Tag Archives: Rochester

When you’re dead, you’re dead a long time

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Words of wisdom inscribed on the headstone of Robert and Grace McGowan, Mt. Hope Cemetery

Here’s the thing about death: it’s permanent. Regardless of your beliefs about the afterlife, in this life, when you take your last breath on earth, the story is over.

Think about it. In 100 years, with the exception of a handful of those who will defy the odds and live beyond a century, every single person on the earth will be dead.

Everyone. Gone. Me. You. Babies born at this exact moment, whether here in America or in India or China or Europe. In 100 years, billions of new humans will walk the earth, and while they’ll share our DNA and genealogical ties, none of them will be us.

How’s that for putting your life into perspective? It’s true. When you’re dead, you really are dead a long time.

Seasons of Mt. Hope Cemetery (pictures)

I was going through some photos today and realized I had taken some pictures a few weeks at Mt. Hope while I was out for a walk with Bailey and forgotten to upload them. I also remembered that while on that walk, I’d purposely tried to take some shots at places I’d shot during the last year,  places where I’ve been romping, roaming and researching in my favorite place in the city. So for fun, here are some pics of Mt. Hope, through the seasons.

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Curtis Mausoleum
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Curtis Mausoleum
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

* * * * * * * * * *

Mt. Hope CemeteryMay 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
May 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

* * * * * * * * * *

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryFebruary 2013 (c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

* * * * * * * * * *

Sylvan waters, April 2012(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Sylvan waters, April 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope CemeteryOctober 2012 (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Sylvan waters
October 2012
(c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Sylvan waters
February 2013
(c) 2013 Joanne Brokaw all rights reserved

What Would Susan B. Say: “The Bachelor”

susanbanthony

“I would not object to marriage if it were not that women throw away every plan and purpose of their own life, to conform to the plans and purposes of the man’s life. I wonder if it is woman’s real, true nature always to abnegate self.”

- Susan B. Anthony, letter, 1888 (as quoted in “Failure is Impossible”, by Lynn Sherr)

I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’ve been watching this season of “The Bachelor”. Not because I’m enjoying the show, but because it’s like a massive train wreck that I can’t tear my eyes away from.

Am I the only one who sees this show for what it is: a dating game that sets women’s rights back a hundred years?

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, here’s a recap: Handsome Guy is presented with a group of about two dozen women, all who are vying to become Mrs. Handsome Guy. Handsome Guy whittles the group down by wooing the ladies with outings to exotic locales, fancy dinners and romance, and generally trying to get them all to fall in love with him. Once he’s done that, he picks the one he wants and offers her a proposal of marrige. The women, on the other hand, have convinced themselves the day they meet Handsome Guy that they’re desperately in love with him; they then befriend and betray each other, all with the goal of sticking around to the end and hopefully get the coveted marriage proposal.

It looks very much like emotional prostitution. Continue reading

Ending 2012 with firefighters on my mind

Mike Chiapperini

Lt. Michael Chiapperini

I’ve spent the last two days watching funerals on TV. West Webster Firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were laid to rest and their services were aired live on one of our local news channels. (You can read more about the events that led to their deaths in this post.)

The services were so different. Chiapperini was married with children, and his funeral service focused on his family and on his 25 years with the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department and his 19 years with the Webster Police Department. The first hour was spent with first responders filing past his casket.

Tomasz Kaczowka

Tomasz Kaczowka

Kaczowka was just 19 years old, only a year out of high school; his funeral service was much more religious in nature, focusing on his committment to his Polish- American heritage and his strong ties to his church. The first hour of his service was a traditional Catholic mass.

In both cases, thousands and thousands of first responders from across the U.S. and Canada stood in formation outside the church or school where the services where held. Appropriate, as the two died together in the line of duty on the morning of Christmas Eve when a madman started a fire to lure first responders to the scene, and then gunned them down.

They died together, mentor and mentee.

Different funeral services, yes, but, like their lives, together they seemed to perfectly bookend the life of a first responder. Chapparini was the more experienced public servant, leaving behind a long legacy of public service and in the dozens of young people he’s mentored over his lifetime – one of them being Kaczowka. Kaczowka was in the spring of that call to a lifetime of service. That lifetime, though shorter in years, leaves a lasting impact that will be felt for decades through lives of other firefighters and coworkers who knew him.

On this last day of 2012, my original plan was to look back on the year and recap the positive changes I’ve made in my life and the obvious progress towards regaining my sense of self.

