Tag Archives: Mt.Hope Cemetery

Election 2016: What would Susan B. Anthony do?

The grave site of Susan B. Anthony, in October 2016.

The grave site of Susan B. Anthony at Mt. Hope Cemetery, in October 2016.

There are just a few days until Election Day and I have to confess that I’m conflicted about what I’m going to do when I get to the ballot box. I’ve been supporting a third party candidate the entire season, but I’m also aware that this could be an historic election. Do I want to use my vote to help put the first woman in the Oval Office?

So I’m asking myself: What would Susan B. Anthony do?

As I’m working on my book about people buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery, I’ve been putting off writing about the famous abolitionist and suffragette. It’s a big story and I’m not sure how to pare it down, how to decide what angle I want to focus on.

I’ve decided that I’m going to visit her grave on Election Day, and start the story there.

Traditionally, on Election Day, people visit Susan B. Anthony’s grave and leave mementos, especially “I voted” stickers. (Side note: the folks at Mt. Hope Cemetery are begging people to NOT put stickers on her headstone. The gum and adhesive damages the fragile stone. My suggestion: be more creative with your token of affection.)

This year, public gatherings are already in the works for Tuesday as groups of people plan to trek to the Anthony grave site and pay their respects to the woman who fought tirelessly for women’s rights.

I suspect that a lot of women will be celebrating the opportunity to vote for the candidate who may actually become the first female President of the United States.

And here’s where I’m conflicted.

The rational part of me wants to vote for the candidate who best represents my views, and that’s not Hillary Clinton. I appreciate and respect her as an accomplished woman, but politically, we’re just not on the same page.

At the same time, to say I had the chance to vote for the first female president of the U.S. and I didn’t take it? Is that what I want to tell my grandchildren? Continue reading

Highland Park, paupers, and bodies in unmarked graves


My scheduled creative cemetery prompt today was a photo of the monument at Mt.Hope Cemetery, marking the place where several hundred graves of paupers, convicts, and the insane were re-interred after their bodies had been found in Highland Park in 1984, when bulldozers uncovered them while landscaping.

I scheduled the creative prompt photos days ago, and set them to post daily so that I don’t have to think about them. That means that my writing plan today was different than the photo – I was all set to write about a local madam. But this morning I decided I wanted to add something more to today’s photo caption, so I set out to find a quick fact – and ended up writing a draft about the institutions where these people lived.

It was a fascinating rabbit trail – and I’ll work on “Tilly’s” story tomorrow. But I thought you might like to see a bit of what I’ve uncovered today. Continue reading

National Novel Writing Month and creative prompts from the cemetery


National Novel Writing Month started today, and while I don’t write fiction I am using the month to focus on getting a huge chunk of writing done on my book about cemeteries.

And I’m inviting you to play along at home!

Throughout the month, I’m going to post some creative prompts on my Facebook page, inspired by Mt. Hope Cemetery. As I’m writing about my experiences in the cemetery and the residents who have captured my attention, I’ll share some of my favorite photos of epitaphs, tombstones, scenery, and interment records. Use them to inspire your own creative efforts – and if they do, feel free to share links in the comment section!


Musings on life, death, and wildlife (and Prince)

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

When I heard the news that Prince had died, I was in the cemetery. I’d been there for hours with my sister Jackie and my friend Linsay, exploring the hills and dales, and mostly tracking critters . We spotted groundhogs, remarked on the number of chipmunks, stumbled (literally) upon a Prehistoric looking amphibian, and investigated critter dens.

A most unusual amphibian.

A most unusual amphibian.

Can you find the critter in this photo?

Can you find the critter in this photo?

We made some unusual discoveries. I learned, for example, that in Scotland, where Linsay is from, there are no critters like groundhogs or chipmunks; in fact, other than Pepe LePew, she’s never seen a skunk. Or smelled one. That led to a discussion about removing skunk smell with tomato juice, which sounds really weird to someone who’s never smelled a skunk.

We also found parts of old caskets that critters had dragged to the surface, handles of varying shapes and sizes scattered here and there in the cemetery, and we imagined what life underground must be like for a groundhog.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

I’d met a groundhog a few days earlier, sitting for 45 minutes next to his den to see if he’d emerge. He did, slowly. When he was fully exposed, we considered each other. Then he retreated down the hole and I went home. I’ve been thinking ever since about what it must be like underground, among the caskets and remains, what the groundhogs and chipmunks disturb, and if anyone minds. Continue reading

Groundhog holes and casket handles, oh my

Bandit and I, out for a walk at Mt. Hope.

Bandit and I, out for a walk at Mt. Hope.

