Sunday, February 24, 2013

M A Campbell, 1801 - 1803

    I took these photos in the cemetery back this October past. I'd been talking with my good friend Michael who has a fondness for owls and cemeteries, and it occured to me that I had never photographed something interesting in Forest Lawn. There is no shortage of interesting, singular, quiet and beautiful aspects to and monuments within the Lawn. This has left no shortage of photos left to be taken; and so I am always up for the opportunity to document and share new sights with all who may be reading here. With that thought in mind, I took my camera to M A Campbell's monument, thinking I would quickly write up a blog post. I find myself four months later finally coming across the pictures in my camera, and organizaing and uploading them.

    I first came to know M A Campbell's monument when on a tour one beating warm summer afternoon in Forest Lawn's air conditioned trolley, one of my favorite guides began discussing what I have always thought of as "tree stones." These gravestones made to look like old trees, from a mostly older time, spanning a wide period between the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. My guide mentioned the art of these tree stones was popular and symbolic for a considerable amount of time-- and in many instances, the condition of the tree is related to the life a person lived. Cut or broken branches are a sign that the person in memorium died young, cut down in the prime of their life. Such a clear metaphor, one that never occured to me before I was told it. In doing some of my own digging and researching online, I haven't found much on the origin of where these stones might have come from. Some sources credit a society founded in 1890 with the start of this practice; however, I've personally seen many of these that  were made from as many as ninety to one-hundred years before 1890. My own thoughts figure the stones were a common practice, and this society co-opted them and made their own versions for their members, as can be seen here. 

   But I digress. M A Campbell's tree stands in something of a clearing in Forest Lawn. On the original 80 acres, not far from the Pratt Monument I have written about. The tree stands rather by itself, which seems unlike so many places in the older areas of the cemetery. I had walked and ran past it many times, and even took photos of it, but when my tour guide that summer day mentioned that one of the Lawn's tree stones had the detail of an owl looking out a hole in the tree, I took immediately to looking for the stone in question, and quickly found it. What I had loved about M A Campbell's gravestone before was the open book resting on the tree, with the words of a life written on the pages, open. It had never occured to me to look up, really up, and see the owl sitting in the top of the broken tree.

    The feel the owl brings to the stone fits rather beautifully into this spot in the cemetery. The first time I read M A Campbell's dates on the stone I was confused. At first glance, I took the person's name to be "Ma," a likely nickname for a grown woman, quite possibly a mother or grandmother. But a reading of the dates shows M A Campbell was a two year old child at the time of her or his death. A child who was born in 1801 and passed on in 1803. A child who had a family willing and able to construct this elaborate, artistic remembrance. I don't believe a two year old would have been called "Ma," but it is possible. Rather, I believe that M A are "M. A.": the child's initials. Standing for what first and middle names, I may never know. There is nothing I have found on the Internet or beyond. Only this monument, a tree, standing as testament to a life ended so soon after it began-- a life with immense potential and roots large as this tree; a life ended, this broken tree, which nature has reclaimed, with our owl standing guard in his residence above.

    The book of a life, the tree of a life, the natural end to one's life. Simple truth, standing alone in this silent clearing in Forest Lawn.

 You can see my whole album of M A Campbell in October, here: 
M A Campbell, Forest Lawn Cemetery, October 2012

All Photos Copyright Bryan Ball Photography, All Rights Reserved. 

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