Wednesday, October 31

The Grave Undertaking . . .

The Grave Undertaking of Stiffie's Photography on Halloween

By Jack Riepe, P.I.R. (Paramour in Residence)

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. The night air is as crisp as a Macintosh apple, and the wind leaves visible footfalls in the piles of leaves that collect on the sides of the road. It is the end of the harvest and time once again to read Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Watching the Tim Burton film adaptation of the same name (starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci) isn't a bad idea either.

This is the time of year when "La Stiffkins" (Leslie) and I head out in the little car to savor the best the fall has to offer. We look for arts, crafts, history, the unique, the quaint, and sometimes the occult. On this particular occasion, our destination was Rock Creek Cemetery, 86 rolling acres of solace in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Leslie (Stiffie) had signed up for a photo safari, a wandering class dedicated to expanding photographic technique while offering a remarkable choice of subjects. The Rock Creek Cemetery was established in 1719, but transcended the churchyard concept and became a source of expression for the art of grief and personal remembrance in the late 19th century. These houses of the dead say a lot more about who used to live in Washington than the houses of the living say now.

I watched Stiffie (Leslie) shoulder her gear and trudge off with other members of the safari, winding her way among the tombstones. A chill went up my spine as she disappeared among these granite and marble harbingers of the hereafter, and I hoped this was not the seed of a premonition. With three hours to kill, I thought of staging a little safari of my own to the Old Ebbitt Grill. This is the last powerhouse saloon left in the United States, just steps away from the White House. It is the kind of place where red "power ties" are actually nuclear powered, and Republican foreplay (the extended handshake) is liberally offered to lobbyists wearing their ethical hot pants.

I was wearing my uniform, jeans and an old ratty shirt, and concluded I'd stick out at Old Ebbitt 's. My preference is for a Gibson martini at the bar in Union Station anyway. But the thought of parking the car within a stone's throw of Capitol Hill held no appeal on a day like this. Each ray of the afternoon sun picked up another color of fall in the leaves of the trees and I did something that Stiffie refused to let me consider earlier, despite the day's warm temperature.

I put the top down. Then I set out on a cemetery tour of my own.

Leslie and I have this thing for cemetery angels. She likes the art form. I am fascinated by the very idea of winged celestial beings that serve the pleasure of the deity. The first tomb that caught my eye depicted an angel, arms up-stretched in anguish. It was as if a guardian angel was lamenting the loss of its patron. I hope I engender the same feelings in my own guardian angel, though Stiffie thinks this would be highly unlikely. In fact, she suggested that I stay away from the edges of cliffs and subway platforms as the temptation might be too much even for a winged celestial being.

I found four bronze angels shouldering the massive roof of a mausoleum. This seemed unnatural to me. Angels are beings of light and flight. To my way of thinking, it would be enough that an angel escorted me through life. I wouldn't ask it to shelter me in death. I would hope my death would release an angel from the tedious chore of saving me from myself.

Next I paused at a mausoleum built of cut stone, resembling a country church in Britain. It was more than soothing. It was charming. Snug against the elements, it was a perfect eternal resting place, with a finely crafted stained-glass window to subdue the light. Many of these houses of the dead had wonderful stained glass windows in shades of fall colors. Regardless of the hour of daylight, it is always sunrise or sunset inside. Some of these windows were of landscapes, while others were palms or the risen Christ. The message of the resurrected Christ is a strange one for a tomb. It says, "I alone walked from here, while you must wait for the last day."

The general style in 19th and 20th century mausoleums calls for columns or thick stone construction, fronted by impressive doors. I refer to this as the Federalist period of death. It amazes me that after living, people would want their souls entombed in a structure resembling the main Post Office or the Federal Office of National Engraving.

Three mausoleums struck me as very interesting and remarkably different. One was another structure built to the dimensions of a English stone chapel -- but larger than the first I saw. It was big enough for me to live in now. This one had a miniature steeple complete with little gargoyles. The name on the door was "Hibbs." Another was a stone structure that was open in front, but secured by a gate. Inside were two granite sarcophagi side by side... A man and his wife.

I could almost hear him whisper, "Dear, are you there?"

And her reply might be, "Of course. I'm right here my love. Go back to sleep."

The third was a crypt built into a hillside. It was lined with brick, had an iron gate, blocking an arched passage that led down into the hill. I was thinking of climbing over the gate and waiting in there to surprise Stiffie. (There is a reason why she does not ask me to participate in these little adventures.) Then it occurred to that this is the sort of thing that happens in horror movies, and that I could be detained in this little hill for eternity.