In other words: me, me, me, me.

But the events of the last week have left me pondering less about myself and more about the nature of service and community. Continue reading

I muse about the tragedy in Webster, NY

west webster patch

Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, tragedy visited the small town of Webster, NY, when a madman set fire to a house and a car, luring first responders to the scene and then gunning them down in cold blood. What ensued were hours of confusion and chaos as SWAT teams descended on the small spit of land, a two lane road bordered on one side by Irondequoit Bay and the other by Lake Ontario, chasing the gunman, evacuating neighbors, and retrieving the bodies of shooting victims. Firefighters, unable to enter the area to fight the blaze, could only watch from a distance as seven houses burned to the ground and their commrades lay injured or dead.

West Webster volunteer firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were shot to death and John Hofstetter and Theodore Scardino were seriously injured by gunfire as they arrived on the scene. Jon Ritter, a full time officer with the Greece, NY police, was on his way to work; seeing the fire trucks he followed to offer assistance and was injured by shrapnel when gunfire hit his car.

This happened almost in my backyard, figuratively speaking. Webster, NY is a few miles from my house on the east side of Rochester, NY. My daughter went to Christian high school in Webster for three years; I often walk the beaches to take pictures where this event happened. Webster is part of the larger community of the city of Rochester. It’s a small town just outside of the city, but we’re all neighbors.

When things like this happen in other places, the national news media always reports that “it’s a small town where almost everyone knows someone who was affected.” But you never really understand what that means until it happens in your town.

Yes, I know someone affected. Several someones, in fact. (Click here to continue reading on my blog at Patheos.com)

Another rant about off leash dogs and I ponder why the leash lawbreakers get to run the show

The dog owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That's as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming loose in the cemetery.

The dog has finally left us alone and gone to sniff the wreaths. The dog’s owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That’s as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming around off leash.

Disclaimer: I am about to rant. And rant in a way that you may think is petty. If you think I’m petty then this post is probably meant for you. 

So I’m at White Haven today, in the “Little Lambs” section, pondering the graves of the three infant children of a couple named Michael and Molly Nier, whose  infant daughter and two infant sons died within a three year period, when I hear a woman’s voice behind me say something that sounds like, “Uh oh”.

I love walking in this particular cemetery, because it’s safe and quiet and solemn. I like the tranquility. I think, I pray, I write in my head. I read the headstones and talk to the cemetery workers. I listen to the birds and take pictures of the foliage. It’s a little sanctuary. And the best part is that I can walk Bailey there with relative assurance that we’re not going to be surprised by other dog walkers. It’s not the case with the other places where I can walk Bandit.

Bailey, in case you don’t know, has some reactivity issues with other dogs. As in, if approached by a strange dog she may react in a way that causes harm to the other dog or anyone trying to separate them. It’s a behavior problem we’ve worked with in training, and we have learned to manage the situations as well as help her learn how to manage her impulses. She’s made incredible progress. I mean, really incredible. And now she even does really well in organized situations with other dogs. She can go to classes with other dogs. She can meet another dog nicely and then we do a  quick “break!” and she comes back nicely. We always work on this with another behavior-savvy dog owner whose dog is on leash.

Notice that I say “organized” situations. Surprises, like a strange dog bounding at us from out the blue? Not such a happy scenerio.  Bailey can start out happy and wiggling her butt with joy, but in an instant things can go very, very wrong, and if the other dog is off leash, there’s no way to call it off Bailey.

Translation: when my dog is on leash, I have control over her. When your dog is off leash, you not only can’t control your dog but you cause major problems for me.  Because at no time do I ever have any control over your dog.

Which is why walking at White Haven is so great for both dogs. It’s really close to home, so I can take one dog for a walk, then go home and switch. (Yes, Bailey’s issues extend to her brother Bandit. They are always separated by gates in our house. They can walk perfectly fine together as long as one person walks one dog and they don’t have to ride together in the car.) There are very few places in this cemetery where we can’t see into the distance, giving me a chance to avoid funerals, other walkers, and one maintenance golf cart that for some reason Bailey really doesn’t like. Bandit? No problems walking anywhere. You just have to make sure he doesn’t pee on everything in sight.

So there’s some background. Now, back to this afternoon.