Out for a walk this week, Bandit came upon a groundhog hole. Not unusual; the cemetery is a National Wildlife Federation “Certified Wildlife Habitat” and is crawling with squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, deer, and foxes. What was unusual? Around the entrance to the hole were items the groundhog had hauled to the surface while burrowing underground.

mt hope with bandit casket parts apr12 2016 020

Bandit found a groundhog hole with some interesting stuff in the dirt around it.

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Stuff Mr. Groundhog hauled up from under the ground.

I think the handles are from caskets, and, because they’re so different, probably different caskets. The wood is probably from a very old coffin. (I also found another small item that’s neither metal nor wood. I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out what it was.)

Out for another walk on a different day and in a different section of the cemetery, this time sans dog, I came across yet another groundhog hole, and lying right there in the open was more casket hardware.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

I’ve been thinking about the groundhogs ever since. What do they do underground? How far underground do they venture from the hole? What do they do with items that are in their way? I’m assuming that over time they’ve hauled a lot of items to the surface and discarded them in dirt piles. Is it unusual to find stuff like this?

I’ve been tracking the groundhogs, so I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: Here’s a post I wrote for Patheos about my groundhog adventures.

Honor our sister suffragists by voting in today’s primary

Susan B. Anthony's grave, a popular place to visit on election day.

Susan B. Anthony’s grave, a popular place to visit on election day.

It’s primary day in New York. Honor suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, who fought for the passage of the 19th amendment, and vote. Vote your conscience, vote your heart, vote your morals and beliefs. But make sure you vote.

Thank you, lady with the alligator purse.

This photo was taken at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Susan B. Anthony’s grave is located in Section C, Lot 93.

The circle of life in a cemetery

The colors are still brilliant on this beautiful November morning.

The colors are still brilliant on this beautiful November morning as we walked in the cemetery.

Walking the dogs this morning, I was musing over the life and death of a cemetery.

I walk in several cemeteries, from historic Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY, with its hills and dales, forests and lawns, prominent residents, and myriad headstones and monuments, to a small rural cemetery in Pittsford, NY, much smaller but no less interesting.

But the cemetery where I walk most often is White Haven Memorial Park. It’s close to my house, and because it’s a lawn park layout – open spaces and no headstones, only flat markers in the ground – it’s the perfect place to work with my dog Bailey, who has struggled with reactivity issues. We can walk here with few distractions, and the maintenance workers are patient as I’ve worked to counter-condition the dog to the sound of their work carts and machines.

Plus, the chipmunk and squirrel population is far smaller here than in the more forest-like cemeteries.

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White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford, NY (c) 2015 Joanne Brokaw

So while I love meandering in the older, more historic or unusual cemeteries, and do so when I have hours to kill, when we just need to stretch our legs, the dogs and I head to White Haven.

And on a walk today, it struck me how the circle of life is played out in a cemetery.

It’s a gorgeous day here in Western NY, early November and temperatures in the 70s. But even with the sun shining bright in the sky, it’s clear life itself is winding down for a season.

white haven tree 3 nov4 2015

The trees are reluctant to shed their leaves.

The trees, so green and lush in the summer, began changing colors a few weeks ago, brilliant colors that were almost too beautiful to look at. Now, they’re in varying stages of undress, reluctantly shedding their leaves as winter approaches.

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, October 23, 2015

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, October 23, 2015

At White Haven, there’s a tree I call the Heart Tree. A week or so ago, it was alive with color. Today, it stands naked.

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, November 3, 2015

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, November 3, 2015

White Haven is also an Audubon Nature Habitat. In the back part of the cemetery area has unmowed fields and a forest with walking trails. There’s a natural burial area where cremated remains are buried with wildflower seeds, the dead bringing forth life in every spring.

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White Haven’s fields and nature trails (c) 2015 Joanne Brokaw

Throughout the main part of the cemetery, deer often roam the manicured acres, likely lured by the fruit trees that have dropped piles of cherries and are now laden with apples. At other cemeteries where we walk, squirrels and chipmunks are also rampant, scurrying around the headstones and up the trees with nuts and other nourishment to carry them through the winter.

Apple tree at White Haven Memorial Park.

The apple trees are laden with fruit at the cemetery. (c) 2015 Joanne Brokaw

This morning, birds sing the song of fall as we walked, and kept a watchful eye over the mourners who sat in solitary lawn chairs under the bright morning sun, the dew glistening on the graves of those slumbering beneath.

In a few weeks, all will be barren as winter sets in, ushering in a time for rest and reflection. In the spring, the cycle will begin again. Eggs will hatch and birds will fledge, trees will bud and flowers bloom, and new life once again emerge from winter’s night, guided by the spirits of those have gone before.


Life in the cemetery (fall foliage pictures)

Mt. Hope Cemetery – and wildlife habitat