By Patrick Larose, intern
It’s all too easy to forget our place in history. We don’t recognize where we came from, where the scenery surrounding us came from. Every day, as we walk down the street or cross the road, history pulls and pushes us like an invisible tide. Where we now stand, people from the past once stood. Only, empty lots and fields made up their scenery instead of lofts and high-rises. But there is one testament to the past that stands out: cemeteries.
When I was a kid, I could never see them as the creepy places horror movies and scary stories made them out to be. I didn’t imagine them at night, illuminated by lightning, weeds growing out of the ground like undead hands clawing up from the earth. Instead, I thought of cemeteries as freshly mowed and clean-cut, smelling of flowers, because my cousin was paid to mow our local cemetery. I discovered how fragile cemeteries were. The few times my cousin made too wide a turn or failed to pay attention, he knocked over old headstones and broke them in half, wiping away a piece of history forever. We risk wiping away history just by our lack of awareness, and that terrifies me. Now, I appreciate that cemeteries are where you can find history neatly lined up in rows, the tombstones glistening silver in the sunlight.
The Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, near the intersection of Washington and Sawyer, is one of my favorite places to really feel the history of the city. I can walk through the gardens and beneath the trees reading headstones, while the perched angels watch me with suspicion, tracking me like security guards.
Headstones are tangible proof that these people once existed, people who lived and died and whose memory has become calcified within the stone. Katharine Calhoun was born 1904 in London, was an opera singer and the great-great-niece of Sam Houston. She sang, strived and was buried. And if I walk further still, I can finally give context to the names I see on Houston convention centers or medical plazas.
History is especially fragile, which is why I like to carry around Historic Houston Streets by Marks Hinton as a way to remind myself that I exist alongside the history of this city. So, when I’m walking to a local bookstore, and I see the cross street Tangley, I understand it was named for the way the land was once overgrown with weeds and vines where the swamp tried to overtake the city. I remind myself that Sunset Boulevard was named for the beautiful image you could see when the sun hit Rice campus, and if you waited long enough and were patient enough, you could see the same sunset someone standing in that very spot saw one hundred years ago.
Marks Hinton also created Historic Houston Cemeteries: Stories from Beyond the Grave, which is available online. Check it out to learn about the various “inventors, rogues and rascals” who were buried in local cemeteries:
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