I’d already walked Bailey, gone home to switch dogs, had walked with Bandit and am now on my way back to my car.  And again, I’m standing in the infant section for several minutes, really taking time to read the headstones and wonder about this couple and their loss, when I hear someone behind me.

I turn around and find a big, slobbering (literally, slobber just falling from its mouth) Golden Retriever headed towards me and Bandit. I tell Bandit, “No, no, no, no,” pull his leash tight to me and call to the woman to get her dog. She kind of lollygags where she is, about 20 feet away, calling to the dog, who blatantly ignores her. I call, “Get your dog!” Nothing. I yell louder, “Get your dog! This is very dangerous!” She ignores me while her dog ignores her.

OK, I know that you’re thinking, “I get how this would be a problem with Bailey, since you just told me about her issues. But Bandit is the good dog. And this is just a big, stupid Golden. What’s the problem?”

As nice as Bandit is, he’s not always a fan of other dogs. But at least he’s predictable, in the way most dogs are predictable. At this moment, Bandit is sniffing the slobbering dog but I can see his ears going back and his eyes narrowing and I know that some snapping may ensue if the Golden comes any closer to me. Bandit likes a buffer zone between me and anyone else, two- or four-legged. He’ll send out serious warning signals if he thinks someone is going to violate that zone or otherwise just pisses him off. But I don’t know what this other dog is going to do if Bandit reacts that way. I mean, my dog looks all nice and friendly at this point, too. And Bailey can’t read other dogs’ signals so I know from experience that it can be all happy tail wagging one minute and blood the next. This dog’s owner is clearly clueless; I can only assume her dog is, too.

Translation: a smart dog owner knows their own dog but is always be prepared for the worst from someone else’s dog.

I call again to the woman, “This is really dangerous!! Get your dog!!!” The woman puts her hand to her ear to imply she can’t hear me. I yell louder. She ignores me, her dog ignores her, and I’m getting more and more pissed off by the second. I’m walking away with Bandit but the Golden is following along.

I yell to the woman that she needs to keep her dog ON THE LEASH so I stop walking, and, to make a point, hold her dog’s collar for a second and tell her to come and get her dog. She tells me to leave her dog alone. I let go and basically scream (yup, at the top of my lungs), “PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH”. She tells me I don’t have to talk to her like that.

I pull out my cell phone and contemplate calling 9-1-1. My heart is pounding, because I know that this scenerio could go completely awry in an instant if Bandit snaps at this dog and it freaks in return. If that happens, the owner has no way to pull her dog back, mostly owing to the fact that it’s not only off leash but she’s still about 20 feet away. Do I keep walking and have her dog follow? Do I stand there and wait until her dog decides to leave, hoping that Bandit loses interest?

And running through my mind? “God, if I had Bailey with me, this would be really, really bad.” Continue reading

Emma Moore, Sarah Bardwell and me

It took months, but a reward was finally offered for information leading to the disappearance of Emma Moore. While the citizens took up the search immediately, the mayor and police insisted Emma left town of her own accord. When her body turned up in the river, they were proven wrong.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately doing research on a woman named Emma Moore, who I learned about when I went on the “Mischief, Murder and Mayhem” tour at Mt. Hope. (For the record, I am there so much I joined the Friends of Mt. Hope and volunteered to be a tour guide in the spring.)

Anyway, in Rochester, NY in 1854, Emma Moore went missing. Left home one night and simply disappeared. She was a single, 37 year old seamstress who had a loving family, a good job, some money of her own, and no reason to leave town without letting her family know where she went.

Her disappearance stunned the community, and for months afterwards thousands of citizens met nightly to coordinate a search for her – since the Mayor and police refused to believe she’d come to harm or investigate her disappearance. (In fact, she disappeared in November of 1854 and it took until February of 1855 before an official police reward was offered.)

The citizens scoured the areas surrounding the city, the Lake, the river. They followed every lead and interviewed hundreds of people. The raised money and donated time and diligently searched for the woman they hailed as a modest woman of impeccable character.

Then in March of 1855, the body of Emma Moore was found, frozen in the river. When the coroner examined her body, he found she was six months pregnant.

Her 26 year old fiance was the prime suspect, but while an inquest found that Emma had drowned, the jurors were unable to determine if she had been murdered or if she committed suicide. Emma Moore is buried in an unmarked grave in her family’s plot, the woman once known for her impeccable character hidden away forever due to the scandalous nature of her death.

