Landscape and the Soul

Landscape is the material home, the language of landscape is a habitat of mind. Heidegger called language the house of being; but the language of landscape truly is the house of being; we dwell within it. To dwell— to make and care for a place is self expression. Heidegger traced that verb in High German and Old English; in both, the root for “to dwell” means “to build.” In German, the roots for building and dwelling and “I am” are the same. I am because I dwell; I dwell because I build. Bauen—building, dwelling, and being—means ‘to build,” “to construct,” but also to “cherish and protect, to preserve, to care for, specifically to till the soil, to cultivate the mind.”
Anne Whiston Spirin,
The Language of Landscape

What a busy time. The time for this packet went by quickly, ten of the days were spent in a surprise trip to Texas helping to convince my in-laws that their dementia has gotten to the point they can no longer care for themselves or their house. While that was its own cue for an existential crisis in all their children who gathered to make it happen, the almost three thousand mile drive each way through the western US was mine.
As a historian of the early 20th century Western United States I have to confront the Dust Bowl, its environmental and its human impact. Kern County California was one of the primary places for refugees from the drought that hit the prairies of North America in the 1930s. Today it is the center of its own drought.
This part of California is, by nature, relatively arid, only made fertile by the damming of the Colorado river by the Boulder/Hoover dam and the water treaties signed by western states in the 1920s. These treaties were signed, of course, before anyone expected the explosive growth of the cities of Los Angeles, Phoenix or Las Vegas or the 3 million acres that would eventually be under irrigation in California alone. Water rights from this reservoir were also negotiated during one of the wettest periods of its geological history, skewing the calculations of available water for any given period.
As we were driving through the area I couldn’t help but notice the bright green patches of orange and olive groves alternating with clearly dead orchards and abandoned land. Nearing the southernmost portion of the valley, I saw storm clouds on the horizon. It wasn’t the badly needed rain however, it was a muddy colored wall, close to the ground. It was a dust storm, the like of which I had only read about in the archives. Even at 80 mph it took us almost half an hour to reach the edges, and once we entered it we went from perfect visibility to less than a quarter of a mile instantly.
Immediately we felt cut off from the world, vague orange spots of headlights in the distance, just a brightness in the haze in place of the sun. This is why they fled, all those thousands. It wasn’t just seeing family and cattle starve to death, it was the earth trying to bury them day by day, storm by storm. Now I understand why living in tent colonies in the rainy Pacific Northwest or even paper-walled shacks in the Michigan winter was looked upon so fondly; at least the very earth itself wasn’t conspiring to make all traces of their lives vanish.
It reminds me again that its the perspective of the migrants, the workers, that has yet to be understood within the context of their times. In so many other venues the perspective not of 1980s feminism remembering either some golden age of women’s empowerment or antique barbarism, or of nostalgia for a dimly remembered and glorified war time home front that never existed. This history of the lives of workers needs to be understood in terms of where the workers came from, how their lives changed and what they would become.
Although the rest of the trip was taxing, there was less that was directly relevant to my work. I am always struck, however, by the impact of landscape on individual and group character. I had no epiphanies driving into the amazing sunrises over mountains in California and New Mexico, I think those happen just to remind us that each day starts in peace and beauty if we let them. Other distinct types of terrain did remind me that community culture doesn’t always come from the people; these were the Mojave Desert and Western Oregon.
The Mojave Desert is not as stark, but it is in someways one of the most bleak landscapes in the world. It is something that doesn’t belong, somehow, on the North American continent in this time. Sparsely vegetated, rock strewn flats interspersed with high, jagged, harsh mountains:
If a landscape could be somehow ‘monotheistic,’ this is it. The landscape here is similar to the interior of the middle east. The solitary feeling because of the vast expanses, the feeling of insignificance imposed by the looming mountains, it is no wonder that YHWH is a single being, omnipotent and vengeful. Contrast this with the Zoroastrians view of Ahura Mazda as unequivocally all good. Persia’s landscape ranges from arid and semi-arid with a small area of what had to look like paradise to people surrounded by the inhospitable mountains. The divine is all powerful, but yet does not neglect to provide pockets of grace.

