over to McIntosh County as a park or wildlife area. 
In 1962, the land was taken back by the Federal Government because of mismanagement by the county government and turned into the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.  It is famous as a breeding and nesting area for wood storks, herons, egrets and other coastal wading birds. In fact, during our stay, the trees were white with egrets, almost to the point where it looked as if snow had fallen. The area is visited mainly by birdwatchers and photographers, as well as occasional bicyclists and walkers, and a stop at the ranger station will give you some insight into the lively bird activity there.

And finally, of course, we found a cemetery.  At the very edge of the park, right next to the boat ramp and in another area considered likely to have been the location of Mission Tolomato, is the Gould Cemetery. It is named after the Gould family, which had owned the property, and it holds the remains of members of many of the longest-standing African American families of the peninsula.  We walked through the cemetery, seeing the old handcrafted concrete headstones and the more modern professionally created marble monuments, and noticing the same family names repeated. One family seems to have had a tradition of church work, with tombstones listing pastors and deacons and evangelists – and on the way out of Harris Neck, we happened to see one of these last names on the sign board of a tiny local church by the narrow road!  




We paid our respects to the residents of the cemetery and then walked over to the edge of the creek near the boat ramp, wondering if perhaps we were walking where the original Tolomato Mission had once stood.  Artifacts have been found at this site, and it certainly looks like a place that would have been ideal for the establishment of a village, since it is right next to a deep creek with access to channels leading to the sea and to St. Catherine’s Island.  The site is wide and bright and, nearly 500 years later, so peaceful that you can almost imagine our Tolomato Indian family poling their boats along the creek – probably laden with the oysters whose shells we would see as a sign of their presence all these many years later.




Thursday, March 22, 2018

Irish Tolomato for St. Patrick´s Day

St Patrick's Day 2018 may  have come and gone - but it's still March, so there's still time for a St Patrick's Day post to share the special tour we did at Tolomato Cemetery to feature our many Irish burials.   Louise Kennedy, our genealogist par excellence, got to work and dug deep into the records and gathered together all of our marked Irish burials, so we were able to lead our St Patrick´s Day visitors through a pretty comprehensive tour of the Irish past of St Augustine.  And here it is, in screen form, for blog readers who didn´t have a chance to be out there with us on that sunny St. Patrick´s Day. 

Visitors are often surprised by the large number of people born in places such as County Antrim or Dublin and immediately think of Potato Famine immigration.  But it wasn't the potato's fault, because the Potato Famines started only in the 1840s, while but the Irish presence in St Augustine goes back to the beginning. 




In fact, some of the parish records of St Augustine from 1594, which are the oldest written records in what is now the US, were kept and signed by an Irishman, Fr. Ricardo Artur (Richard Arthur), who had served as a soldier in the Spanish army and then was the parish priest in this garrison town until about 1605.  (The records are held by St Augustine but have been digitized by Vanderbilt University and may be consulted on-line.)



The Spanish army included large numbers of Irishmen in what were referred to as the Hibernian Regiments. The wiki image above shows them with a Hibernian Regiment flag, which was a Spanish battle flag bearing the harp, symbol of Ireland. St Augustine often had these regiments stationed at the Castillo.  And many of the clergy, both diocesan priests and members of religious orders such as the Franciscans, were Irishmen who had been educated in Spanish universities and seminaries because of the repression in Ireland starting around 1556, under Henry VIII, which forbade them to receive this education in Ireland. Below is a photo of the entry to the building of the Colegio de San Patricio (St. Patrick's College or Seminary) in Salamanca, which closed in 1837 and is now used as a sort of student center.


So the Irish were a fairly large and important presence. In fact, a Florida scholar, Dr. Michael Francis, recently discovered indications that First Spanish Period St Augustine was celebrating St Patrick's Day as far back as 1600, ordering an extra measure of gunpowder so that they could fire the cannons to celebrate.  The next year, mention is made of a procession, probably following the statue of the saint set on a small platform carried by four people, as is still done in villages in Spain.  Below is the procession for Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ponferrada, Spain.


Since the Irish and their descendants were scattered throughout the Spanish Empire, it should be no surprise that the very oldest extant individually marked grave in the State of Florida, that of Elizabeth Forrester (d. 1798), belongs to an Irish American transplant from the Northeast, Philadelphia, specifically. She was 16 at the time of her death and burial in Tolomato Cemetery.  Her father, Gerald Forrester, was born in Dublin, emigrated to Philadelphia, and then brought his family to Florida.  He was a merchant and ship's captain in St Augustine in the late 18th and early 19th century, and the family owned an orange grove in what would now be Lincolnville.  This lovely stone is wearing away but is beautifully carved and probably was ordered from carvers in the Northeast or possibly Charleston, which produced many markers located throughout Southern cemeteries.



