Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Respect and reverence for a place: Halloween at Lone Fir Cemetery

One way to make me more reverent -- and more careful, and quieter -- is to put me through a cemetery.

Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery was open tonight. It held -- I can call them tours of history. It is not only Portland's oldest public cemetery but the state's oldest public cemetery (beat by the scattered plots of pioneer families and, of course, the burial places of the tribes here before them), and tonight for Halloween volunteers were in the cemetery, speaking to visitors in character as a few of the people buried there. Paths, both along the cemetery's roads and on parts of the lawn, were lined with luminaries: candles set in sand to add a gentle glow and to make sure we did not lose our way. We had a near-full moon, but some clouds and the cemetery's many, many trees didn't allow the moonlight to reach all of the grounds. And the luminaries are a wonderful Halloween touch, one I always loved from my early Halloweens in Rancho Bernardo, CA.

I walked the paths and heard some of the tales -- a murder/suicide committed in a jealous rage, a man possibly unfairly executed, a man possibly unfairly allowed to live too long and cause too much damage -- and see some of the landmarks of the cemetery. We saw a lovely mausoleum for the Macleay family, the largest mausoleum there (30 feet tall), and in need of restoration -- the name on the front has lost letters, leaving just MACL -- and a young woman stood there, representing the mother who is buried in that mausoleum, remaining impressed that her husband built such a beautiful place in such a beautiful spot for her. And there were other stories, on the other tour -- two tours, the Orange Tour (which I ended up on) and the Black Tour, happened tonight, and each Halloween the tour tells of different people buried at Lone Fir. The experience evolves.

And I walked more carefully. And I was quieter. I'm already usually a quiet person; there, I managed to be quieter. Growing up, I was not the type to spend nights in cemeteries, but I can start to see the draw. "Are funeral services ever held here at night?" I asked our guide. "No," she said. "It's not open to the public then." But I wondered then what a service at night would be like.

I wasn't quite as reverent when I arrived, earlier that night. I was in the mood then to look at Central Catholic High School, across Stark Street from Lone Fir, and think A Catholic school right across from a cemetery? Perfect place to become a Goth high school student! and chuckle. But later, while I toured, I did act more reverent. I even said "Bless" a time or two to the volunteers: I meant it, because it is indeed cool that they put on this event, and I wanted to give something stronger than thanks. Religion is an influence on my life, not one that I think about that much, but it asserts itself: I sometimes seriously wonder if I was a Jewish mother in a past life, and my mother has a background built from bits of the Protestant side of Christianity. Mom never forced religion on me and my brother T.J.; she did sometimes take us to church as we grew, but one quiet way or another we saw religion in action, religion doing its thing, the day-to-day work of seeing what positive work can be done by people. And sometimes it means that one is quieter, treating a place with sacred respect, whether a cathedral or an open, green plot of land where 20,000 people are buried. Such as Lone Fir.

That was mt big event for Halloween 2009. I then walked home from there, stopping between Lone Fir and home to eat a blackened catfish po'boy at one of the food carts at SE 12th and Hawthorne.
Tags: peregrinations, portland

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