I’m fascinated by Emma Moore, her life and her death. In an era where woman had few rights or money of their own, she had a little money – about $20 cash left in her room, $20 cash on her when she disappeared, a savings account with about $100, and notes that indicated she’s lent out small amounts of money to friends.

In an age when woman married young, she was single into her middle years. Unmarried and with a much younger fiance. Was that unusual? Despite the fact they were engaged about 3 years, why didn’t they marry? He apparently had lost fingers in an accident and was unable to work (he was a cutter in a tailor’s shop); how would Emma have felt about working to support a younger husband – because upon marriage, anything she had would have become his.

How unusual was it for a woman to be sexually involved with a man to whom she wasn’t married? We like to think of our ancestors as pure and innocent, but was that really how it was? An unmarried, pregnant woman today doesn’t raise an eyebrow. But in 1854? Another story.

And of course, there’s the big mystery: Why did she disappear? Who knew she was pregnant? Was she killed or did she commit suicide? There’s much to believe the truth lies with the former.

I’m also enamored with the story of another woman, Sarah Bardwell. Her interment records indicate that she died of “insanity”. How does one die specifically of “insanity”? I get that you can die of causes related to insanity – suicide, walking naked around town in December and freezing to death. But just … going insane until you die?

Sarah Bardwell died of “insanity” after spending the last 25 years of her life in an asylum.

So I did a little digging and found a newspaper notice of her death, which said:

“Under the effects of religious excitement, at a time well remembered by many of our old citizens, Miss B. suffered mental injury, from which she never recoverd, and the latter years of her life were spent in an excellent Asylumn at Brattleboro, where her friends had placed her with the hope of restoration at first but where she remained for comfort and safety.”

From all accounts, the Asylum in Brattleboro was fairly progressive; treatment included nature walks and painting and music and lots of rest. And the “time well remembered” is most likely the Finney revivals that swept Rochester in the 1830s, making the city a hot bed of evangelism for the entire nation.

“Insane” is a little subjective, in this case. So you know I’m doing research into the Finney revivals, what a “mental injury” from that experience might look like, and what it would be like for a woman to be committe to an insane asylum in the 1850s.

What ties these two women together? When Emma Moore disappeared, Sarah’s brother was the Police Justice.

One of the things I’ve determined this year is that maybe my purpose is to give voice to those who can’t tell their own stories. It’s a general idea that I’ve been able to apply specifically without committing myself to any one genre of writing. And that realization has been really helpful for me. I can share about animal issues, although I find that I’m less and less interested (and often completely turned off by the aggressive, angry, divisive animal scene; but that’s a story for another day).

More importantly, I can share Emma and Sarah’s stories, two women lost in history but whose stories are interesting and important.

And soon, I’ll be sharing about some children in Uganda. Stay tuned for more on that.

The Summer Olympics, Arkansas and making memories

Bryan told me this week, “I remember sitting in Wayne Gretzky’s in Toronto and watching Canada’s Olympic hopeful in the hurdle race fall flat on her face after the first jump, to the dismay and groans of the patrons. It wasn’t funny, but it kinda was.” Here’s a picture of that moment.

I walked into the living room tonight and darling husband said, “Are you ready for Phelps/Lochte?”

“I don’t know what that is,” I replied. We already ate dinner and as far as I knew we didn’t have anything special on tap for dessert.

“Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps?” darling husband asked. “You know? The kid from Rochester?”

“I didn’t know Michael Phelps was from Rochester,” I replied.

I get the open mouthed, dead stare, “Do you live under a rock” look.

For the record, Ryan Lochte was born in Rochester, NY and lived in Canandaiga, NY. I rarely watch the news and I don’t read the newspaper, and I’ve been on an “as needed” status with Facebook. In other words, unless you came to my house and told me about the Olympics I wasn’t going to hear about any of it.

What can I say? I’m a little out of touch. I didn’t even know until yesterday that the Olympics were happening right now. But when I did find out, my first thought wasn’t about Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte. My first thought was about a bunch of guys from Arkansas. Continue reading

What I learned at my 30th year high school reunion

Yup, that’s me! At my reunion, with classmate and fellow writer Pauline. Awesome doesn’t begin to describe us.

Hold onto your hats, my friends: at the last minute I made the decision go to my 30th year high school reunion.

I know, I know. I bitched about not going. But in the end, my writing instincts kicked in and I realized that this was going to be a once in a lifetime (or at least decade) opportunity to really get some good column material.

Add “opportunist” to my resume.

