TALES FROM THE CRYPT

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CRYPTOLOGY 101

I don’t know if it is my unconscious way of dealing with a phobia and overcoming perpetual nightmares I have had for years or if it is just part of the archaic art and grungy HDR photography thing that has recently led me in the direction of photographing old cemeteries and crypts. My partner in crime, Andy, may have also played an intricate role in this new photographic art form. Needless to say, while at times I am definitely creeped out by roaming around old cemeteries, I am also intrigued by the history, the art, architecture, and the stories that are associated with old cemeteries and their inhabitants. Many times, some of the inhabitants are famous persons such as Mark Twain, who’s grave can be found at Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, NY.

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I wonder at times if we are doing the right thing or desecrating sacred ground by tromping over graves and photographing final resting places of souls. Other times I think that we are helping to breath new life and recognition to old and long forgotten about sites. Many of these “inhabitants” have not had a visitor for over a hundred years, now we are recognizing if not immortalizing them through our photographs. I know if it were me, I would welcome strangers to visit my site and awe at the beauty and magnificence of my grand crypt or monument and the intricate and painstaking art that was used in creating it. These grand pieces of art should be remembered and seen by others. Sadly, many people do not visit these old places to see the architectural wonders for themselves. So we, Andy and myself, head out and attempt to capture the ancient beauty that these old cemeteries hold.

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This statue used to be found at the “Dann’s” plot in the Tioga Point Cemetery in Sayre, PA. It has since been vandalized and is no longer in this condition. Again, another reason while I feel it is important to capture the elegance of these grand pieces before they fall victim to vandals or simply the hand of time. Time, is something I have really come to respect over the last year of my life. No one or nothing can escape the hand of time. Photographing these old and forgotten cemeteries, landscapes and other abandoned places is one way we attempt to keep the past alive and help those remember or even learn about their local history. Telling their stories with accompanying photos is the other. Between the photos and the stories, the history of these places is clearer and makes more sense to the viewer who can not only appreciate the art but the background that is associated with them. Interestingly, an hourglass is part of the ornate gate to this crypt.



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Our lastest adventure took us to Evergreen Cemetery high atop a hill just outside of Owego, NY. I had heard there was a creepy old cemetery up there with very old crypts and rock monuments as well as the monument and grave of an Mohawk indian maiden who was killed in February 1852 following a horrific train accident in Deposit, NY. She was 21 years old at the time of her death. I had to visit this cemetery to see for myself. The following excerpt is taken from the “Treasures of the Tier” website.
The Lofts were of the Mohawk tribe who, a generation earlier, at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, relocated from Canajoharie in New York’s Mohawk River Valley, to a reservation on the Salmon River in western Canada.

The Loft children were well educated. For several months Sa-sa-na lived with the reservation minister’s family where she was tutored in English language and Christian beliefs. She took music lessons and by many accounts developed a beautiful singing voice. At age 21, Sa-sa-na, with her brother Rok-wa-ho and sister Ya-go-weia, left their widowed mother and eldest sister in Canada to travel to the United States where they would give concerts to raise funds for educating their people.

A prominent Owego citizen, Judge Charles P. Avery, helped sponsor the Loft family’s visit to Owego, where they performed two concerts before moving on to their next stop in Deposit. Judge Avery, having an interest in Native Americans and their history, entertained the family at his home during their brief stay in town.

When news of the tragedy reached Owego, Judge Avery made arrangements to have Sa-sa-na’s body returned to the village and temporarily interred in the Avery family vault. Although her brother planned to return her to Canada the following spring, the citizens of Owego had been so touched by the young girl’s visit just days before, they persuaded Sa-sa-na’s family to allow her to be buried in the village.

A campaign was launched by church and women’s organizations to raise money for a monument, which was completed in May of 1855.

The 17-foot white marble obelisk was placed at the highest point of Evergreen Cemetery in Owego. Engraved on the front are the words: “In memory of Sa-sa-na Loft, an Indian maiden of Mohawk Woods, Canada West, who lost her life in the railroad disaster at Deposit, N.Y., Feb 18 1852. Aged 21 years.” On the back is a single wild rose with stem broken and one missing leaf, and on the west side: “By birth a daughter of the forest, by adoption a child of God.” Sa-sa-na was laid to rest at the foot of the monument, on the east side.