Moving on a little bit, we have an important Irish burial that is no longer marked at all, that of Second Spanish Period Governor Enrique White.  He was also born in Dublin, served in the Spanish military and was appointed to the position of civil governor of Florida. He must have been an active and farsighted man, because in 1811 he came up with a plan to modernize Tolomato, going from its rather helter-skelter layout of burials to an orderly grid plan with numbered plots, priced according to the desirability of their location. This never came about because the political situation was tense (with the War of 1812 about to break out) and Spain and its financing for the colonies had been disrupted by Napoleon's invasion, followed by domestic strife and wars on the Spanish Peninsula.


One of the results of this was that the king, Fernando VII, had been forced into exile - but Governor Enrique White came up with a plan. He laid out a town on a neat grid plan, and even named it Fernandina, hoping to attract the royal family to take up residence there. For various reasons, this never happened either, and White himself died in 1811 with this project unrealized. However, one of the streets of the modern Fernandina Beach is named White Street in his honor.

As for his burial site, the Canary Islander who prepared Governor White for burial had him buried under a cairn of stones somewhere towards what was then the front of the cemetery.  This was meant to be a temporary situation, since the town had planned to order a nice marble marker for this important figure, but it seems that this never happened. So his exact burial location is unknown.


Next we have his contemporary, Fr. Miguel O'Reilly, whose tomb (above)  is next to that of another Irishman, Fr. Miguel Crosby, who replaced Fr. Miguel O'Reilly as the St Augustine parish priest upon O'Reilly's death in 1812.  Educated at the University of Salamanca, Fr. Miguel O´Reilly had first been sent to St Augustine to serve as the priest for the Minorcan community, but had been unable to enter the town because St Augustine was under the British, the American Revolution was going on, and the Americans had blockaded the harbor.  He turned back but later reentered St Augustine in 1784 as chaplain to the Hibernian Regiment assigned to the Castillo.  He was the first parish priest of the church that is now the Cathedral, which was completed in 1797, and was a very important figure in Second Spanish Period Florida.


Then there was Fr. Edward Mayne, born in County Antrim, whose family emigrated to Philadelphia and who then came to Florida after his ordination in Maryland, shortly after Spain had handed Florida over to the United States in 1821. These were tumultuous times, with shifting allegiances, blurred lines of episcopal authority, and conflicts between the older Spanish residents and the newcomers from the Northeast and South Carolina.  He was caught up in the chaos and at one point was locked out of the church by Geronimo Alvarez, head of the church wardens, and had to appeal to the bishop before he could get back in and take over the parish. But everything was finally resolved, tranquility returned, and by the time of his death in 1837, he was remembered on his gravestone as "gentle and humble of heart."  The stone itself is interesting, because it is very tall and has what are called "shoulders,"  the two projecting points on the top. This is much more typical of a Northern cemetery or even an Irish cemetery, but unfortunately we do not know where they got Fr. Mayne's beautiful (although alarmingly leaning) stone.



 Dating to roughly the same period, we have this beautiful vault, below, of Lucas Creyon, Esq. – born 1798.  “This stone records the affection of a brother. It contends against time to perpetuate the Memory of Lucas Creyon, Esq.native of the County of Sligo in Ireland, but for many years an inhabitant of Columbia, South Carolina. He died in the City of St, Augustine Oct. 21st, 1821. Aged 36 Years.  May his soul rest in peace Amen.” We know little more about him, although the ¨Esq.¨following his name suggests that he may have been a lawyer.


Taking a medium size jump ahead, we have a connection that goes back a ways. Here we see the vault of Major William Travers (1794-1840).  His plantation was burned during the Seminole War in 1840. 


Major William Travers was born in St Augustine, but his father, Dr. Thomas Travers, was born in Kildare and was a doctor. In fact, he had come to St Augustine as a doctor under the British and was made director of the Royal Hospital, now the Spanish Military Hospital, on Aviles St (at that time called Hospital Street).  When the Spanish returned, some of the British Period residents stayed on, and Dr. Thomas Travers chose to remain and was then made head of the Royal Hospital under the Spanish.  You can see a mannequin representing him, sitting in a reconstruction of his consulting room, at the Spanish Military Hospital. He was born in 1751 and died in 1807.  Like his son, he is buried at Tolomato Cemetery, but his grave is not marked and we do not know its exact location.


The Civil War was an important time for the Irish, and a couple of our markers remind us of this.  Michael Neligan's stone, above, is one of the Civil War VA markers at the front of the cemetery. He was undoubtedly of Irish descent, but was born in Connecticut and for reasons unknown, came to St Augustine.  He joined the Confederate Army at the age of 55; his son, Henry Neligan, joined the same regiment.  Fathers and sons often joined the army together.  He seems to have fallen ill during the war and for awhile was listed as AWOL, but eventually that was straightened out and he finished the war as a serving member. After the war, he ran a variety of businesses, including a boarding house, and was followed in this by his son.  He died in 1871, but his family continued to be a part of St Augustine. In fact, just today, driving back from I-95, I passed a construction company truck belonging to...Neligan Construction. It was a green truck, painted with shamrocks! Perhaps a descendant?


