Thursday, January 19, 2012

Darkness there, and nothing more

Happy Birthday, Edgar. Today, the man-- who's work I was initially drawn to in childhood because it was dark, different, and drawn back to as I grew older because I came to realize so many of the things he understood so beautifully-- would have been 203 years old.

Image: Associated Press
 There's something sadder about this birthday, however; a sadness one might see Poe himself as having dreamed up. The man who lived his life and wrote his work tormented by and fighting against the raven-- that specter of eternal sadness, of absolute death-- would, I think, find this almost fitting. While Poe's work has gained him an immortal status in the literary canon and following throughout the world and history, it is the personal nature of his writing which, I believe, draws readers time and again to him.

 And that has much to do with the tradition of the "Poe Toaster." As I have written about here these last few years, from the 1940's until 2009, an unknown man dressed in black would, in the early hours of the morning night of Poe's birthday, leave a bottle of cognac with a rose at the poet's grave.

Fans of Edgar would wait all night to witness the event, and this tradition lasted more than 60 years. In the 2000's, however, it became rumored that the original toaster had passed away, and left the tradition to a son or some different person. This new toaster created some controversy, including notes indicating political beliefs and opinions on sports teams-- which, it appeared, seemed to go a long way in turning many off to what the tradition had become.

 While people have gathered to keep watch for Poe's toaster these last three years, no such man in black has shown. And this year the Poe House and Museum curator declared the tradition officially over. Though I doubt that declaration will have much sway over the die-hard fans; people who, I can so easily see, would return year after year to the Baltimore cemetery, just in case the toaster were to return for Edgar. 

 I hope one day I'm one of them.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Who were you?

I've been spending yet more time than usual at Forest Lawn. For the last few months, I've fallen back into running, and on the weekends-- or the odd weekday I am not at work before the gates close at 5PPM-- I take my run through the winding, gorgeous hills of the cemetery. A blessing and a curse for me, I often stumble upon striking monuments I have never seen before, and unfortunately am quite a distance away from my car and camera. Some of them I come back for after my run, and most I remember exactly where I found them and am able to take some photographs.

 For a few weeks of running, I kept seeing the top of the Parker Monument, making a mental note of it, and (quite frankly) forgetting about it. Not until I came back with my camera for a stone nearby did I take a second, true look at this monument-- and realize that it is one of the more arresting pieces of statuary in Forest Lawn. I see many standards of monument art, and fall in love with them. Tropes such as the heavenward pointing finger, the books resting on stone trees or even the four angels such as those who adorn the Pratt Monument, are repeated, sometimes often.

 I've never before seen anything like the Parkers' statues. A full, likely male figure-- suited and cloaked-- with a faded stone face, stands atop a base. The large stone bust of an older woman, Laura Parker (1803-1888) decorates the front, and to the sides on her left and right, two differing male busts stand (appearing to float), with halved profiles. The detail on the statuary of the base has beautifully stood the test of time. There is a small stone, impossible to read without a rubbing, which stands in front of the monument. The last fully legible date, under Laura's, name and likeness, is 1888. Unless the monument was erected much later than the last known death, the stone monument is, at the youngest, 123 years old.

 Part of my affinity for cemeteries is, as I've likely written about here, the beauty that is the living's tributes to those who have been lost. I wonder what it was that caused the Parker Monument to be made. Was it Laura's idea? Or one of these men-- her husband? Brother? Father? Sons? The family set up of a father, mother and two sons would appear the most logical-- but noticeably absent are any spouses the sons may have had. I wonder who the artist may have been, in 1880's Buffalo, NY, who had the original idea of the halved profiles. I wonder who these people were; what they did, what may be remembered beyond the stone, and what is not. Some of the stones I find at Forest Lawn are readily available on Goggle, with articles or at least brief summaries with some information on these long ago people. Not the Parkers. Searches on multiple search engines have returned only information on another person with the surname of Parker who is interred in the Red Jacket monument, and an entry in a publication from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society which mentions a Laura Parker, who's father was a general in the Civil War. The time frame certainly fits-- and, possibly, it may be the general standing on top of the stone. But I have found nothing concrete to confirm these Parkers are the same Parkers from the stone in Forest Lawn.

 I will keep looking, and post any updates I may find.

 View my Photo Album of the Parker Monument here: 

Forest Lawn, Parker Monument, 12-03 & 12-10-11