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Over the last couple of months, Andy and I have visited several historical and old cemeteries. We have traveled throughout New York state in our preservation and historical documentation efforts. We have contacted several cemetery associations with the goal of helping preserve and even refurbish some old abandoned buildings and mausoleums. One in case being the Woodlawn Chapel in Woodlawn Cemetery in Canandaigua, NY. The old chapel was erected in 1909 and has been defunct now for several years and has fallen into great dispair in recent years. There is a small attempt to restore this once grand stone structure.

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The last couple of cemeteries were very cool, quite creepy and yet hid some of the best art and archiecture I have seen in a long time. I am always amazed at the workmanship that went into building such elaborate and ornate granite and marble structures by hand. Even the many of the old grave markers were hand crafted by such fine artisians with skill and talent. I recently stumbled across an article that mentioned a very unique and rare grave marker needing attention. It was a tall statue cast completely in zinc. The statue and all the markers around it were cast in zinc well over 100 years ago. When I saw this for the first time I was simply stunned. I had to grab a shot of it. The statue seemed to strike a pose and point upwards to signify ” I’m still standing tall” Most zinc statues and monuments were erected between 1850 and 1950. Since 1950, one would be hard pressed to find a modern zinc monument or statue.

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Through our adventures in the old graveyards and cemeteries, we hope to capture, or re-capture the grand beauty and magnificence of the past, the art and the architecture. Together with local chapters, preservation and historical societies, we also hope to maintain and restore many of these forgotten and deteriorating realms. There is much history in these old cemeteries that needs to be remembered, not only in the fine architecture and artwork, but also the inhabitants within. We hope we can tell the stories and share the past with our fans and raise awareness to those that can help with preservation efforts as well.

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One of the coolest and very unique as well as oldest cemeteries we visited was the old M.E. Church in West Burlington, PA. Built in 1812, it is considered one of the most haunted places in Bradford County, PA and is listed on the registry of national historical places as well. We were able to spend several hours in and around the old church and its graveyard and although we never encountered anything paranormal, we were able to get some fairly cool shots.

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I have seen many headstones, monuments, statues and crypts in all sorts of shapes and sizes but this one I definately found different and unique. It appears to be a solid piece of slate cut into a perfect square on all sides with sharp corners and crisp lettering considering the age of it. It was found at an old cemetery on the campus of Cornell University along with many other very fascinating and elaborate monuments and statues. I was amazed at what little upkeep appeared in this cemetery.

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There are several old cemeteries near my hometown of Sayre PA that are of great historical and personal interest. My next mission is to photograph them and tell their stories as well, however, this would be another whole story in itself as the valley is just loaded with history and historical figures, many of whom are laid to rest within its borders between the mountains I call home. My ancestors from Italy are buried here, my relatives and friends of recent and past are buried here, my dad, my grandparents, my little cousin, they are all buried here. There are famous people that founded the valley of Sayre, Athens and Waverly and all its businesses here. So stay tuned for new photos and updates from the “Valleys” finest cemeteries.

2 thoughts on “TALES FROM THE CRYPT

  1. ur photos r amazing! i am so glad i stumbled upon this page tonight! I have just recently been practicing the art of photography. a few months ago i purchased my first camera since grade school…and I cannot put it down!! ( its a nikon d5100) i take pictures of everything in the hopes of capturing something amazing lol. granted i have a long way to go before i am able to even come close to one of these photos lol. i just took a series of beginners classes on basic photography, and have aquired so much admiration for people like u who are able to shoot such powerfully moving pieces. i spent this week end wandering around a few old cemetarys, trying to capture the artistry as well as the sentimental impact these old relics once represented…and then i stumble upon ur photos and by george i yelled out loud “thats it”! u have done it!! thank u for sharing these photos! and i will be sure to keep checking back to see more! Sadly some of these relics will be long gone someday, and with photos like yours they will be able to live on. I just read Mark Twain’s “a curious dream” last night, and after seeing the state of some of the graves in these old cemetery’s it made me have such a heavy heart. So much time and artistry went in to creating some of these old stones, and here they lie…cracked into pieces; names unrecognizable. I found myself taking photos of these stones inparticular, even though they looked like blank moldy slates of unrecognizable stone, just because I felt I needed to give them some type of recognition. Sorry for the looong blabbing..lol. I guess what I’m trying to say is, your photos were very moving.

    1. Thank you for your nice words. Best of luck with your photography. If you ever have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

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