Walking Among the Spirits of the Deceased
By Ellen Moyer
My longtime friend was fond of saying that cemeteries are great places to walk. The cemeteries of St. Anne’s Church and the old City Cemetery near the heart of Annapolis are two such places. It was a cool Fall day as I set out, just the right time to follow the suggestion of my friend.
Historic St. Anne’s Church welcomes people coming into the city on Annapolis’ second-highest hill. The State House, the oldest state capitol building still in use in the nation, occupies the highest hill.
St. Anne’s was last rebuilt in 1858, after it was gutted by a fire. A bell, a gift of Queen Anne in 1704, which was used to call people to worship, was destroyed. The steeple now holds the city official clock. Purchased by the city in 1866, the Seth Thomas clock serves as the city’s own historical landmark. It helped to standardize time for city businesses, ringing out every hour to announce the time.
The courtyard of the church is a landmark holding the graves of the early colonial leaders. Benjamin Tasker junior and senior, men involved in the government of the Colony and the city for 40 years, and the wealthy Amos Garrett, the first mayor of Annapolis, are buried here. Maryland’s first colonial governor and Sir Robert Eden (1784), Maryland’s last colonial governor lie in rest here. Occasionally, bones of those whose names are now lost to history are found during road repairs on Church Circle. Volunteers digging to plant a tree once discovered the unmarked Stephen Bordley family vault.
Established in 1692, St. Anne’s Cemetery is a long block as you walk down Northwest Street. During Colonial times, this was situated just beyond the City Gate. Ancient Roman law required burial outside the city limits, a practice, like so many other ancient Roman traditions, that was adopted here.
Also here is the grave of Jeremiah Tournley Chase, chief judge of the State of Maryland Court of Appeals, born May 23, 1748, and who died in 1828. Then there’s Rev. Southgate, St. Anne’s pastor for 35 years. Nearby is Dennis Claude, mayor of Annapolis, who died in 1910 and Thomas Bell, president of St. Johns College (1886-1923), and James W. Burch, an architect, buried in 1954 and Nicholas Carroll born in 1750 of a Catholic family and died in 1812 with no history describing his life. The families of the Brices, Ridouts, Ogles, Carrolls, Sands, Duvalls, Claudes, the spirits of a virtual who’s who of the ancient city’s elite and members of the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, reside here in sacred remembrance.
The road loops around the bottom of the hill of monuments almost to College Creek before returning to Northwest Street at the caretaker’s house. So the story goes, Joe Morque, a grave digger who died in 1836, used to frighten young boys with his aged shriveled look, his grim nature and his voice that hissed, “Some day I will have you.”
The old City Cemetery, later named Cedar Bluff and founded in 1896, is on the south side of Northwest Street. Graves are covered by dirt mounds in the Roman tradition that was brought to England in 43 A.D. and passed on to Americans centuries later. The hilly terrain and views of College Creek capture a serenity that reminds me of my friend’s exhortation that cemeteries are indeed pleasant places to take a walk away from the bustle of nearby businesses.
A long driveway bisects the cemetery, leading to a distant tall statue. It is of an Elk, a monument dedicated by the local chapter of the BPOE. Erected in 1909, the monument carries the names of deceased members through 2000. In ancient Rome, membership in funerary clubs guaranteed burial among people of shared beliefs. Over the centuries, members of families were also buried near one another, incorporating the memories of their relationship through time.
Walking north on Clay Street to Taylor Avenue and south to West Street, rows of white markers attract the curiosity of visitors. Designated a National Historic Place in 1996, the white stones, like Flanders Field, mark the graves of Union veterans and some Confederates. The cemetery is one of 14 established in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. A monument honors the memory of the unknown veterans, those that were cremated or buried at sea or lost in other ways.
Judge Nicholas Brewer, a Union sympathizer, gave the land for the veterans cemetery. Next to it, separated by a creek on the Judges farm, is Brewers Hill Cemetery, where African-Americans are laid to rest. Two memorials mark the tragic history of our nation’s past. A tribute to Henry Davis marks the last lynching, on Dec. 21, 1906, of an African-American in Maryland. Nearby is the grave of John Snowden who was executed by hanging on Feb. 27, 1919. His last words proclaiming his innocence and blessing those around him who had supported him and brought him peace marks his memorial.
Despite the busy road traffic, these two cemeteries and St. Mary’s Cemetery across the street, are quiet places signifying healing and hope. My friend was right. There is a serenity, sometimes a sadness, but definitely a feeling of being away from the maddening crowd.
Ellen, a former mayor of Annapolis, can be rached at email@example.com
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