All posts by Tawny Anderson

Flashy Matriarchs

Walking a few plots past the President’s Circle, a specific group of gravestones caught the eye of many of the students. One families plot held a couple of stones that were not only extremely large, but also extremely unique in their shape. This plot and the two stones with unique shape attracted my attention to the plot. Surrounded and marked by a cast iron fence and closed to visitors besides am small rusted gate One of the stones in the plot, the oldest looking (not pictured) was tall, thin, and worn. In contrast to the other 4 around it, the traditional and eroded stone seemed to be from long before the others, indicating an ancestor of significant age and distance from the others. Most notable about this stone was the last name “Caskie” and birth date in 1821 for the man, John Samuels.

Fewer questions came to mind when looking at the next two stones. Despite a great height and thickness, these were more traditionally shaped, with a curved top, image of a cross engraved in the top, and a solid base, one of which had the name “London.” The material was a more solid granite (or something like it) with exact, crisp lettering for the names. The stone that included the name “London” had the husband with the name “Daniel London” and his wife Mary with the last name “Caskie.” Mary Caskie was born 8 years after Samuel Caskie on the older stone. The stone next to them held a single name, also a London. He was born 46 years after the other London had been born, but only 35 years after his wife, the younger Caskie had been born.

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At this point, the family tree seemed pretty straight forward. Mary had been the sister to John Samuels. She had married Daniel London and then given birth to Guy Reeves London. Mary had been the key person to tie all of the people together in this plot, with both her brother, husband, and son present.

The larger, more interesting stones added to the family tree. While identical in shape, the stone facing the river was larger. It had a pyramid shaped base with a large circle on top. With a cross on the very top, there were three identical circles that met together in their centers carved out of the circle on the top. The rectangular base held the name “Ficklen.” It marked the graves of Ellen Caskie London (1866-1934) and her husband Joseph Burwell Ficklen (1848-1907). The smaller stone was identical in shape and wording, facing into the plot and directly opposite the other stone. It held the name Joseph Burwell Ficklen III (1892-1978) and his wife Irene Poole.

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It seemed that Ellen Caskie London must have been the daughter of Mary Caskie and Daniel London, and the sister to Guy Reeves London. Her husband’s grandson was Joseph Burwell Ficklen III, and he had likely been buried in the plot years after the first four stones.

As I searched the names and dates, it felt obvious that all of the family wanted to memorialize each other in a big way, and that the stone for the elder Ficklens was obviously meant to be seen. The iconography and shape of the stone was unique and bold, but, most importantly, it caught the eye of passersby, as was evidenced by the number of students that stopped to take a picture. The person that added onto or designed this plot wanted it to be noticed and seen.

The most interesting thing was the matriarchal influence in the plot. In this time period, since men were the dominant figures in a family, I would expect the family to be buried according to the men in the family (and thereby maintain a last name for the plot). However, this plot is most strongly influenced by the women, specifically the Caskie women. Mary Caskie and Ellen Caskie London are the two figures mention that create the most connections within the plot. It is Mary Caskie’s brother and son and daughter that are marked by four of the five stones, and then Ellen Caskie London’s brother, mother, uncle, and grandson throughout the plot. In this family, the women connected the family that was buried. This explains why there are three different last names present.

Ultimately, I think this plot indicates that, while the male side of the family was undoubtedly important, when it came to being buried and having gravestones (maybe considered artistic and therefore feminine) and deciding who was put into the plot with this family, the women were more influential. Since Mary and Ellen both outlived their husbands, they might have had more of a say on where they wanted him buried, and they may have picked the plot with their own families. Or, as other family members buried them all, they may have recognized the Caskie bloodline to have a stronger influence within the family, and therefore be more important for the burial placement.

Women in the South (of a Cemetery)

Touring St. John’s Cemetery creates more questions than it answers. The majority of its stones are left, eroding and falling apart. The words that were once inscribed on them have been worn away with time. There are some modern stones or monuments, some intentionally well preserved ones (most often the ones by the church), and some that do still, fortunately, have distinguishable words, dates and sentences. Upon first walking through the cemetery, it seems that all of the stones have been placed randomly. There certainly are no rows formed, there are some clusters of multiple gravestones from varying, wide spacing years, and there are some bald patches. Most of the stones face east. However, when observing and noting the names, sentences, and dates that are distinguishable on the gravestones, there are patterns that can be found. For example, the names Thomas, Daniel, and Mary were common even then. However, most notable to me was the disproportionate number of women and people from Ireland in the southern part of the churchyard. While other gravestones note the places that the deceased come from, they are sporadic in their location in the cemetery. In this southern part of the cemetery, there are fewer gravestones with discernable inscriptions of men’s names, and a large number with discernable inscriptions of the origin of the deceased, specifically Ireland.

Daniel Isabella

These photos illustrate the chest tomb of Isabella Neilson from Donegal, Ireland (buried in the furthers corner of the southern corner, right next to the fence) and Daniel McDermoth from Dunnegol, Ireland.

As evidenced in similarities in style, orientation, messages, and dates on the stone, the Irish and the women were not ostracized from the community. They still conformed to typical death practices, and probably shared religious beliefs with the others that are buried in the cemetery. However, if the most faithful, religious, and prestigious people were buried on the northeastern side of the cemetery close to the church, then the southern placement with distance from the church would indicate that the people buried under these stones were less faithful or prestigious – or they were considered to be worth less within their community in comparison to the equally gender separated stones without specification of birthplace.

Ultimately, it is clear that there were some racist feelings against Irish men and women, and there were some strong feelings of the subordination of women. Because of the disproportionate number of gravestones that were in a small way “hidden away” of these two classes, it is a reasonable to believe that, while they were still memorialized and remembered through the stones, they were not something that the church wanted to show off by putting in a spot close to the church or easily accessible to the front of the church. The placement of stones is less happenstance than the layout of the cemetery suggests.