After my trip I felt relief at entering the Coast Range of Oregon. The mountains are no less light than those of the Mojave, but they are continuous, with few plaines, only valleys. The Cascades are green, year ‘round. Throughout Western Oregon crops are possible in all seasons, the air off the Pacific, clean, no dust devils or unrelenting storms. The migrants away from Oklahoma in the 1930s and 40s surely felt safe here, even in tents and campers, still not knowing if food for their children was a certainty. The geography here shelters and nurtures, it does not try to bury lives.

Image

 

Lullaby to Jesus

No time for a big post this morning,  Just wanted to impart some serenity and beautiful sounds to your day.  This is one of the earliest carols I remember singing, and even in the times that I wasn’t celebrating Christmas, I’d always play it at some point in my holiday season.  Peace to you all this Christmas.

(rough translation from the Polish)

Sleep, little Jesus, my little pearl!
While Mama Comforts you, tender, caressing!

  Lullaby, little one, in loving arms lying,
Guarding my darling and stilling Thy crying!


Sleep, little Jesus, my little pearl!
While Mama Comforts you, tender, caressing!

When Thou awakenest, Jesus, my treasure,
Raisins and almonds I have for Thy pleasure


Sleep, little Jesus, my little pearl!
While Mama Comforts you, tender, caressing!


High in the heavens a lovely star sees us,
But like the shining sun, is my little Jesus.

Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre-How We Dignify the Dead

Making an Exit:  From the Magnificent to the Macabre-How We Dignify the Dead

 

Sarah Murray

 

St Martins Press

 

October 2011

 

0312533020

 

 

 

Creative writing instructors tell us that that all writing is memoir.   I’ve noticed that we certainly say the most of all about ourselves when we choose to write about death, whether we are exposing our romantic streak in our fascination with angels, our demand for precision when researching stone carvers or our need for grounding when finding our the burial of our own ancestors.   Sarah Murray’s Making an Exit is as personal of a statement as can be.   

 

Murray’s  “Fa” kept a file called “How to End It” in his home office.   Her dad, a lifelong atheist, had clearly communicated his final wishes to his family, which included scattering part of his remaining “organic matter” at the local churchyard among friends, but not a gathering for remembrance.  As comfortable and open as her father was with his own death, Murray’s grief was hers alone to navigate. As the book says,  “[a]theism provides little guidance on how to deal with the end of life.”  The book is the product of that grieving for her father and subsequent coming to terms with what mourning means in modern British and American culture.

 

As a journalist for venues like the Financial Times, Murray was already well traveled, but she found in her mourning a reason to set off again.   She says, “writers often tell us about places we must see before we die, I want to explore some of the ones we end up in when we’re dead.”  Her travels take her to places out of contemporary western death settings.   The book follows the classics of travel literature, part anthropology, sociology and self-discovery; in effect an Eat, Pray, Love for the mourner.   Her choices of destination and ritual cover a lot of ground, the powerful and the ordinary, the long dead and the newly deceased.

 

From Capuchin catacombs in Italy, to a Oaxacan Día de los Muerteos to a Ghanaian coffin maker’s shop where she orders a personalized coffin (an Empire State Building in the colors taken from a painting important to her) Murray is really investigating how the interplay of community and mobility has encouraged non traditional final arrangements in her own culture.  “Out with the suits and starched shirts of the mortuary men,” Murray writes, “in with Viking- style send-offs, funerary ice cream vans, and minutes of mayhem.” Such rites certainly reflect a cultural emphasis on individualism, as well as a longing for personally meaningful rituals.

 

Of the locations, it is the small village of Sagada in the Philippines that seems to jar her most.  The Sagadan rituals include leaving the body sitting tied to a chair for a few days where family and friends can continue to interact with it (including “having a good yell at the corpse”), ritual pig slaughter and feasting.  The disposition of the body itself reflects pre-Christian ritual along with that of slowly encroaching Christianity.   The dead are wrapped in ceremonial blankets and placed in sarcophagi positioned in rock fissures or hanging off the cliff walls.  Once the dead are installed they are not visited again, for they have ceased to be part of the community.

 

            Murray regards the role of the group in the life of the individual through these practices with a combination of envy and discomfort.  She knows full well that in modern societies most of us will die alone.  But so much individualism also provokes genuine ambivalence in her, and in the end she is willing to trade a community to bury her for freedom and new discoveries. 