One of the more haunting memorials was the statue of a man, wearing a shroud, waving from his grave as if to say, "Remember me. . . . I'm here." And there were headstones from the late 1700's and early 1800's that were swallowed up by the roots of trees. Only the last few inches of the tops of some were still visible. I imagined a person of spirit and strength buried here, lending heart to a towering oak.

Deer move freely within the confines of these 86 acres. They are small and live in the heart of urban sprawl. Two years ago, a deer walked all the way from Rock Creek Park to Georgetown, a distance of several miles without being noticed.

I came across Stiffie, bending light and color to her bidding through a lens. She sensed my presence, like a tiger is aware of wounded cape buffalo in the brush.

"Are you haunting this place," she asked, without looking up from her picture-taking.

"I was cruising for single women," I replied.

"I only have a few minutes to get this right..."

"So I should get lost," I concluded.

"Bingo," she said.

The location, the setting of the sun, and the simultaneous rising of the moon made me think of my own mortality. I envisioned my own headstone, as it might appear among these others. Tucked away among the trees, it would read, "If you can read this, then you are standing on my chest."

Happy Halloween.

Jack Riepe

October 31, 2007


  1. I love beautiful graveyard photos. Happy Halloween :)

  2. Actually I do rather like grave yards! Happy Halloween

  3. wow,
    jack o'writer,

    great job!

    i am here for the party
    and you gave me so much more!


    all i need now
    a Gibson martini
    and another look at those amazing photos! amazing...

  4. What gorgeous photos. I especially love that first one. Happy Howloween!

  5. Happy Halloween.
    Fabulous photos of the cemetery. the light captured is spectacular! Thank you for being part of this Ghoulish Get Together!!


  6. i cannot pass by a graveyard without wandering through, even if only for a moment or two. i have thoroughly enjoyed both photos & story.

    & that haunting tombstone of the man reaching out....positively haunting.

  7. What gorgeous photos! And such a great post! Thank you for visiting me today! Happy Halloween!!!

  8. What wonderful graveyard photos! Just fantastic. Happy Halloween to you and yours!

  9. Oh you 2! What a team! How rich these old cemeteries, stories held in open hands.

    Perfect Halloween post!!

  10. Happy Halloween to you!
    I love LOVE cementeries graveyards, specially angels.

  11. OH MY!!! I love every photo!!You filled all my Halllloweeen needs!!!! Now if only, there was a graveyard nearer... xoxo

  12. Love the graveyard photos...and the story, beautifully told.

    Paramour in residence, huh? That's even more interesting.

    Happy Halloween!

  13. Love this virtual photographic tour! Such beautiful graveyard photos. There is so much rich symbolism and artistic expression in cemetery art and architecture. And I like those stone angels too :)

    Happy Halloween!!

  14. Oh, your photos are just lovely..
    I love graveyards...they are
    so amazing!

  15. leslie and the whole thing...i have a soft spot for cemetary angels and crosses...tank you for sharing...have we danced yet...hope you having a ghoulish day...blessings, rebecca

  16. Love the Graveyard Scene & all The Photos , Happy Halloween!


  17. gorgeous!


    have you buried TLB?

    just wondering...

    my broom is double-parked

    so -

    gotta go...

    but I'll be back

    for a ride in the little car

    with PIR...

    is that ok Stiffie?


    xox - eb.

  18. This is beyond gorgeous. This reminds me of my recent foray to get grave dirt for Michelle Ward (chronicled on my blog). It's sort of sad that there aren't more monuments. There are markers, now.
    Thanks for these cool pictures! I'll be reading more when I get home from work!

  19. Oh I'm so sorry for standing there. Let me just move aside a bit and place these black roses at your stone. Happy Halloween!

  20. trick or treat! I loved the beautiful photographs of the grave yard! happy halloween! hope to see you at my blog!

  21. You are a hoot, I love your blog and my butt wouldn't fit on that broom. Got my big broom back the witch is not mad anymore. Thanks for stopping by my blog

  22. Thanks for stopping by my new blog. I have just started and am trying to figure out how things work and why they won't work for me!! I like this post; I will be back to visit later.

    BEAUTY FULL PHOTOS! I especially like the one waving!!! EEERY!!! I'm at the moment waiting for photos to arrive of cemetary angels! The last time I was in D.C. it was raining cats and dogs! and we didn't have an umbrella!!!

  24. Wow!
    Fantastic photos!
    Happy Halloween!
    Sandra Evertson

  25. Though I have grave misgivings about walking through cemetaries on All Hallows Eve - these photos are so lovely. They remind me of Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil...

    Happy Halloween~ 0_0

  26. Perfect photos...and excellent text!

    Happy Halloween!