We have another interesting Civil War related Irish burial, shown above. This marker is one for Patrick Keenan, who died in St Augustine in 1877. He was born in 1844 in County Tyrone, but served in the Union Army in Pennsylvania, probably one of the thousands of Irish immigrants drafted immediately upon arriving in the United States. After the war, he joined the Regular Army and was stationed at the Castillo.  He died of tuberculosis, and the legend on his stone states that that the marker had been provided by his military companions in his company at the Castillo, "as a tribute of respect" for this man who had died so far from home and family.


The above marker is that of William Stubbs, who was born in Dublin in 1795 but lived most of his life in Michigan, where he was a farmer. He died in St Augustine in 1857, at the age of 62, but as late as 1850, he was listed in the Michigan census.  How did he come to be buried at Tolomato?  Was he possibly relocating late in life to Florida, as many people still do today, or was he perhaps a tourist, just traveling through?  We don't know much more about him than what appears on his stone.  However, several years ago, a visitor discovered his name on the stone and realized that William Stubbs was his ancestor. Perhaps someday we will learn more about him and his circumstances.



Finally, we have William O'Hara.  He was born in Meath in 1823, and came to St Augustine at some unknown point, where he married Antonica Alvarez in 1853.  He is buried near a couple of small obelisks and flower-engraved stones, all sadly marking the graves of O'Hara and Alvarez children.  So once more we see the Spanish and the Irish, together again, and once again we are reminded of the fact that this tiny town and this even tinier cemetery record the place where all the cultures of the vast Spanish and English speaking worlds flowed together into the new United States...and that the people above who now lie in Tolomato Cemetery played their part in this great history.



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Pere Lachaise at Last!


OK, this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for – well, perhaps not, but I certainly have been looking forward to it for some time: The visit to Pere Lachaise.

As cemetery fans know, Pere Lachaise in Paris was the first of the “garden cemeteries” that developed in the 19th century. But its origins were definitely unromantic and sanitation and health oriented, and the above photo looks bleak - but bear in mind that this was in late December in chilly Paris, so the “garden” part will look a lot better in a few months.


The garden cemetery movement was not an aesthetic movement, but was the result of concerns about parts of Paris that had turned into charnel pits (basically, mass graves) and as a result suffered from contaminated water and unbreathable air.  The cemetery was built on land that had belonged to a Jesuit residence where "Pere La-Chaise," a priest who had been the confessor and important advisor to Louis XVI, had once lived.  Curiously, Catholics originally were not permitted to be buried in Pere Lachaise (later English spelling)  because it was not consecrated ground, although at some point, that changed and there are now many Catholics buried in Pere Lachaise.


The cemetery, which opened in 1804 and sits atop a hill in the 20th Arrondissement, is a somewhat random looking place.  Outside of the walls, there are many funeral services and stores that sell headstones, urns...and the beautiful ceramic flowers below, a welcome substitute for our plastic flowers. Inside the walls, there are collapsed vaults, bizarre vaults, beautiful vaults, arrogant vaults, unassuming family vaults…and Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, both of whose vaults have had to be protected from their rabid fans.


If there’s any US place I think would be similar to Pere Lachaise, it would be Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. That is, a profusion of monuments, abundant scatterings of "grave goods" (the things people leave on or around a burial place), closely packed graves…and tours.

But our tour was quite an eccentric one, unbooked, random, and our guide, Raphael, found us rather than the reverse. However, this is the common practice with Raphael, and if you do a search of Raphael and Pere Lachaise, you’ll get a lot of results.  Below, he clutches his trusty IPad and map as he tells us the details of the monument behind him.

 First, though, the cemetery.

The winter is perhaps not its best time, but really, any time that you’re in Paris is probably the best time. We arrived on the metro and put on our hats and scarves and gloves and went up the hill.
There is a map floating around in various places, including the cemetery’s own excellent website (which has a virtual tour), but the map’s vision and that of normal human beings appears to be a little different, and it can be hard to find the marked sites.

We wandered the cemetery, which is divided into sectors and aisles and corners, fruitlessly looking for Chopin (whose body is buried at Pere Lachaise, while his heart is buried in Poland.)  And then suddenly we heard a voice saying, “Chopin!  You are looking for Chopin?”

This was Raphael, who has been the benevolent guide-spirit of the cemetery for some 30 years.  He emerges, he finds you, takes you to see what you wanted to see and much more, and then (after a tip, of course…don’t forget the tip!) he dashes off to find other people looking for Chopin. 

Here you see him zipping along a secret corridor behind the vaults, followed by one of his little flock.