 

On the other hand, she is not so disengaged from her own family and friends to not recognize that funerals are for the living.   She has decided to posthumously host a dinner and to have her remains scattered in her favorite places.   She has found her own balance between safety and adventure, tradition and modernity.

 

The joy in reading this book was not in new discoveries of facts; there probably isn’t a lot here that most committed taphophiles won’t have encountered before.    Instead, it is Murray’s own discoveries about herself that we find engaging.   It would be difficult not to think about some of these issues along with her, fortunately, she makes it rather enjoyable to do. 

 

Christmas Annoyances

This year I thought I’d take a few minutes early in the season to get the crabbiness out of the way so I can go ahead and merely roll my eyes at holiday annoyances.  Now that I’m no longer on retail front lines I don’t actually hate the whole season anymore, I just find it odd that the people who seem the most unhappy are those that try so hard to force cheer and /or complain that the season has changed: the “it wasn’t like this when…” crowd.  To them I say, yes it was.  Newspaper articles in the 1940’s, 20s, 1880s all complain that things are changing too fast.  Of course stores seem busier, more crowded, more selling-focused than when you were a kid and still thought it was all magic, you didn’t have to perform the magic then.  Go watch Miracle on 34th Street for some perspective on commercialization.

“Xmas” is not a modern attempt to “take Christ out of Christmas”

 

A still common visual representation of the name of Christ is the

labarum

chi_rho

the “chi rho” [kai row]“X” is actually from the Greek letter “chi”  the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός which comes into English as “Christ.”  Around 1020 c.e. Christmas was written as “Xp̄es mæsse” in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle . The OED and the Supplement have referred of “X-” or “Xp-” for “Christ-” from about 1485.  The OED further cites usage of “Xtianity” for “Christianity” from 1634.[1] According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from “educated Englishmen who knew their Greek”.[2] While not considered appropriate for literary writing, we know that “Xmas” was in regular use in as of 1753 and was quite common in the 19th century as evidenced by the use in correspondence by such figures as Lord Bryon, Samuel Coleridge and Lewis Carroll.  (Admittedly Byron probably isn’t quite an exemplary Christian, but his use of language certainly is)[3]

 

 

Band Aid’s  “Do They Know it’s Christmas”

Here are just a few of the lowlights of this deeply offensive song

But say a prayer. Pray for the other ones.  Prayers can’t hurt, but I’ll give to Heifer International, too.  And, please tell me why we are calling them “others” instead of “brothers”

Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you. You’re a real jerk to be glad of someone else’s suffering and death enough to thank god for it!

There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas.  Sure there will be.  There are even a few ski resorts in Morocco.[4] Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya have permanent glaciers.  The Rwenzori and the Seiman mountains also get snow regularly.  Of course South Africa won’t, but neither will Australia or Brazil, ‘cause they’re in the southern hemisphere and at the height of summer.

Where nothing ever grows /No rain or rivers flow.  Africa is one heck of a big continent.   The have some rivers; maybe you’ve heard of the Nile?  The Congo?  The Niger?  There’s lots of agriculture, there’s also lots of deserts, mountains. 

Here’s to you raise a glass for everyone/ Here’s to them underneath that burning sun  No, thanks, I’ll go do some actual help instead of posing and posturing.  You go have fun thinking you’re special and have a music video and I’ll see if Mercy Corps could use a hand.

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?  A full third of Africa is Muslim, another twenty percent are adherents of non-Christian religions.  Do you know when it’s Eid?  Diwali? Ridwan? Please stop your cultural imperialism.

 

 

The Christmas season doesn’t start with Thanksgiving, unless you’ve already chosen to think of it as a secular observance.

For those that complain that Christmas is coming earlier and earlier, 100 years ago the same complaint was put forth.  A century ago the complaint was that the holiday was beginning with the secular observance of Thanksgiving instead of, as then viewed proper, with the beginning of advent, the forth Sunday before Christmas.  Advent was a time of fasting and penitence, as in lent, not of opening small presents for almost a month before Christmas Day.  Even earlier, the period of advent and penance was the 40 days from St Martin’s Day[5], but that began to be truncated by the time of the Reformation.  This all means, technically, the Christmas season should start on Christmas Day itself!