  27. I love these graveyard photos! They are awesome! Thanks for sharing! Happy Halloween!

  28. These are wonderful! I love the man waving his hand AND I love Tim Burtons Sleepy Hollow!

  29. Eerily beautiful and serene. Happy Halloween. Thank you for the pictures. Susan

  30. So many beautiful gravestones, and photographs of them, loved the writing too. Happy Halloween!

  31. Wooow! That's an amazing door! Very elegant and captivating!

    As for the graveyard pictures? UUuu how appropriate for today!

    Happy Halloween!

  32. What a perfect post for Halloween. I adore old cemetaries and statues. Thanks so much for sharing these, and for stopping by Tallulah House :)

    Happy Halloween,

  33. Wow! Truly a wow in words and photos.
    Cemeteries are just amazing places, little snippets of history.
    I adored this post...

    Thank you and Happy Halloween!


  34. ((((((((HAPPY HALLOWEEN)))))
    I just flew in on a witches broom!
    I am having a blast visiting all the
    (((GOULS))) in Bloglandia!
    witches hugs and bats NG

  35. Wonderful photo's (gorgeous color) and a great story with a happy, funny ending....I love it. You two make a great team! And yes, I'm having a fantastic time wearing my bunny slippers. : )
    Great party, I'm off to mingle.

  36. Happy Halloween to you too:-) I so love walking around old cemeteries like much character in all the tombstones. That statue of a man with the shroud though would creep me looks so real!! lol Wonderful post! xo

  37. I loved visiting here! Thanks for stopping by! Happy Hauntings!


  38. beautiful photos!

    thanks for visiting me!

    happy halloween!


  39. Beautiful pictures. Absolutely breath taking.

  40. Great shots!! Thanks for stopping by!!

  41. Awesome Graveyard!!!!
    Happy Halloween!!!

  42. Fantastic photos! Happy Halloween!!!

  43. great photos, sometimes i think.. whats it like to be 6 ft under..
    ;-) thanks for visiting my blog

  44. Great pictures -- very haunting!!

    Happy Halloween! and thanks for visiting my blog!

  45. is there any room for my comment.
    Awesome post and stunning photos to boot.

  46. tnx for visiting my blog..I'm in a hurry now but I'll visit you again some of this days..
    beautiful photos!

  47. Happy Halloween! I really enjoyed all the gorgeous photos you posted!

  48. Great shots of the grave yard. Memorials and graves make interesting subjects.For about the last six months every Wednesday I feature a memorial or public work of art (normally from around London) on my Thinking Aloud Bog

  49. A wonderful cemetery! Thank you.
    I feel as if I walked among the tombs with you.
    I shall come back and visit again.
    I would like to get to know you.
    Bat wings,

  50. Great photos...I love fall and Halloween too! Great time of Year.

    Happy Halloween and Blog party!


  51. beautfiul photos - such amazing contrast and boldness. happy (day after) halloween!

  52. These graveyard photos are very, very wonderful. I am a graveyard seeker and have framed photos of monuments covering one wall in my office! A lot of people don't get the fact that they are really an amazing form of art. I have one gravestone rubbing from a stone dated 1814 and it is one of the things I would rescue if we ever had an emergency!!

    Thanks for stopping by my Bloglandia party...and thanks for these exceptional pictures!


  53. I love cemetary angels ~ hauntingly beautiful (no pun intended)
    Hope you had a Happy Halloween!

  54. Great pictures as always, and gotta love Jack's parting comments, I have come to expect and look forward to the sarcastic (or in this case scare-tastic) wit somewhere embedded in the commentary!

    Hope you both had a great spook day!

  55. Loved your post. I know I am late. Still trying to get to everyones party. Hope you had a Happy Halloween.

  56. Wow, what a tour you gave through that cemetary! And the words for your tombstone cracked me up, I may have to borrow those for my own!

  57. Beautiful images, wonderful post, love it! See you in Omaha next week! cheers...

  58. Congratulations! You are the winner of my Halloween party giveaway! (Since I had to redraw a name tonight) Please email me with your mailing address and I'll get your your package of fun Halloween goodies!

  59. What a great halloween post, I do love walking through grave yards, so many early dates always get me thinking, wonderful photos! Quite a spooky feel I must say.....

    Priscilla x

  60. Wow! What an entry! Thank you for visiting and commenting in my blog.


  61. I love graveyard and cemetery art - thank you for the lovely tour. I'll have to come back when I have more time for a second look. We don't the same kind of cemeteries out here in the west.

  62. leslie - had a great time prowling through your posts since i hadn't been here in a while. your music selection was so very peaceful and pleasant and i didn't want to leave. i particularly loved strolling through the cemetery with you. thanks for a nice visit.