I’ve let the blog lag because I’ve been running around gathering and hoarding data like a squirrel preparing for winter. Since most of that data is from archives or archaeological collections, my research project in some ways feels like filling a box with puzzle pieces to put together later, even though I’m not sure how many puzzles the pieces belong to, and some of them have broken edges.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time in graveyards. In the classic tradition of American historical archaeology, I’m taking advantage of the free and highly accessible sites in the neighborhoods where I’m working, recording monuments. I visited them at the beginning of my research here, but after spending the better part of a year reconstructing these communities from censuses and other records, walking past a headstone with a familiar name gives me a sense of recognition and sometimes even affection. Yet at the same time I realize how little I will ever know about them – they were real people who walked on the same ground, and we will never meet. My images of them are imagined.
One thing I’ve noticed is that across categories of class and race, in 19th century Sag Harbor family monuments were very popular. These were usually columns or obelisks, with small individual markers surrounding them. In the small cemetery of the AME Zion Church in Eastville, there are only a few such monuments, and most of them have fallen, but in the larger multi-denominational Oakland cemetery (pictured above), they’re quite striking.
More to come on this – at the Eastville Community Historical Society we’re planning a series of cemetery-related events that should be interesting, and after I’ve finished my data hoarding it will be interesting to see what else becomes evident about the sites. I’m also pretty excited about some patterns I’m starting to see in my increasingly giant demographic database, and thinking about translating them into maps, so I look forward to sharing that effort as it progresses.