 

 

Which brings us to the “Twelve Days” of Christmas, which are after Christmas. Hold on to those partridges, drummers and maids! The 12 days are the days between Christmas and Epiphany.   Here’s where you do get to make complaints about the secularization of society. For most of the history of Christianity, and still in many parts of the world, Epiphany was a much bigger deal then Christmas was, ranking after Easter and Pentecost so the lead up to epiphany was one of great joy, (in direct opposition to the penance of advent, see above) .  This is also why Boxing Day is the day after Christmas Day, because after that day there would be no time for the servants to rest, and they had to be at full strength for all the entertaining in the following week and a half.  So, please stop your twelve days of Christmas sales that begin mid December.

With all this gotten out of the way, I wish you, yours, and the whole world the most  peaceful and joyous Thanksgiving, Haunakah, Yule, Feast of LisaMary,  Christmas & New Year.  May you all find the magic this season!

 


[2] “Xmas” article, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, Merriam-Webster, 1994, p 968, ISBN 978-0-87779-132-4,

[5] Martinmas  is the Feast of St Martin of Tours, the traditional end of harvest & beginning of winter/ new year in Christian Europe, that is a day of thanksgiving,  That holyday itself is super imposed  on pre-Christian Samhain and certain other traditional pagan celebrations of the new year.

http://www.fisheaters.com/customstimeafterpentecost15.html accessed 11/24/13

 

A loving wife celebrates a “good death”

To our neighbors:

What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.

Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.

Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.

— Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend

 

From the East Hampton Star

Shirts, dry cleaned, still hanging properly

17/35, kind of a big man

The coats tell of an outdoorsy type

For the peace there?

All in garbage bags

But neatly, with reverence

A daughter?

The remnants of a man loved, who loved

Came off the donation truck, so I could pass things on

From Stan, the name on the dry cleaning receipts

The Sea Their Graves: an Archaeology of Death and Remembrance in Maritime Culture

The Sea  Their Graves: an Archaeology of Death and Remembrance in Maritime Culture

David J. Stewart,

University Press of Florida

ISBN-13: 978-0813037349

 

…shipwrecked, plunging to death from the rigging, being mutilated by cannon or sword, expiring from a gruesome disease in some tropical backwater, falling overboard and drowning, being washed overboard in a storm, drowned by the upsetting of a boat, perishing from malnutrition, being presented with a choice of burning to death aboard a flaming vessel or jumping over the side to drown or sinking into the depths aboard a foundering ship.

 

Sailors and fishermen face death daily from a vast array of causes, both natural and accidental.  Like miners, loggers, soldiers and all those in hazardous occupations the community culture of those who make their living in sea trades both reflects and absorbs ever-present reminders of mortality.

David Stewart’s book The Sea Their Graves is a new look at Anglo-American maritime folk culture, based on a study of over 2,100 memorials.  These monuments and gravestones are not only individual or family stones but also community memorials and larger scale, state-sponsored tributes such as Trafalgar Square. His time period, the seventeenth through the late twentieth century, is quite broad for a relatively short text, but even so he effectively traces changes in the work, life and folk culture of mariners and the resulting changes in commemoration.

Stewart highlights the outgrowth of burial-at-sea rituals from their land-based counterparts. He insightfully explains how specific traditions, such as why burial in a shroud continued longer at sea while coffins became the norm on land.  Sailors were often wrapped in their own hammocks for shrouding, fitting with the metaphor of death as sleep and, more practically, to prevent another from sleeping there, as that would be as taboo as wearing the dead man’s clothes.  The rituals of a burial at sea, including internment prayers, are parallel but not identical to those of a death on shore.  Stewart emphasizes how rituals of the land create inseparable boundaries between the living and the dead in a way that sea burials cannot; thereby shedding light on the role of the supernatural in maritime lore and culture. This chapter alone will be valuable for those interested in understanding the anthropology of shipwreck and ghost lore.

            Of special importance is the chapter on faith and the prominence of the anchor in memorialization.  Sailors were a notoriously irreligious lot, many enough so to forcefully discourage the presence of clergy onboard a ship. Why, then, do so many memorials from the early nineteenth century display pious sentiment?  Stewart’s contends that the religious revivals of the time affected the land-based members of the groups, ordinarily those having control over the choice of remembrance.   Wives and parents who remained on shore were participants in mainstream culture as well as the specific folk culture of mariners.  The Great Awakenings (and contemporaneous British movements) increased religious sentiment overall, and became a source of comfort to those on land.  The memorials erected were explicit in expressing “the hope that mariners would anchor safely in the port of heaven at the end of life’s voyage.”  Hopes of resurrection, a central theme of these religious movements, had particular meaning to those families denied the closure of having a body to bury.

