Numbers – a Photo

It may not be an obvious step from Numbers to a graveyard, but it’s not that much of a stretch.

After the name on a gravestone, the next thing you look at is the dates, when was this person born, when did they die.  You can build a story around that information; maybe they died very young, or for their era they lasted a long time.  How extraordinary would it be to see the resting place of a person from the 18th century living into their 80s or 90s?

These photos were taken on one of the cemeteries in  Ashfield, Mass.  In its past Ashfield was a Puritan town, and the stones reveal that history.  There’s nothing fancy about any of them – just the basic information, name and dates, maybe a family relationship, and a resigned little aphorism – ‘My work is done’.

There are some splendid names on the stones, although many are worn away after years of exposure to the harsh weather; but they reveal the Puritan heritage, like Thankful, Humble, Clemency and Comfort, indicating either the frame of mind of the parents, or their future expectations at the delivery of a child.

Every society has their own way of commemorating the burial places of their dead.

One of the places I found endlessly fascinating when I lived in Moscow was the Novodevichy Cemetery.  It is the burial ground for the great and the good from the Soviet era (and some from a little earlier) who weren’t quite important enough to make it into the Kremlin Wall.

Chekhov is there, near Shostokovich, across the way from Molotov. Khruschev, the only Soviet era leader not to die in office is commemorated by a headstone which is half white stone and half black.

Graves are grouped into sectors and it is possible to see that a spirit of fierce competition survived most of the interred.  In the military section the slabs of marble grow in size as one progresses down the path, the carving more elaborate.  Every one appears to have wanted the military hardware over which they had command in life to be there with them into eternity, so many have tanks or planes depicted on the stones.  My particular favourite had a rocket launcher on top.

I used the Cemetery as the setting for a couple of key scenes in my novel set in Moscow, and I have had to address feedback on the implausibility of there being military hardware in a graveyard, and all I can say is, you’ll have to take my word for it.

One of the reasons that the gravestones and monuments are so elaborate is that together with the competition of the Soviet elite, it was one of the few ways in which sculptors and artists could get paid work, so one can only imagine the escalation of artistic ambition in each commission.

There are myriad stories of artists wreaking sideways revenge against their clients, by adding obscene or unpleasant features, which could only be observed from particular angles, to their work, but I was never able to confirm them.

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