The grass and weeds amidst the aging tombstones in Smith’s Chapel Cemetery in Collinsville grows tall and unencumbered, swaying softly in the cool fall breeze.
Decay has set in on some of the centuries-old grave markers, and they lay broken along the landscape surrounded by rusted automobiles and the abandoned remains of an old church.
Somewhere in the distance, the sound of a passing car along County Rd. 51 interrupts the silence of the dead.
There are dozens of graves here – some small, holding the remains of an infant who never saw a single full day of life – and some much larger, marked by indigenous stones carefully placed by a hand who once loved its inhabitant.
A handful of the headstones, painstakingly chiseled by hand, date back to the 1800s – a remarkable testament not only to the lives of those they honor, but also to the people who crafted them.
Though weather-beaten and smoothed by time, they are still standing.
One such stone sits to the back of the property and marks the grave of ‘L.E. Goodridge.’
The stone reads: ‘iN MEMERY OF L. E. GOODRIDGE BORND APP. 11 1882 AND DIDE OCT. 1883.’
Behind this simple stone, complete with its misspelled words and uneven lettering, is the much grander grave of Sarah Grant, entombed in an above ground stone mausoleum.
Although one side of the mausoleum has given way to a cumbersome tree root, the inscription on the marker echoes of a person immensely loved, its author refusing even to admit her death.
According to the passage, the 20-year-old Sarah ‘fell asleep’ in the latter part of the 1800’s, her body carefully laid to rest and her life forever remembered by those who missed her.
The two gravestones, standing in close proximity to each other, create a striking comparison.
“The tools used to create the stone of L.E. Goodgridge were most likely a simple hammer and chisel,” said Jesse Hemphill, “while the marker of Sarah Graves was created by a stone mason who used special tools made just for that purpose.”
Hemphill, who has an M.A. in special education and teaches in DeKalb County, is a trained journeyman blacksmith with a B.S. degree in industrial arts from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.
“As far as monetary value,” he said, “the two stones wouldn’t have compared when they were created. But the artisanship and beauty of both stones speaks volumes now. The more primitive-looking stone is no less beautiful than the person buried there was probably any less loved. For an untrained person, creating a stone like that by hand during that time period would have been difficult and would have taken hours or even days.”
Cemeteries like that of Smith’s Chapel that have been affected by time and the elements are not uncommon in the United States.
According to wiki.how.com, “Many decaying cemeteries are found in our once bustling townships in country and rural areas. Some are roadside cemeteries and others are neglected plots behind long-abandoned churches in cities, towns and villages. Old cemeteries are markers of human history - of all the love, sweat, toil, tears, joys and triumphs of the past. They are links to family we never knew, they are sources of history and they tell us a great deal about ourselves culturally and socially. Therefore, there is nothing sadder than to come across crumbling, decaying and near gone relics of cemeteries and to feel helpless to do anything about this loss of heritage. “There are things that can be done to restore orphaned cemeteries and return this heritage to current communities,” the website said.
By encouraging the public to ‘adopt’ a cemetery by picking up trash, pulling weeds and doing general maintenance in accordance with local laws and ordinances, the site aims to honor the dead and restore something important to the living.
“In doing so, we all regain a sense of our own place in time and history,” it said.
For more information, visit www.wikihow.com.