As for so many of us Stewart finds answers to questions about the culture of the living in memorials to the dead.  At first glance The Sea Their Graves may seem to be a book only for those interested in a narrow spectrum of sea folklore and memorialization.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Not only does Stewart’s work help us understand the symbolism of the stones we come across in our graveyarding, but his thorough understanding of the processes involved in the making of a folk culture can also help us to more fully understand other unfamiliar cultures we may encounter in cemeteries.

The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses

 

Paul Koudounaris

http://www.empiredelamort.com.

Hardcover: 224 pages

Thames & Hudson

ISBN-10: 0500251789

ISBN-13: 979-0500251781

290 photographs, 260 in color

 

 

Is it ever appropriate for a reviewer to gush?  I hope so, because I don’t think that I can avoid it.  I decided to review Paul Koudounaris’s The Empire of Death as I thought it could be a perfect choice for Halloween gift giving.  Published by one of the most renowned art presses, Thames & Hudson, I was prepared for a lovely coffee-table book with many pretty pictures but rather short on ideas.  I was quite pleasantly surprised when I discovered that not only was the photography stunning, but the images were accompanied by well-researched, insightful text.

The breadth of the research, with Koudounaris’s travel to over a dozen countries with dissimilar cultures like the Czech Republic, Egypt, Cambodia and Peru point out just how odd it is for contemporary western culture to find ossuaries and veneration of remains to be somehow macabre or even at all strange.  For most of human history dying has been a transition rather than a finality.  Veneration of bones, especially skulls, is an ancient human practice with painted specimens having been dated to 5-7,000 BCE, and since we continue to visit these sites part of us may still believe there is something to that.

The birth of Protestantism or more precisely the Counter Reformation brought on a “golden age” of charnels.   The protestants viewed what they saw as the “worship” of bones as, at best, macabre romanticism.  Catholics, clergy and lay to differing extents, saw the piles of bones as symbols of penitent spirituality and connection to the past.  In the 17th century, dedicated crypt chapels and ossuaries decorated with sculptures of bones became popular.  Along with the rise of more the spectacular displays of remains there was renewed popularity of relics.  The ecclesiastic hierarchy used relics as a way of rewarding individual churches for support, explaining why Munich is said to have more than any city outside Rome.  The Bavarian city was a bastion against rising Protestantism in the German states; relics brought pilgrims, money and power.  To supply this need, Koudounaris notes how pope and clerics would “prayerfully descend” into Rome’s catacombs in order to restock the supply, which would then be “authenticated” and sent to the provinces.

The 19th century and its skepticism turned these sites into curiosities of the grand tour.  The author shows how and why secular attractions were built out of catacombs (Paris) and decommissioned monasteries (Sedlec).  His use of travel narratives helps us to understand that these sites became suspicious in the minds of an increasingly sophisticated public.  That disapproval, combined with locals’ superstitions about such things as remains communicating winning lottery numbers or the identity of future spouses, convinced the clergy that these collections of bones had out lived their positive impact and many were reinterred.

The final chapter on conservation and preservation will strike a chord with those who have only monuments of stone, not bone, to care for.  Often these charnels are damaged just by the micro-environmental changes that large numbers of tourists bring, something as simple as a change in humidity can lead to severe degradation.  On the other hand, tourists are the significant revenue streams for most of these places, how are boundaries and regulations created and maintained? Koudounaris wisely points out that rubbing skulls (like doing stone rubbings), over time changes objects and that “[t]his is less an act of vandalism than testimony to the power such a site holds over the popular imagination.”  The author also reminds us intentional vandalism and theft have been occurring in these sites for centuries, it isn’t a modern phenomenon.  Maybe it would be best for us to acknowledge human nature and work on security measures and education rather than simply decrying the decline of civilization.