But by the end, you will have run after him at top speed and seen a lot of burial sites and heard so many real, true (he swears it!), not-ghost-stories by that time that you’ll be exhausted.
The cemetery is some 110 acres, and includes hundreds of markers, vaults, monuments and enclosures, as well as a crematory and ossuary.  It has some 100,000 burials at the moment, but as Raphael told us, “Famous? You get to stay forever. Not famous?  Ten – 20 years, whatever you have paid for and then…” thumb over the shoulder. 

However, famous can have many meanings...a M. Lafitte, the inventor of the anvil, is buried at Pere Lachaise, although I didn't even realize that the anvil had an inventor. (This refers, of course, to the anvil with the rounded point for shaping horseshoes.)


We ran between the vaults, following Raphael down narrow corridors, up leaf-covered stairs hidden behind drooping branches, and along routes that only he knew to find the people that he had determined would be of interest to us.  This did not include Jim Morrison, although I have a vague recollection of having sped past his grave at some point.
All you need to be buried at Pere Lachaise, technically, is to have been a resident of Paris at some point, or to have died there (which explains Jim Morrison).  The survivors of the deceased essentially lease the space, for ten years or more, and after this time, the remains can be removed and placed in the giant ossuary or even cremated. Along the edges of the cemetery are “Gardens of Remembrance,” which are strips of very green grass regularly sprinkled with ashes from the crematory and guarded by a sign warning people not to step on them.


The streets and aisles of the cemetery are narrow and tightly packed. There are large family vaults with many people buried in them, but most of the features that appear to be vaults are actually just ornamental stone structures built over an underground crypt, which is generally not accessible.  
The cemetery is famous for its monuments. They include the starkly realistic – the one below is a communard who died in the uprising of 1871.


The other very realistic monument is that of a famous Parisian Lothario who was shot dead by the husband of one of his conquests and is now considered a sort of lucky fertility symbol for couples who want to have children.  At the instruction of Raphael, the embarrassed New York couple below touched both of the figure's shoes because they want twins.  There was the other visibly shiny part of the figure they had to touch, too, for the "magic" to work...which is why they appear so embarrassed.


Many of the people buried at Pere Lachaise were well known in the art world or the world of performing arts.  Modigliani is buried there, and so is Delacroix – the latter with some great bronze recreations of some of his most famous paintings.


Musicians abounded. We did find Chopin, and we found a variety of other musicians, including Edit Piaf. We also found people I hadn’t thought about for years, such as Marcel Marceau, the mime who went by the name of Bip and died in 2007. He was born in Strasbourg and of course had to flee from the Nazis, lived in hiding as a member of the French Resistance...and developed his skills in their clandestine theatrical performances. 


From the world of English letters we have, of course, Oscar Wilde.  His monument is protected by a large cat, one of the many that roam the cemetery. 





It is also protected by a plexiglass shield, because for some completely unaccountable reason, women love to kiss the marker, and the lipstick was damaging the stone. Below you can see the lipstick stains left by the more athletic women who managed to get above the plexiglass and plant their kisses next to the wonderful Sphinx carving by Jacob Epstein.


There are many Americans, including Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (both California products), whose grave is tended and decorated by Raphael, as you see below.  William Franklin, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin who died in somewhat clouded circumstances in Paris, is also buried in Pere Lachaise, and there are in fact, once you start looking, many Americans who managed to be buried there because they happened to die in Paris.


Naturally, there are politicians buried all over the place, many in very imposing mausoleums, although most of their names would now be unknown even to French citizens.  Napoleon had wanted to be buried there, but actually got his very own – well, calling it a mausoleum would be seriously understating it. Perhaps temple would be a better word: below you see his ornamental casket at Les Invalides, several miles away, where the rotunda is graced by many statues of Napoleon in a god-like form.


But if you're not Napoleon, the cemetery accepts burials of persons of all religions or none at all, but one thing that was almost surprising was the profusion of Jewish burials.  There are various Rothschilds buried there, although some were moved to Israel long ago, and many burials of other Jewish public figures or people important in the business world.
But there was one particularly striking area of the cemetery that I had never read about: the Holocaust monuments. The various concentration camps to which French Jews were deported are marked, each one with its own monument, and there is also a monument specifically for the children who were taken from Paris to these camps and never returned. 


There are also monuments that suddenly call the viewer back to the difficult present.  The young woman below died in the terrorist attack on the Bataclan nightclub in 2015.


And the young man was one of the writers for the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, who died in the terrorist attack on the magazine’s offices, also in 2015.


The day was very cold, windy and occasionally rainy, and after a couple of hours, we called it quits, went off to have a glass of wine and a croque monsieur in a warm neighborhood café, and then ended up at Sacre Coeur, viewing the remarkable mosaics. When last seen, Raphael was bounding off to find more people looking for Chopin.