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Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2011

My grandfather has a remarkable postcard collection.  It’s fun to think of him living out in the middle of the countryside, at his father’s old water-powered mill that was wheezing its way out of existence, waiting for the mailman to come and deliver each of these.  Or, more likely, someone climbed on the same horse that he and his sister rode to school in the mornings (uphill) and went in to town to collect the mail and the latest gossip.

This card was mailed in 1908.  I find the couple in a clinch a bit surprising as I don’t think of Halloween as a time for romance, but perhaps the blonde was so startled by a lurking shadow that she simply leapt into the fellow’s arms — and a kiss ensued.  (Or perhaps she cleverly lured the fellow to the pumpkin patch and then invented a lurking shadow.)

The card traveled from Camden, New Jersey, to Tylersport, Pennsylvania.  It was mailed by his Cousin Violet Belz (click here to see the family, including my young grandfather on the far left, and that’s Violet on the far right, in the snazzy hat).  Turning the card over, one will find the following inscription:

Tell Papa to cut you a pumpkin into a Halloween head like this.

If you were here to-night you would see a fine lot of masqueraders.

Lovingly, Cousin Violet

Seeing Cousin Violet’s name there reminds me of a graveyard story.

It was a bright and sunny day….  I was riding on a University of Pennsylvania bus with other students on a  very fine tour of Camden with Camilo Jose Vergara, whose brilliant work documenting urban neighborhoods for more than 30 years can be seen at Invincible Cities.  Our tour began at Walt Whitman’s house in downtown Camden to evoke the bustling, industrial Camden of his era.  Throughout the day, we experienced many places that are no doubt haunted by ghosts of the past — abandoned, derelict places that were sad, atmospheric, and inspiring because you knew there were stories those sites could tell.

Camilo ended the tour at the Harleigh cemetery where Walt Whitman is buried in a rustic-inspired tomb of his own design, cut into a hillside.  The bus pulled through the gated entryway and wound among the curving rural cemetery style roadways.  I was talking to the friend sitting next to me and occasionally glancing idly out the window at the vast expanse of gravestones scattered across the green acres.  Something drew my eye — we were passing a tall granite monument topped by a funerary urn — I glanced at the name on it.  “Belz”  I couldn’t quite make out the other words.  But after I paid homage to Mr. Whitman, I raced back up the road and discovered that out of all the stones, in all of this cemetery, I happened to notice my cousins’ above all.  There were Violet and the rest of her family — and in fact, I discovered someone we did not know existed — a boy who must have died at a young age and faded from family memory.  I said hello to the ghosts, and returned to the bus, having had a nice family visit as a bonus to an excellent day.

Boo!  Have a fun, and safe, Halloween!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2011 8:54 pm

    What a marvelous trip back through time. 🙂 I’ve found I can’t walk through graveyards for too long, but a short stroll always makes my mind reel at the things and people there. Happy Hallo’een!

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      October 31, 2011 9:01 pm

      I love a good graveyard. There was a tiny family plot near our house in Maine where I’d go sit under the big tree, leaning against a headstone (I wish I remembered who it was) and read.

      The kids don’t share my appreciation of cemetery atmosphere. They are sure zombies will come eat us; even if I assure them that most of the people buried there are their relatives….

  2. November 2, 2011 10:32 pm

    What a wonderful bit of serendipity. Question: did Cousin Violet guide you to her grave, or did your brain pick out a name familiar from your family research?

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      November 3, 2011 9:05 am

      I am quite certain that Cousin Violet must have “yoo-hooed” at me as we drove past. I will go dig out a photo of the monument to post here.

  3. November 30, 2011 10:11 pm

    Hi Sabra. Just discovered your blog. Tis neat! Just needs a few more NHL photos.

    • Sabra Smith permalink*
      December 15, 2011 2:17 pm

      Hi Terry! Great seeing you last night. Thanks for checking out my blog. I’ll make an effort to put in more NHL photos, just because you asked.

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