Throughout all of this is some of the best photography I’ve encountered in death-related art.  Within the copy there are thumbnails of each image that is referred to, allowing the reader not to have to flip back and forth, text to art. This is certainly an idea that should be used more often in all sorts of books, allowing the reader to concentrate on either the argument or images and Koudounaris’s artwork is such that you can easily get lost in it.   I can only recommend looking at the pretty pictures upon buying the book, going back to read the text and then returning to truly appreciate the amazing art.  The photos of the piles of bones and skulls are often overwhelming, taken in such a way to represent scale accurately but not coldly, allowing the photographs to finish telling the story that the writing has begun.  It is the artist’s work with the smaller scale that truly mesmerizes, though.  The portraits of individual remains, weather jewel encrusted martyr’s skeletons, painted burgher’s skulls, or unadorned individual’s bones have a profound intimacy to them that manages to be both unsettling and peaceful.  I can’t imagine a better homage to what the builders of these sites wanted to communicate. 

For all that, I do have two small quibbles:  the first is the choice of font.  I know this sounds like rather an odd criticism, but while the font is lovely and reflective of the artistry of the book, it can be distracting in initial reading.  In the end I did acclimate to it, but a reader shouldn’t have to do that.  The text size is also small.  Very small.  I’m quite sure that the typeface could well have been enlarged by a point or two with no loss of aesthetic integrity in page layout.  If the text of the book were less insightful I’d not complain, but Koudounaris discusses so many significant themes in such a perceptive way it seems a shame to miss something critical because one has to struggle to read the print. 

Oh, and that second quibble?  The appendix listing the sites and their access availability has me planning a very long trip.

Pioneer Cemeteries Sculpture Gardens of the Old West

 

By Annette Stott

2008

University of Nebraska Press 404 pp.$36.95

978-0-8032-1608-2

I’ve been known to complain about the interest in American burial themes being far too centered on New England, or even the East Coast more generally.  I {may} have to stop now.  Annette Stott’s Pioneer Cemeteries; Sculpture Gardens of the Old West goes a long way to filling that gap.  This is a book about cemeteries, but more still, it’s a book about the Rocky Mountains, as a cradle of women’s entrepreneurship, as a remote, as a place where the self-made imposed their rule.

Stott is an art historian by training and brings this toolkit to use in understanding frontier cemeteries as sculpture gardens and often the only public art available in the Western towns.  She focuses on community cemeteries in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana as a distinct region, as the Rocky Mountain west has a unique culture and has been inflected by Spanish Catholic, Native American, Asian, LDS and other American Pioneer groups.

Western frontier towns evolved differently than towns and counties back East. The mixing of the traditions created a distinctive regional culture where a village green was no longer the primary community space but rather where burial ground functioned as ritual, political and artistic space. The burial places reflect the growth of mining camp to mercantile center in their shift from “boot hills” to more polished “fair mounts.” 

Impeccably researched, her work in the business and newspaper archives brings to life what was unique about life reflected in commemoration in the region. She uses to good effect newspaper accounts, business archives and legal documents to follow the roles of women as community members and as art objects.   The discussion of Mary DeVille Rauh and the M. Rauh Marble Works does both.  The business and its artisans produced works which trace the artistic development of memorials from deeply masculine scaled down miner’s cabins to idealized female figures as mourning increasingly became the domain of women. The story of Mary DeVille Rauh, on the other hand, illustrates exactly how difficult it is to parse the role of women in a community.  Rauh herself is apparently a self-made woman, arriving in Denver in 1870.  By 1877 she had married, had her husband declared violently insane and remarried.  The assets she gained in marriage helped build M. Rauh and for twenty years she was signatory of documents of the business that carried her name.  What role was played by this woman in growing a business that flourished among the middle and upper classes of Denver?  It’s a shame we can never know.

Stott is willing to explore the shifts in manner of commemoration as well as the growth of any given cemetery are reflective of a community’s development.  She also skillfully illustrates how memorializations, or the lack of them, can play conflicting roles between the public and the private. In essence  she is discovering what audience a memorial  is primarily playing to, and how that audience may change over time.

All of the black and white images, plus well over 100 color images used to illustrate key concepts are available online (www.annettestott.com) helping to make this resource a valuable teaching tool for courses on visual or material culture. The images on the website have certainly given me a list of new cemeteries to visit and new communities to explore.

As thorough as Professor Stotts’s book is, it cannot be comprehensive.  She acknowledges leaving out cemeteries related to institutional settings and those of communities not intended for permanent settlement. That said, it sets a very high standard to those continuing to work in the West.  Opportunities for similar studies of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies still exist and I can’t wait to read them.