Once I decided to go I jumped in with both feet. I connected with the girl coordinating the event and offered to help with check in/collecting information.  I convinced a few other people to go. Then I went spent money I didn’t really have on a dress that made me feel fabulous.

And guess what? I had fun. Honest!

OK, dear readers, I know what you’re waiting for … here are a few things I learned (or was reminded of) at my high school reunion: Continue reading

I’d blame Lottie, if she wasn’t dead

This is the family plot where Susan B. Anthony rests in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

I’d blame Lottie for this obsession, if she wasn’t a total stranger. And dead.

You remember Lottie. She was the name on the headstone at Mt. Hope Cemetery, the lonely headstone in a field of weeds, no dates, no last name, just “My Lottie.”

Bandit and I had started walking at Mt. Hope, and I’d already been captivated by the stories on the graves, especially by the stones that listed several children who had died. I’d done a little digging at the library, but it wasn’t until I met Lottie that things took a serious turn.

“Met” being a relative term; like I said, she’s dead.

On the day I met Lottie, I’d been exploring among a section of the cemetery that plays host to some impressive obilesks and monuments, each appearing to outdo the other for prominence, much the way the souls who rested beneath may have done in life.

The monstrously huge monument of Michael Filon; see Bailey in the front to understand its enormity. Who is Michael Filon and why does he deserve such a huge monument?

In particular was one monument that stands almost as tall as a two story house with the name Filon boldly emblazoned on it. I had no clue who Michael Filon was, but apparently he was some hot stuff, at least in his time.

Around the corner from Mr. Filon is the family plot of Susan B. Anthony. Understated and reserved, it doesn’t begin to hint at the significance of the woman buried there. Other than the marker and two small American flags, you could walk right by the plot and not realize you’d just passed history. (*There’s more about Michael Filon this at the end of this blog post.)

And then there was Lottie.

There are a lot of famous people buried at Mt. Hope, people who made significant contributions to American culture, politics, society. There are also a lot of people who thought they made contributions and so honored themselves with grotesquely huge monuments.

But my heart is for the nobodies. And  with no name or dates or other identifying marks on her headstone, Lottie was as nobody as nobody could be.

As you might remember from an earlier blog post about some of the headstones I’d been investigating , I learned that Lottie is Charlotte Harcourt, who died at the age of 15 on  29 Sept 1861 of neuralgia of the stomach.

I know nothing else about her, but I know that at least she is not forgotten.

This obession might have ended there had a librarian at the local history section of the Rochester Public Library not said something that has changed my life: “Why aren’t you researching your own family tree?”

I’m pretty sure I told her that there wasn’t anyone famous in my family, that we hadn’t made any significant contributions to the world, that while I’d done some research a few years earlier I really didn’t think it would be that interesting since we were just nobody.

I know, did you see the light bulb go off over my head, too?

Here I was, spending time and effort to ensure that the name of this total stranger, My Lottie, wasn’t lost forever. If I liked to champion nobodies, well, my family tree is full of them.

And so it began. I pulled out the old folders. The library edition of Ancestry.com became my new best friend. I started taking notes, bugging the librarian, and before long I was knee deep in names, dates, questions and a whole lot of fascinating stuff about regular people. No inventors or politicians (at least not until the 21st century; on the Italian side, I found a cousin of my mother’s who recently ran for mayor in her town) or world changers. Just people who were born, lived, married, worked, played and died.

Just like millions of other Americans.

The truth is that the people who make headlines are few and far between. I think we forget about that in our media-driven, celebrity-obsessed culture. We revere singers and actors and politicians and people who manage the once-in-a-million achievement while the garbage men and factory workers and construction flag men and secretaries and Walmart greeters and other working class joes do the bulk of the labor, and keep the country and economy moving.

A bunch of nobodies. Just like me!

Good grief, that makes me feel good.

See, I turned 48 a few weeks ago, and have been wallowing in my “I’ve done nothing with my life” self pity, lamenting my lack of contributions to the world while my clock is slowly ticking down. But I’m beginnig to realize that I’m not “nobody.” I’m actually everybody.

(As I typed that, the Beatle’s song “Nowhere Man” came onto the radio. I am not kidding. )

So for much of the last few months – and by “much” I mean almost every waking minute – I’ve been meeting my ancestors and even connecting with living relatives.

I thought that as I researched I’d share some of the stories I’m finding. Aren’t you excited? Continue reading