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It wouldn’t be a pilgrimage without obstacles,
mysteries and wrong turns, and my sister and I
had all of these today in our search for this grave.

The trip from the Beltway to Capitol Heights
in Prince George’s County Maryland was without
incident, but we missed the turn into the cemetery,
so hidden and overgrown was its entrance.

We didn’t know about the several adjacent Jewish
cemeteries in this rather forsaken corner of the
metro region, so when we took a few more turns and
came upon the National Capitol Hebrew Cemetery,
we thought this might be the place.

The layout was all wrong, though, and after
a short walk in the blazing sun we began piling
back into the car. As we left, we photographed
the back of a gravestone:

One of the caretakers there –
very nice guy in a red pickup –
asked if we needed help.

“Is there another cemetery near
here?” UD asked. “For indigents?”

He said yes and told us to follow his truck.

Seconds later, he escorted us through the gates.


Immediately the place jibed with the instructions
Phil Goldman had given me:
A hill on one side, flat land on the other, and
Laurie was buried on the left, on flat land.

This cemetery was much prettier and better kept
than the first one we saw. The ugly urban streetscape
outside its gates unsettled one, but this secluded
little space, with its rows of identical headstones
framed by oaks whose rounded crowns mirrored the
tops of the stones, instantly created a hush within and without.


All photographs Frances Eby.

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6 Responses to “UD’s Sunday Pilgrimage: Part One.”

  1. Janet Gool Says:

    A sad corner of the earth. Glad to read that you found it.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Yes. Part Two coming up, in which I thank you for helping me perform my little ceremony.

  3. charlie Says:

    San Francisco banned burials after 1901, claiming that cemeteries were a health hazard. What they had become were profit centers for real estate developers. Eventually, nearly all of them were shutdown and for the better part of 40 years, San Francisco evicted corpses, mainly to the city of Colma, which had been created as San Francisco’s graveyard.

    My great great grandpa was from San Francisco. He abandoned his family, became a drunk, and was murdered somewhere in the Barbary Coast. They didn’t have the money for proper burial, an Irish charity stepped in, had a funeral mass said, and he was interred in a pauper’s field plot. When he became part of the silent exodus, no one knew, no one was told, they didn’t bother to maintain records for people like him.

    My mom and uncle went to look for him decades later. They came to find out that particular section of the cemetery had been disinterred between 29-30. The bodies had been moved to Colma. When they found the location where he supposedly had been taken, it was at the end of a gravel road at the back of a massive graveyard. It was large dirt hill, a few sporadic patches of grass attempting to hold the thing together. A few headstones dotted the site, and if you climbed to the top, you could see The Bay.

    Not long before she died, I took her and my dad back to the place. They recited the Rosary, asked a catholic god to allow the perpetual light to shine on him, and left….

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    charlie: An amazing and moving story.

    My own angle on some of this is that (at least if you’re at all like me) we’re so scared and in denial when it comes to death that we don’t much take into account (unless we live long enough to get very obviously old and infirm and one-foot-in-the-grave) the need for ourselves be dealt with qua physical and spiritual body in some way when we die. (Related phenomena: Not getting around to doing your will and power of attorney.) Whether we’re a lost soul (like your great great grandfather) or just an ordinary schmoe, many of us float along not thinking about any of this. The consequences turn out in a lot of cases to matter – to the people we left behind.

    And I had NO IDEA about the fascinating history of SF and cemeteries. I’m reading more about it now.

  5. theprofessor Says:

    I have very explicit written directions, UD.

    1) Straight into the ground.

    2) Don’t you dare interrupt the “straight into the ground” part with a detour into a wake, funeral, life celebration, or any other bullshit like that.

  6. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tp: I hear you. Quick silent ash scattering is something similar. But a bit of “ceremony” or “ritual” clings to this, whereas dig/place/cover is as pure as it gets I guess.

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